I have just finished reading my 2nd book of Austen August today; Mansfield Park. So what better opportunity to write down a few of the thoughts I had whilst reading this book than now when everything’s still fresh and I don’t get carried away with more Austen novels…
Firstly, I will say that when I began reading Mansfield Park, it was not one of my favourite Jane Austen books. Even Jane Austen’s own mother believed this third book of hers to be “not as good as Pride and Prejudice”. I think it’s unfair for many people to refer to Mansfield Park as Austen’s dullest book. As I read more and more of the story, I fell in love!
I think I could write for ages and ages of the symbolism of the book and all that happens in it; I genuinely thought it was one of the most interesting Austen books to read. At the beginning of the novel, Sir Thomas Bertram has to go to Antigua to fix his returns on his sugar plantation (he is a slave-owner), leaving the house under the care of Mrs Norris. I do not believe that evil is too strong a word to describe Mrs Norris; she was an awful person. After Sir Thomas Bertram has left, the house falls into disarray and the morals of the household are negotiated under the new influence of Mrs Norris. After reading the story, I have since found out that the name Mrs Norris was not ironic but carefully chosen; Robert Norris being an infamous slave-owner and outspoken in his pro-slavery opinions. Very fitting for the character of Mrs Norris.
The Crawfords (Henry and Mary) then arrive. Both of which have come from London, a place often associated in Austen’s work with frivolity, a lack of morals and exoticism. Naturally, the Crawfords only add to this corruption of morals that is already taking place in Mansfield Park. The story evolves from here and reveals just how much the household and its inhabitants have changed. Though I don’t want to give any spoilers, I will say that it is the first AND only book of Austen’s to feature adultery, or as the book calls it, a “matrimonial fracas” of any kind.
The main protagonist is completely different from Elizabeth Bennet. Fanny Price is timid, shy, anxious and introverted; she rarely speaks up for herself and is always following the orders of her two aunts. She is bullied by Mrs Norris for being the daughter of her poorer sister. However, Fanny Price is the only character to see through the adultery, the lies and the moral changes that are taking place in Mansfield Park (the majority of which is done through the act of a play called Lovers’ Vows which the inhabitants want to put on). For me, Fanny was the voice of reason in the novel through which we are able to see what is truly going on; through whom we can really see the damage that is being done. Once again, Austen’s own mother found Fanny “insipid” but, despite disliking Fanny in the beginning, she really warmed on me. At times, I found myself feeling sorry for her as a result of her treatment and the unrequited love she has for her cousin (*on a separate note, I find the idea that it was accetpable for cousins to marry one another very weird*). I related to her socially anxious-self. I think Fanny deserves a place in the true heroines of literature; her conscience and her morals are unshakeable and she remains true to herself throughout the entirety of the novel.
I gave this book 4 stars out of 5. I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as Pride and Prejudice and, at the start, I didn’t. The story, the setting and the characters really grew on me and I really enjoyed the book!
Have you read Mansfield Park? What were your thoughts?
Thanks for reading!