Park” is the fourth and last of this round of Jane Austen novels. It is also
the most tricky one to get a grip on.
of Mansfield Park is the manor of same name. Sir Thomas Bertram has two sons,
Tom and Edmund, and two daughters, Maria and Julia with his wife Lady Bertram. Lady
Bertram has two sisters, Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Price. All three have their flaws:
Lady Bertram is indolent and uninterested, Norris is… a terrible person and
Price fell in love with a seaman and lives in quasi-poverty with a horde of
children. The oldest of these, Fanny, arrives at Mansfield Park at the age of
10 to be raised by the Bertrams and she is our heroine.
important to Aunt Norris that Fanny understands that she is inferior and that
the Bertrams must always come first. She must also show gratitude, especially
to Norris, for everything the Bertrams are giving her. As a result, Fanny, already
a timid girl, remains a very humble and shy girl, more interested in the well-being
of those around her than herself. When things start to unravel at Mansfield
park, instigated by the two visitors from the city, Mary and Henry Crawford,
siblings, Fanny finds herself in the center of a whirlwind challenging her
Park” is very much a moralistic tale. Fanny represents good and moral behavior
and the Crawfords, coming as they are from the city of vice, London, represent
the challenge to moral behavior. With them as catalysts, the Bertram children
are losing restraint and drift into vice. Even Edmund, the most “proper” of the
four, falls in love with Mary and is tempted to participate in events he knows
for the reader is to recognize right from wrong, something that is not made
easier by two hundred years of moral evolution. When the Bertrams and the
Crawfords want to set up a theater at Mansfield, this is considered highly improper,
especially as the play is “Lover’s Vows”, a slightly daring piece. It is
difficult to see how this should be the road to Hell, but there you have it.
When Henry Crawford openly flirts with both Julia and Maria, it is easier to see
this as problematic, especially since Maria is engaged to Mr. Rushworth, and
his indifferent abandonment of both shows him as unreliable to boot.
the challenge reaches its peak when Henry insists on courting herself and everybody
pressure her into accepting his proposal. Only Fanny is not convinced and
insists on refusing him.
I am torn
on “Mansfield Park”. Fanny is often blamed as being the most boring and
colorless of Austen’s heroines, but I do sympathize with her. A lot of her
sentiments are things I can recognize in myself, her fears and her hopes and
her finding refuge in a rich internal life. However, Fanny is a saint and I am
not so there are limits, but I do feel I understand her. Similarly, I recognize
the type of Mrs. Norris. Although she is intended as a caricature, I can see
real people with many of her qualities and I understand how absolutely
obnoxious they can be.
chain jumps off is on two accounts. The distinction of what is proper and what
is improper is exceptionally prudish. By any standards, the proper life,
according to Mansfield Park is a very dull life. Anything resembling normal,
youthful behavior is frowned upon and we are to think that a retired life of
boredom is bliss. Austen simply goes too far here.
problem is that for all Austen’s insistence of doing the right and proper thing,
apparently it is okay for cousins to fall in love and marry. The idea makes me
gag, and it breaks some huge taboos of mine, but Austen seems to find no
problem at all with that. Well, wait till she sees what sort of children this
result is a book I am not certain how to rate. There is so much quality Austen
stuff here that it cannot be ignored, but also so much prudish moralizing that is
difficult to accept. Reading felt like a curve, I loved getting into it, it was
better than expected, but as it unfolds it gets increasingly difficult to take
in. I am hesitant to endorse it, but how can you not recommend an Austen novel?