Book 116: Mansfield Park – Jane Austen

[For an updated response check out my July 2015 reading of Mansfield Park.]

I finished reading Mansfield Park this weekend and I must admit that it’s still one of the best Jane Austen novels few people read. It’s a bit of a tome and the version I read with the tiny close quartered print was some times painful, but it’s well worth it. Mansfield Park counts for my Back to the Classics Challenge (Reread a classic of your choice) and also counts for The Classics Club. There will be an update later this week about where I am with my challenges and life.

I first read Mansfield Park sometime during college, not for a course, but because I realized I was never required to read Jane Austen and she was this entity that I found fascinating. So many of the teen movies from the early 1990s were based on her books (and Shakespeare’s plays) that I just had to read the originals. I remember reading them back to back but not what order, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Emma – and I eventually read Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition. I’ve enjoyed all of them but Fanny Price remains one of those characters who sticks with me no matter what I read.

In this version Margaret Drabble does an excellent job of explaining why Mansfield Park and Fanny Price are so divisive within the Austenite community – the novel is Austen’s first ‘adult’ novel and throws of the perfection in the suit of marriage and Fanny Price is an absolute product of her upbringing and you either know that and give her credit for it, or you don’t and hate her for it. I fall in the first category.

As I was rereading the novel I found myself despising Fanny’s aunt (Mrs. Norris) even more so than the first time I read the novel. Mrs. Norris goes out of her way in abusing Fanny (verbally) and in doing so has completely created a subservient, quiet, hesitant person. Not only does she do this directly to Fanny, but she encourages others to as well. If there is one thing I don’t like in a person I meet and that I like even less in a character is when they put on airs. All I wanted to do was shake Mrs. Norris and say look at you, look at what you’ve done. You’re the worst out of everyone and came from the same place everyone else did. I do feel she gets her just rewards even if it does take quite awhile.

I planned on including some of my favorite quotes but decided against it. Maybe I will if I reread the novel again while I’m still blogging, but who knows. Most of them just served to reveal character’s personalities.

The only real drawbacks of the novel are that it sometimes gets a bit preachy (but doesn’t approach Louisa May Alcott’s level) and it takes until nearly halfway through before things pick up. If I were reading this when it was first published I’m not sure I would’ve made it through Volume One, but Volume’s Two and Three were definitely worth the read.

Recommendation: Read it. If you’re interested in learning more about Austen as an adult and think her other novels are too ideal check this out, you might be surprised.

Opening Line: “About thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.”

Closing Line: “On that event they removed to Mansfield, and the parsonage there, which under each of its two former owners, Fanny had never been able to approach but with some painful sensation of restraint or alarm, soon grew as dear to her heart, and as thoroughly perfect in her eyes, as everything else, within the view and patronage of Mansfield Park, had long been.” (Whited out.)

Additional Quotes from Mansfield Park
Click here to see my 2015 re-read where I included many quotes from the work.

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26 thoughts on “Book 116: Mansfield Park – Jane Austen

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  4. I’m one of those Austen fans who has never quite warmed to Mansfield Park, so I enjoy hearing a defense of it. It seems like I might appreciate it more by re-reading it now as an adult.

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    • Haahaa – I could see that. It is very moralistic (without being over the top or overtly so) and I could see where it wouldn’t mesh well with a younger reader. I think because I studied Social Anthropology in undergrad I find Fanny Price fascinating from her upbringing. You should definitely re-read it! It amazes me what I find each time I re-read an ‘old’ classic.’

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  5. I don’t think I would like Mrs. Norris in this book or in real life. I don’t understand people like Mrs. Norris, and yet you meet them all of the time in literature. And that is probably because they also plague every day life and all of us have to deal with at least one Mrs. Norris during our lifetimes.

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    • I agree – there are people like that always trying to move themselves forward without doing anything! And it comes across as so much more crass and so much more obnoxious in literature. Thank you caricatures and stereotypes…

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  6. I agree with Volume I. When I read Mansfield Park for the first time I thought, ugh this moves so slowly. It doesn’t have the wit of Pride & Prejudice or the abundance of emotion of Sense & Sensibility. It’s not immature like Emma. Nor is it a great love story like Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice. But once I got in to the novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn’t believe how quickly I read it. I definitely enjoyed it more than Sense & Sensibility.

    And I hated Mrs. Norris too. I do love that JK Rowling named Filch’s cat Mrs. Norris : )

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    • Definitely – I mean now I’ve re-read it a second time it solidifies that Volume 1 was just a drudge, but it is somewhat necessary (I guess). I never made that connection about the Mrs. Norrises – that’s awesome.

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  11. I followed you here from the Classics Club page since I just read Mansfield Park for my own list. I have to say, that I fall into that “Fanny Price is obnoxious and I wish she would go away” camp. I definitely see how she is a product of her upbringing in most respects, but what really gets me about her is that she is so judgmental. She just sits and watches and judges, and I absolutely can’t stand that, nor do I see how that is a side effect of her upbringing, since she was trained to think that she is below others. Also, a lot of the other characters’ supposed improprieties left me baffled. Can you explain what’s wrong with rehearsing a play for fun?

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    • It’s not that I don’t think she’s obnoxious. I think it’s just that people overlook that fact.

      The problem I see is that people ignore that during this time period women weren’t allowed to think or have opinions and Fanny Price is a full product of her upbringing.

      The impropriety of rehearsing the play had more to do with the mixing of males and females not of the family, not to mention the somewhat scandalous nature, for the time, of the play.

      It’s all about environment and perception, to me at least.

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  16. I think this is certainly one of Austen’s more mature novels – I remember in university lectures everyone was fixated on Fanny’s comments regarding her uncle’s sugar plantation.

    It’s one of the things I love most about Jane Austen and this work in particular – her novels can seem so insular but there’s always that threat of wider events on the periphery.

    Great review! Mrs Norris is absolutely detestable!

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    • Yeah as she got older she really did expand her repertoire and her world view. I can’t wait to re-read this as part of my book group his year and hear what others think of this one. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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