At the end of July I picked up Mansfield Park by Jane Austen for the Austen in August event. This is my sixth and final, complete, novel I’ve read by Jane Austen. Sadly my last read had been Northanger Abbey back in 2013! This event seems to have been just the push I needed.
The story begins when impoverished, little Fanny Price comes to live with her wealthy relatives, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, at Mansfield Park. There she grows up and is educated with her four older cousins; Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia. While Fanny is still treated, by some, as the unwanted poor relation. She does appreciate the comfortable and quiet life she is afforded. However life at Mansfield is to change as the cousins grow, mature, and fall in love. That change is accelerated with the arrival of handsome, vain and frivolous siblings, Mary and Henry Crawford, to the park’s vicarage.
Our protagonist Fanny Price is a quiet, kind and intelligent, young woman. Who on the whole I liked and enjoyed reading about. Sadly Fanny is also rather self-deprecating, which I know from reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, is not a trait I like. There were several times I wanted to give her a jolly good shake and tell her to pull herself together. Fanny is thankfully joined by an interesting and good sized cast of characters. Though there are incidents of unkind words and treatment. Such as Mrs Norris’ sharp tongue, Sir Thomas’ sternness, Lady Bertram’s indifference, and even kind Edmund has moments where he forgets Fanny. For me there was not any truly bad characters. There is also good character growth. Later in the novel we see Sir Thomas’ kinder side and Lady Bertram’s appreciation of Fanny. Actually even the troublesome Crawfords had their light and dark shades. I applaud Austen for another cast of balanced and believable characters.
For me Mansfield Park compared to previous Austen novels was a slow burner. I wasn’t really gripped until Maria and Julia left, and Fanny became the main focus for friendship and love. I enjoyed her visits to the vicarage, taking tea, and the ball. Which were all full of Austen’s trademark, convoluted, witty and beautiful speech and tête-à-têtes. I also think the use of letters kept me gripped, just as much as it did the characters who were waiting for news. Especially when poor Fanny is left stranded with her family in Portsmouth. Cut off from those she loves and who love her. It is a wonderful look into how frustrating it must have been waiting for important news without the aid of phones and the internet!
While the majority of the novel is a slow and comfortable read; there are some real surprises and scandals to come in the last quarter of the book. As I got nearer and nearer the end I couldn’t see how things would be resolved in the pages I had left. Austen ties up the many strands in a neat and pleasant way, but also in perhaps a rather abrupt way; similar to Northanger Abbey. We are told in hindsight about it like a report rather than viewing it for ourselves. This took some of the emotionally pleasure out of it for me. I knew the happy ending but I didn’t really have the chance to feel it.
Mansfield Park was another beautiful glimpse into Regency England. Perhaps not to become my favourite Austen, however still another thoroughly enjoyable novel. I highly recommend to Jane Austen fans. This is my 33rd read off my Classics Club list. Good read.
Have you read this? What is your favourite Austen novel?