It was a beautiful day today, but I couldn't get myself outside before finishing Mansfield Park. It was a long read but an excellent one.
It surprises me somehow. I think I may have been brainwashed over the years into believing Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility to be the best of Austen's works. I have thus been pleasantly surprised re-reading both MP and Persuasion.
To be sure, MP is far more intense than any of Austen's other works. And indeed lacks the interspersing of humour that make JA such an easy read. The only hint of the playful author comes through at the end, when she brings the story to a speedy conclusion to the satisfaction of all her favoured characters, ensuring another one of her eternal happy endings.
Yet in its examination of feelings and class and of each one's place in the world, maybe MP is the closest of JA's works to real life: People scheming to marry well. Playing with the feelings of others. Each one's fate dependent on their wealth. Or lack of it. As such, the story hardly lends itself to humour.
As is so well seen in the case of Fanny Price. MP follows the life and loves of FP. Living in a world and family she has not been born into. Incessantly apologetic and woefully conscious of her indebtedness to the Bertrams. Awkward and uncomfortable amongst her cousins. Cowering under the constant bullying of Mrs Norris. Wilting under scrutiny.
All of which the reader feels particularly, party as they are to each of FP's feelings. Insightful and overwhelming as they are.
Fanny's sensitivity, her uncommon humility and her particularly feeble health are offset by her kindness, discretion and discernment. And stand in stark contrast to the hardness of her cousins and their friends. Their selfishness. Their vain pursuit of pleasures. Their complete disregard for the feelings of others and their duty to family.
Mansfield Park is a strangely intense tale of hopes and dreams, both frivolous and serious. Almost a Cinderella-like tale, where the outer beauty of the privileged daughters gives way to the inner beauty of the book's steadfast, principled yet insecure heroine.
I think that Fanny may not be the most loved of Austen's chief protagonists. But I cannot dislike her. Indeed I love to admire the romance that sees a character with so little to recommend her, remain the heroine to the end. It gives me hope...