Sunday, 30 March 2014

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me - C.S. Lewis

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...

6 comments:

  1. Nice review of MP! I've read it a couple times but it is a hard book for me to like because Fanny is so much a doormat. I understand her situation and why but oh she rubs me the wrong way. P&P and Persuasion are tied for my favorite JA. I like the verbal fireworks of P&P but I love the story of Persuasion.

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    1. Thanks! I'm loving re-reading Austen. I think I have more sympathy for Fanny with age. I always used to think she was a bit wet, but I've softened towards her over the years... Still loving Persuasion the most though :0)

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  2. A lovely review. The version of MP that I read had a great intro (done by Tony Tanner) discussing Fanny, which helped me to enjoy the book without seeing her as too mousy. Persuasion is my favorite too.

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  3. Nice review. I have to admit that the first time I read MP (probably 20 - 25 years ago) I didn't care for FP at all, feeling she was too mousy. But when I re-read MP a year ago I had a new appreciation for her wisdom, discernment and grace. And I had more sympathy for her - she was thrown into difficult circumstances but managed to rise above them. MP still isn't my favorite JA book but it definitely moved up on the scale.

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  4. Mansfield Park is my favourite Austen :)

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