retro friday – mansfield park

Friday, April 20, 2012 |
Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville that focuses on reviewing books from the past. These can be old favorites, under-the-radar treasures that deserve more attention, woefully out-of-print books, and so on. Everyone is welcome to participate!

Whenever I need some therapeutic television time and hockey isn’t on, my best bet is to put in a lineup of period film DVDs. Those that regularly make the cut? The Young Victoria, Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Gosford Park. Feel free to suggest others – I haven’t added to my collection in quite a while.

The other day I needed some Austen-induced calm and went on a movie binge. And then I decided that a re-read of Mansfield Park was in order. A week of Austen immersion commenced!

Taken from the poverty of her parents' home, Fanny Price is brought up with her rich cousins at Mansfield Park, acutely aware of her humble rank and with only her cousin Edmund as an ally. When Fanny's uncle is absent in Antigua, Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive in the neighbourhood, bringing with them London glamour and a reckless taste for flirtation. As her female cousins vie for Henry's attention, and even Edmund falls for Mary's dazzling charms, only Fanny remains doubtful about the Crawfords' influence and finds herself more isolated than ever. A subtle examination of social position and moral integrity, Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen's most profound works.

Mansfield Park: home of the Jane Austen characters with the highest morals and highest likelihood of producing genetically unstable children (cousins…kissing cousins). Too soon? Okay. But really. This book features one of Austen’s youngest protagonists. Also one of her most devout and timid and principled.

Fanny Price is hard to love at times. It’s not necessarily because she’s a prig – it’s that she is judgmental and passive and more self-effacing than a regular, self-respecting member of the human race has any right to be. I’m being a little bit ridiculous, yes, and not taking into account the roles of women in the pre-Victorian era. Even so, it is hard for this modern woman to find her anything but watery.

While not as emotionally satisfying as other Austen works, Mansfield Park IS a classic, and I always come away from re-reads enriched in some way. This time, I can say that I examined the structures of society as shown in the novel and was impressed by the sibling devotion between Fanny and her brother William. This is poignant on a personal level to me because I am quite close to my siblings, though I too communicate with them from long distance. I had forgotten the very existence of Fanny’s brother (horror!) – and their friendship is rather delightful.

Recommended for: anyone already acquainted with (and a fan of) Austen’s other works, the curious classics reader, and those who, having seen the film version, wonder how the book stacks up in comparison.


Tales of Whimsy said...

I realllly need to try this one. Great review.

Charlotte said...

I've only read this one once...Fanny didn't do it for me either! The problem with falling as hard as I did for P. and P. is that no other Austin comes close (although I do also re-read Emma. She has spunk.).

Jaima said...

Great review. I'm tempted to re-read it from the devoted siblings angle as you suggest. Last time I read Mansfield Park I got angry; not because Fanny is such a stickler for propriety but because I was in love with Henry Crawford. It bothered me that Austen ultimately gave him no chance for redemption. The good are good, the bad are bad; the two ought never to mix. Henry was more interesting to me than Edmund. It's been a while though, so I could probably pick it up again . . . a regular infusion of Austen is never a bad thing.
I'm curious about your thoughts re: Henry vs. Edmond. What's your take?

Cecelia said...

Jaima: I agree with you re: Henry. He IS more interesting. We're told more about his character, more about his foibles, than we are about Edmund. At the end of the novel, I can't see that I've learned anything new about E... and that makes him somewhat boring. Not to say I wanted Fanny to end up with H, you understand, but it's disappointing that there isn't more character development.

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