I am re-reading all of Austen’s work because of the Austentatious Goodreads Group started by Read by Zoe on YouTube – or @zoeherdt on Twitter, that will be re-reading all the Austen books. Here is a video by Zoe about it. Again, I’m not seriously reviewing the books – I’m just sort of rambling about my feelings. I feel others have done better, more serious in-depth reviews on them. So prepare for knowing what goes on in the novel – I mean, even if you know what happens in a Jane Austen novel, they are still worth reading.
I so enjoyed this! It’s been a few years since I read it last. I was surprised to look at my Goodreads and see that Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice are the only 2 Austen novels I gave 5 stars. Technically, Northanger Abbey is my favorite, but for whatever reason, I feel that if I’m honest, it’s a 4 star, because the plot is fairly thin. I knew I didn’t dislike Mansfield – I really enjoyed it, but not having read it for four years, I forgot HOW MUCH I had enjoyed it. It has the most intense plot points of all the Austen novels.
The first thing that struck me was the fears of the Mansfield Park set in regards to Fanny. They expect the girl to be a right nightmare! Sir Thomas says “We shall probably see much to wish altered in her, and must prepare ourselves for gross ignorance, some meanness of opinion, and very distressing vulgarity of manner.” In case you don’t know, the crux of the story is that Fanny Price leaves her rather squalid home to live with her rich relatives at Mansfield Park. They expect her to be stupid and crass, when in reality, she is terrified and timid. Her home is small and crowded, what with having 8 siblings, and she’s overwhelmed by the luxurious manor and the stiff formality of the family. Also, her hideous Aunt Norris has spent the entire drive warning her not to make the family wish they hadn’t brought her to their home.
And that is the tone that Fanny lives with, her whole life. She is the poor relation. They wish to give her an education and feed and clothe her, but, as Sir Thomas, her uncle says, ‘There will be some difficulty in our way, Mrs. Norris … as to the distinction proper to be made between the girls as they grow up; how to preserve in the minds of my daughters the consciousness of what they are, without making them think too lowly of their cousin; and how, without depressing her spirits too far, to make [Fanny] remember that she is not a Miss Bertram. I should wish to see them very good friends, and would, on no account, authorize in my girls the smallest disrespect towards their relation; but still they cannot be equals. Their rank, fortune, rights, and expectations will always be different. It is a point of great delicacy, and you must assist us in our endeavours to choose exactly the right line of conduct.” Well, the line the bitch takes is to belittle the girl and work her like a servant. While the other girls go to dinners, parties, balls, Fanny stays home keeping her indolent Aunt Bertram company, forever shrinking from anyone’s attention or thinking she had any right to enjoy the same pleasures as her cousins. Aunt Norris is quick to make her to fetch and carry, always reminding her to never put herself forward like her cousins. It’s sickening.
Mansfield has three acts. The first is rather short, and is about Fanny coming to Mansfield and trying to fit in. Then we have the second act, where Sir Thomas is drawn away to his estates in Antigua. The family is having money problems, and uprisings against slavery has probably caused the problems. I didn’t now this until I read the book along with Shmoop analysis. Slavery was outlawed in Antigua, but many plantations continued to use slaves, despite that. During this time, the kids run a little wild. The removal of the upright patriarch lets everyone loosen their corset. Mrs. Norris also snoops out a groom for Maria, the older, snottier sister. Then two new young people join their society, Mary and Henry Crawford, half brother and sister of the vicar’s wife. Their society becomes almost jolly and some drama ensues. Then Sir Thomas returns from Antigua, a slightly changed man. He’s still an uptight stick in the mud, but he clearly has learned the value of his family, and his stance towards Fanny has warmed. She’s grown into a lovely young woman and I guess less of a shame to his house. So generous.
The third arc is a blend of the 2nd and 3rd really. Maria is engaged, but both of the Miss Bertrams are in love with Henry Crawford. He’s too happy to flirt with both, raising both of their hopes. Because he is a villain. Of all the Austen villains, I hate him the most. He loves making girls fall in love with them, while his heart is untouchable. Because he doesn’t have one. Not only does he cause the two sisters to hate each other, he has no interest in either – he loathes them both. Then, once he’s broken Maria’s heart (after already trampling on Julia’s) he skedaddles and leaves her to go off and marry the ignorant oaf that Aunt Norris found for her. A rich, ignorant oaf, of course. Meanwhile, Fanny is watching all of this. She knows he’s a worthless piece of inconstant crap and is horrified by her cousin’s behavior. So after the two sisters make up (because the marriage gets them both out of their father’s house) the bastard turns his sights on Fanny! And his evil sister, Mary, doesn’t even try and stop him. She thinks it will be good for Fanny!
What can I say about Mary? She’s an odd mix, because in a modern novel, or even one 50 years later, she’d be a modern girl. She could be flapper. She was raised in a home very different from the one Sir Thomas is running. Fashion was all, her uncle was fast and loose with the women, and her friends are a bad influence. She doesn’t have the prim and proper attitude of most young ladies of this generation. In a lot of ways, I could see where she’s coming from, but her morals are also questionable. I mean, she’s kind of a hypocrite. She left her uncle’s house after his wife died and he brought his mistress in. Now for a young woman to live in that situation at this time would be intolerable, I get it, and I’m totally on her side. Such blatant adultery would bring all kinds of shame on her and is of course, a terrible stain on her beloved aunt’s memory. But… she has no problem with adultery if it’s discreet. ???? Make up your mind, Mary.
There is also the matter of Edmund. I haven’t gotten to him yet. He’s the 2nd son in the family, the one destined for the church. That’s not good enough for Mary. But sadly, Edmund and Mary start to fall in love. He sees in her everything that is lovely. Fanny, as always, is watching and judging, and is not impressed. They both see her faults, which seem a little harsh at times. Mary’s way of speaking is off the cuff when it comes to serious matters, and she has no respect for the clergy. Now, being a clergyman, and both Fanny and Edmund being very devout, this doesn’t set well with either of them.
Only then do we see the full evil of Henry Crawford. What a douchecanoe. He imagines himself in love with Fanny after a short while, and even proposes. THEN, despite her ABSOLUTE HORROR of the idea of marrying him, which she clearly states, he goes around making everyone think she’s only too glad to marry him. ??!!? Then – double insult – her uncle, Sir Thomas, can’t imagine why she won’t accept him. It’s not like she can tell him his girl Maria was trying to get in Henry’s pants the whole time he was gone while trying to get out of her engagement to the fat rich oaf.
Of course, considering what finally happens, Henry Crawford’s true devilry is exposed. He knows that Fanny doesn’t trust him = that she saw stuff going on with Maria that made her think him inconstant. He says, I’mma show you girl!” and then, the first chance he gets, he runs off with Maria.
And the fact Maria only did it to be a bitch to Fanny shows what a complete COW she is. I mean, poor Fanny has nothing going for her. She’s been put down her whole life, always 3rd or 4th best, but Maria is humiliated that poor old Fanster somehow snatched what she wanted. So of course, she must destroy her. Jokes on her, as Maria ends up making a complete ass of herself, losing her husband and all his money, Henry as her love monkey, her place in society and bringing huge shame on her family. Also… she’s sent off with Aunt Norris, so she kinda got what she has coming. I mean, that’s karma. Don’t tell me a world where a bitch like Maria gets stuck with Aunt Norris isn’t proof of karma. Delicious, righteous, karma.
If you have yet to read it, do yourself a favor, read it. Jane Austen at her best.