Mansfield Park: Chapters 1-25
Plot summary so far:
In the first half of the book we meet the Bertrams, a wealthy family that decides to take in the eldest daughter of their relation. They’ve decided her presence will cause very little inconvenience for them and their status will give her a much better life. Little thought is given to how difficult it will be for the 10-year-old girl to leave her family and move in with strangers. The young girl is Fanny Price and as she begins her new life with her Aunt and Uncle’s home she is timid and shy. She cries every day until she finally finds a kindred spirit in her cousin Edmund. She desperately misses her older brother and Edmund fills that role for her.
As the story progresses and Fanny grows up she begins to form her own opinions about the people she lives with. In addition to Edmund she has two female cousins, Maria and Julia, and another male cousin, Tom. Her uncle, Sir Thomas, is gone for much of the first half dealing with his business in Antigua. His eldest son Tom is with him for part of that time. While he is gone two young people, brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford, move in the area and begin to spend time with the Bertrams. Their presence causes the tightly knit world of Mansfield Park to begin to unravel.
Despite being engaged, Maria becomes interested in Henry Crawford. Edmund also develops a bit of a crush on Mary Crawford. He has always seen himself as a bit of an outsider with his family. He disapproves of the dismissive way they treat Fanny and their shallowness. When Tom returns the Bertrams and Crawfords decide to put on a play. This is a turning point in the story, forcing everyone to make their first major moral choice. The racy content of the chosen play causes both Fanny and Edmund to decide not to be involved with its production. Edmund later changes his mind to prevent someone from outside their home getting a role.
For the first time Fanny’s company is actively sought by someone, namely Mary Crawford, and she is not excluded. She can’t bring herself to participate in the rehearsals, but she watches the others performing.
In addition to Fanny’s inclusion, Edmund changes drastically as well. He begins to compromise his beliefs to justify Mary Crawford’s behavior and Fanny becomes more stubborn and condescending in response to his actions. Sir Thomas arrives home and casts a dark air over the whole house, the feeling of playful joviality disappears as the Crawfords leave.
On that note I stopped for write a midway post. I will say I’m enjoying this more than I did the first time around, but I think that’s because my expectations were so low.
Brona made a great point that the early parts of the story have the same feel of Jane Eyre. I couldn’t help but think about that as I read the first half. Both women are taken in by their relations at a young age. Both are treated as charity cases. Jane Eyre is much more tormented, but Fanny is neglected. I think it’s interesting that both women go on to become strong and to form their belief system on a high moral ground, always standing firm in their beliefs.
For some reason Jane Eyre is much more likeable in this action, but they are truly similar. I was wondering if there’s something about being raised in that environment that would encourage that end product. Maybe being raised by people who are cruel or neglectful and watching those same people value money and status over relationships and kindness makes the individual value the opposite in the extreme.
I’m a little more understanding of Fanny’s difficult position this time around. She’s feeling 18th Century peer pressure and is struggling with a desire to be included, while at the same time not wanting to compromise her beliefs. I will say that my impression so far has enforced my negative thoughts about the final romantic connection in the book. I didn’t like it the first time around and I don’t think I’m going to like it any more this time.
So a few questions:
If you’ve read Jane Eyre, did you find any similarities between the two books?
Do you think Edmund agreed to be in the play to protect the honor of his sisters or because of Mary?
What do you think of Maria’s scandalous flirting with Henry?
p.s. This is part of Adam's Austen in August event!