Mansfield Park: Midway Point

Friday, August 16, 2013

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.

My Thoughts:

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! 


Brooke said...

Yes, the first half definitely has shades of Jane Eyre. I kept wondering if perhaps Charlotte Bronte had read MP and decided to rewrite it in a much more interesting fashion.

As for Edmund, he's not nearly as charming as I remember him being. In fact, I sort of see his as a dirty scoundrel who uses his moral superiority simply to make himself feel better than his brother/peers. He totally just wants to get with Mary.

I actually find myself not minding Fanny as much in this second reading. She's still never going to be my favorite Austen 'heroine', but I've been doing my best to put myself in the 21st Century equivalency of her shoes. And that lets me empathize with her more.

We'll see how the second half goes. And I'm super excited to rewatch the movie that I haven't seen since high school! I love Johnny Lee Miller in my Austen adaptations.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brooke - I wonder if Bronte was influenced by it. The Bronte sisters always said Austen was boring, but maybe they were just jealous of her talent :)

I'm having a similar reaction to Fanny and Edmund this time around. First time Fanny drove me nuts, but honestly I think she's doing the best she can. Edmund on the other hand drops all his moral beliefs the second Mary spouts a different opinion. Not cool man.

Melissa @ Confessions of an Avid Reader said...

First off, I have to admit that I'm only at page 100 so I'm not as far along as you are (I'll catch up, I swear). I am enjoyed what I've read so far -- this is my first time reading this one and my expectations aren't all that high as I know many readers who didn't enjoy it nearly as much as they did Austen's other novels. I have, however, watched a couple of different movie adaptations so I'm already familiar with the overall story.

As for similarities with Jane Eyre, I read the Bronte novel so long ago that I can't remember enough of it to compare the two.

My impressions of Fanny so far leave me feeling quite sorry for her. Her treatment by her Aunt Norris and the fact that she is given little thought by anyone other than Edmund must have zapped any confidence or respect she had for herself. It's not difficult to understand why she was a bit of a mouse personality-wise.

As for Maria's flirting with Henry, it is not a surprise given she has little passion for her fiance. Maria figures she can get away with it because she is already spoken for and society wouldn't think anything would come of the flirting as a result.

Brona said...

Firstly, thanks for the link back to my JE comment :-)

And secondly, like yourself, I'm appreciating Fanny as a heroine far more than I did on my first read. I can almost see her as a younger, shyer Anne Eliott or even, Jane Bennett.
She's a lot stronger than I remember. I wonder if we think of her being so timid because so much of what we know about her comes from her own thoughts and feelings. But if our only view of her was via dialogue and actions then we would see and hear how determined she really was. Although Fanny dithers about internally, when it's time to act, she does so.

Finally, don't get me started on Edmund! For some reason I thought he was like Edward Ferrars, but morally and ethically, he is more opportunistic and selfish than I thought. His one saving grace seems to be his appreciation (eventually) of Fanny's goodness!

I only have about a quarter of the book to go...Fanny is currently at home in Portsmouth...with a bit of effort and dedication I should be able to finish it tonight :-)

Arenel said...

Hi! I'm a bit late, but I've just got to chapter 25.

I too, couldn't get rid of the impression that Fanny's situation is so much alike Jane Eyre's. But Jane Eyre is much more likable than Fanny. Fanny is so timid and unimpressive that I just can't root for her. I hope it will change soon, as people are starting to notice her.

Actually I find it hard to connect with any of the characters, even Edmund, who is supposed to be a paragon of behavior, but falls in love with shallow miss Crawford and begins to do unreasonable things because of this and cover it with reasons of dignity and propriety.

I really enjoyed Maria's flirting though, and my modern mind doesn't see anything surprising here, as her marriage is a purely economical and social deal, and naturally she wants some feelings too. I doubt it hurt her fiancee a lot, as he is not too bright to notice everything.

So far, the book is not that enjoyable as I've expected, probably because of the lack of nice characters or because it is a bit too slow-paced. But I hope everything is going to change now that Mr. Crawford is going to try and conquer Fanny!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Melissa - Mrs. Norris' behavior is just atrocious! It's understandable that Fanny would have a hard time thinking she was worth anything when she was being treated like that.

Brona - That's such a great point! I remember thinking Fanny just kept dithering on about her decisions, but really that's all in her head and we all do that. Once she makes a decision she sticks to it completely.

Ekaterina Egorova - I've been so disappointed in Edmund! I had a similar reaction to your's the first time around. I couldn't find anyone to like. I'm appreciating Fanny more this time, but I still don't really like her.

Caroline Helstone said...

I think Jane Eyre was more likeable because she wrote in first person. We see her passion and defiance internally, whereas Fanny is written in third person, so we see her as a boring weakling. If Charlotte Bronte had read Mansfield Park she probably would have appreciated Jane Austen.

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I hadn't thought about the Eyre comparison-I will need to keep that in mind next time I read Mansfield Park and hopefully that will give me a more favorable opinion. I adore every other one of Austen's stories but something about MP just pales in comparison.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Caroline Helstone - That's so true! Hearing the story from Jane's point of view allows us to connect with her in a different way.

Bookworm1858 - That's the same way I felt about Mansfield Park when I started this readalong. I think rereading it has improved my opinion of it.