Mansfield Park Readalong: Final Post

Friday, August 30, 2013

Mansfield Park
by Jane Austen

In the second half of the book the relationship between the Bertrams and the Crawfords becomes much more complicated. Henry has decided he’s interested in Fanny and Edmund wants to pursue a courtship with Mary. After a complicated back and forth with necklaces Fanny feels more lost than ever. She received a necklace from Mary, but she’s worried it’s really from Henry but she doesn’t want to offend her friend. Poor Fanny has no interest in Henry and turns him down multiple times.

Her uncle is incredibly disappointed in her decision, thinking it a wonderful match. He decides to send her back to live with her family so she can understand how valuable a comfortable lifestyle is. While with her family she realizes just how little she has in common with them. Meanwhile her letters from Mary are beginning to make her understand her friend’s true shallow nature. When Edmund’s older brother Tom becomes ill Mary is more concerned with whether Edmund will benefit from his death than anything else. Henry visits while she is with her family and we begin to see a more genuine side to his personality beneath his flirtatious exterior.

All of that becomes a moot point when he runs away with the now married Maria. The scandalous act horrifies both Fanny and Edmund. Mary makes excuses for her brother causing Edmund realizes how blind he has been to her true temperament and he breaks off any understanding between them. Then in a shocking turn of events Edmund falls in love the Fanny and the two are married.

My Thoughts:

Mansfield Park seems like the book that Austen fans love to hate. I feel as though my opinion of it has changed through rereading it. The first time around I found Fanny whiny and moralistic. The second time around I took into account her situation and the strength it takes to stand your ground regardless of peer pressure.

I think that because I already knew what decisions Fanny was going to make I was able to pay more attention to the reasons why she made them. Her reasons for refusing Henry Crawford’s advances are incredibly valid, but it's incredibly difficult for Fannie to stand up to Sir Thomas and try to explain why she doesn't want to marry Henry. He loses all respect for her thinking that she just doesn't like Henry as much as she might.  She feels she can't be honest about her reasons for refusing him without implicating her cousins in Henry's bad behavior. Yes she still stands her ground saying that she doesn't want to marry despite her Uncle’s pressure. That's an impossible position to be put in considering Sir Thomas has given her a home for the last almost decade of her life.

The section where Fanny returns to her family is heartbreaking. She no longer feels like she knows her parents and siblings. She doesn’t feel at home there despite the fact that she’s been calling it home for a decade. It’s hard for her to realize it, but Mansfield Park is her true home.

I was also impressed with the big issues Austen tackled in this one. Adultery was an incredibly scandalous subject during that time period and Austen makes it a focal point of the book. Everything hinges on Henry’s actions and when he runs away the entire Bertram family is thrown into chaos.

The one part of the book that still doesn’t sit right with me is the marriage at the end. It’s too neat and tidy. The entire second half of the book Edmund has been telling Fanny that Mary is the only woman he could ever love. Then when that doesn’t work he decides he can’t live without Fanny? It doesn’t feel right. The two were raised in the same house, just like brother and sister. It feels like a marriage of convenience and I just hate that. I think Fanny could do so much better. There’s one bit from the final chapter that makes me think even Austen thought the quick turn around of Edmund’s feelings was a bit of a stretch…

“I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion, that every one may be at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of unconquerable passions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, must vary much as to time in different people. I only entreat everybody to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny as Fanny herself could desire.”

BOTTOM LINE: I’m so glad I reread this. It’s still not my favorite, but I gained such an appreciation for it this time around. Fanny is not just a moralizing condescending character. She's a strong woman who sticks by her principles even with unbelievable pressure from those around her. I respect that. I may not love her and the way I love some of Jane Austen's other heroines but I feel like I understand her better now.


Arenel said...

Hi! It's already more than a week since I finished the book, so my impressions are already not so fresh, but I remember being frustrated with the final marriage and also disappointment that the second part with all the scandals and match-making was so short and superficial... I have more thoughts here:

But in spite of some disappointment, I'm glad I've read the book. And I especially enjoyed a lot of heated discussions between Fanny's fans and Fanny's not-such-a-fans that have taken place in the comments under a lot of reviews which were posted nearly simultaneously thanks to this read-a-long and Austen in August. Thanks for hosting, that was fun!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Ekaterina Egorova - You've written a great post and it really mirrored my thoughts after I read it for the first time. I love seeing the different views on the book as well!

Brona said...

It seems we started and finished MP in fairly similar places Melissa.

Although the ending still frustrates me, I can see that Edmund was one of those guys who had to learn by making mistakes. He had to go so close to making the exact wrong match to expose his own weaknesses to himself (and to Fanny). Edmund had to learn the hard way what Fanny already knew.

Thanks for hosting the MP readalong within the readalong :-)
It has been a lot of fun.

Brooke said...

I'm not finished yet, but I think I'm in complete agreement with on an all accounts - particularly the Edmund/Fanny marriage. I don't see it at all being the realistic ending to this novel as I read further and further. I wish there had been a better match for Fanny.

Having said that, I really loved Fanny this time around. I think I was also able to concentrate on the reasons behind her choices and they all make sense to me now - honestly, I couldn't imagine making any different choices myself so I'm entirely changed in my feelings towards Ms. Price and Mansfield Park as a whole.

So glad I chose to reread Austen most challenging novel and can now wholeheartedly and without reservations say I hope to reread it for years to come. Thanks for hosting, Melissa!!

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

The romance is what really killed this for me-I had the same thought as I can't imagine falling for a man who spends mos of the book proclaiming himself to be in love with someone else.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brona Joy - I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I never thought about your point "He had to go so close to making the exact wrong match to expose his own weaknesses to himself." I think that's very true. It wasn't until he was on the brink of marriage that he saw the shallowness and blindness of his decision.

Brooke - I had a similar thought! When I tried ot think about wha tI would do in Fanny's situation I couldn't think of a different answer. I think I probably would have reacted in the same way. So glad you joined in!

Bookworm1858 - Yes! I think that's why I liked it more the second time around. I didn't focus on the romance this time and so it worked a bit better for me.