Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield ParkMansfield Park by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Own.

I love Mansfield Park.  It is my favorite Austen, which I know makes me an anomaly with those who cry at Fanny's "dullness" and "prudish perfections."   Yet, I think Austen makes it clear that while Fanny has excellencies of character and mind, her reticence to put herself forward, her lack of speaking at appropriate times to protect herself or others makes her imperfect.  Even at the end, Susan's speaking up and animated character makes her perhaps the better companion when compared with her sister.

I wanted to read Mansfield Park this time and particularly consider education and formation of taste.  It seems to me that the whole book is taken with the idea of education, habit formation, and the actions of the characters which flows out of their thinking and habits.

So much of what Austen discusses here is adherence to some sort of external, objective standard or rule -- a rule that can be learned and become habit. Edmund directs Fanny's reading and by discussing it with her, directs her thoughts, emotions, habits, and mind.  He teaches her what she "ought" through both his example and his words. 

Her correct way of thinking and considering is tested by the play at Mansfield, the attack of Henry Crawford's love, and the visit home to Portsmouth.  In each case, she is shown to be wise and observant.  Her patient, steadfast demeanor protects her from acting against her morals.  Her disinterested love for Edmund protects her from Henry's selfish love.  Her proper way of thought brings pockets of calm even into the chaos that is her father's home.

This habitual way of living and thinking makes for a joyous, fruitful life and a beautiful establishment for Fanny. 



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2 comments:

  1. Great post, Dawn! Mansfield Park is my favorite as well. :)

    I find it interesting that while Edmund was the one who taught and directed Fanny, she is the one who really internalized it and was able to use the knowledge he clearly had himself to see the truth in the situations where he was blind. It does bother me a little that, if Edmund was the one to shape Fanny, then how come he was foolish where Fanny was wise?

    One scene that really hit home with me was when Fanny returns home. It was one of the ways it finally became clear to me that the cleanliness and manners of our house really do matter, and they are not peripheral or unimportant.

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  2. Thanks, Mystie. :)

    I was amazed at how often the word "habit" was used in this book. I had never picked up on it before, but was certainly thrilled to see it as part of the educational theme.

    I agree regarding Edmund, but I think he was in a much harder position than was Fanny with regard to the play. It was his responsibility to care for the family (particularly with Tom's abdication of responsibility), and I'm not certain what could have prevented the others bringing in "outsiders." One bad decision hardens one and makes the next easier. If Sir Thomas hadn't come home that night or if Henry had remained true ... what would have happened to Fanny? She held out long, but she seemed to be wavering in both those instances. I've been thinking it might be interesting to think through whether Fanny should have accepted Henry's proposals ... and answer in the affirmative (I've been watching LToW, can you tell?)

    There are so many mirrors in this book I hadn't noted previously: Lady Bertram - Mrs. Price; Sir Thomas - Mr. Price; Mansfield - Portsmouth; Fanny - Mary Crawford; Maria - Julia; William - Henry ... Fanny and Mary Crawford's circumstances (as nieces raised by extended family) and characters made for such strong comparison that I am surprised I missed it before.

    You're also right about the differences in circumstance on her two homes. I was thinking about it in the loudness. We have an "open floor plan" home (and I love it) but it is very conducive to yelling upstairs rather than going upstairs. And going quickly rather than steadily. I hadn't thought about it in other manners or habits or cleanliness, but that's probably because I don't really want to think about such things. I appreciate your constant reminders and willingness to bring thoughts down to the practical level :)

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