Friday, March 22, 2019

Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

While I did see the movie of this some years ago and really enjoyed it, I don’t think I have ever read the book. As per usual, its better than the movie adaptation, with a lot more detail and depth to characters. In addition, a movie always adds levels of interpretation that aren’t in the original text, which I realised after reading it.

Young Miss Fanny Price is one of nine children born to her poor parents at Portsmouth. The mother has two sisters who married much better, one is now Lady of Mansfield Park (Lady Bertram) and the other is wife of the local rector (Mrs Norris). It strikes these two families that perhaps they should do something to support their dear sister, so an offer is made to take on one of her children and bring them up at Mansfield. Poor Miss Price, at age 10, is chosen, and uprooted from the only family she has known and transported to Mansfield. Being a shy, sensitive creature, she struggles with terrible homesickness, and the family are a little indifferent to her struggles. Sir Thomas seems severe, Lady Bertram kind but vague and disinterested, Aunt Norris is mean, eldest son Tom indifferent, and sisters Maria and Julia are proud and dismissive.

About Julia and Maria who are constantly told they are wonderful and superior to Fanny by their Aunt Norris: “It is not very wonderful that, with all their promising talents and early information, they should be entirely deficient in the less common acquirements of self knowledge, generosity and humility.”

Only the son Edmund is kind and considerate and a close friendship forms between them.

Fast forward seven years and siblings Mr and Miss Crawford come to the area. They are fun, modern and keen to ingratiate themselves into the household at Mansfield. As the uncle is away in Antigua on business, the youngsters are pretty much left to their own devices and a fair amount of mischief is achieved. Mr Crawford flirts openly with both Julia and Maria, notwithstanding Maria’s engagement to Mr Rushford. They convince the group to put on a play called ‘Lovers Vows’, immediately known to Edmund and Fanny to be highly inappropriate, yet even Edmund decides to allay his scruples by acting in it, partly as a concession to Miss Crawford.

Fanny looks on with increasing agitation as Edmund develops clear feelings for Miss Crawford, while Mr Crawford plays with the hearts of the girls. It is not always clear exactly what is going on with the Crawfords, sometimes they seem to be using the family as sport, other times their friendship and affections seem genuine. Fanny is the only one never taken in by it all (again different in the movie version I saw).

Austen makes some very insightful observations about people and circumstances in this book, which I enjoyed, about topics such as parenting, clergy and society, many of which are still valid today. An enjoyable read.

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