Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Information

Goodreads: Mansfield Park
Series: None
Source: DailyLit
Published:

Official Summary

(Penguin Edition)

Adopted into the household of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, Fanny Price grows up a meek outsider among her cousins in the unaccustomed elegance of Mansfield Park. Soon after Sir Thomas absents himself on estate business in Antigua (the family’s investment in slavery and sugar is considered in the Introduction in a new, post-colonial light), Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive at Mansfield, bringing with them London glamour, and the seductive taste for flirtation and theatre that precipitates a crisis.

Star Divider

Review

Mansfield Park is the first novel by Jane Austen I’ve read (shocking! I know), and I was warned by various friends that it is frequently considered by readers to be Austen’s worse book.  I was confused by this judgment for a large portion of the story, as I enjoyed reading about Austen’s characters, their hopes and secrets and foibles and found the setting and plot generally interesting.  However, my opinion plummeted in the final chapters of the book where Austen seemed to have some characters take wildly unexpected actions to conveniently further some plot points and then rushed the interesting aspects of the conclusion.  I also had to finally admit that Fanny Price is an incredibly bland heroine.

Now, my experience is that if you mention Mansfield Park to someone, after they too mention that Fanny is kind of boring and goody-goody, they’ll generally tell you that what they most remember about the book is that it involves the characters putting on a play—and that this is to some degree what is “unique” about it among Austen’s works.  I found this true.  The play occupies a significant portion of the book and takes a particular place of prominence in the minds of the characters.  To them, the play is either everything they adore about Mansfield Park or everything that ever went wrong.  I found this overblow.  I get the general emotions of the characters on the “inappropriateness” of the play as they were conveyed, but I think this does not entirely translate to modern audiences.  I understand that Fanny and Edmund were shocked, appalled, embarrassed, but I don’t fully see why beyond the general objections that people who were not engaged were practicing love speeches together.  (And also they took over a room without permission to start actually building a theatre, carpenter and all.)  So while this part was interesting, I think it thematically fell bit short for me and took up more of the story than I would have liked.

I enjoyed the other parts of the book more, even if they were more mundane—people going on walks, completing their work, having chats.  Austen gives readers detailed looks into the minds and personalities of a variety of personages, and I think this is one of the things she does best.

It’s just unfortunate that the main character is the most boring of this cast of characters.  The primary thing that anyone has to say about her—and it is said repeatedly—is that no one can find fault in her deportment.  She’s basically faultless.  Even if someone does blame Fanny of some misstep, the readers can see it’s unjust.  Fanny is just blandly good—unless you count her tendency to think about others have clearly less good conduct and thoughts.  Much of the story hinges on the fact that her rival in the love triangle simply does not have the moral ideas one would wish.  It’s dull.  That’s not to say Fanny ought to do something bad or shocking, but she doesn’t even seem to have any hobbies or interests besides “being of help” to others.  Her hobby is being a nice, polite person.

I honestly think Henry Crawford, one of the love interests, is the breakout star of the book.  He has a much more interesting temperament and a gripping character arc.

My only real wish is that Austen would have sustained her characterization till the end.  As I mentioned, I found the end rushed, and I think the characters made choices because Austen found them expedient, not because they really made sense.  The book overall is good, and I think Austen’s prose and insight into human nature win her admiration from me, but I have to take some stars off my rating because of the rushed ending.

3 Stars Briana

20 thoughts on “Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

  1. Elizabeth says:

    This so much! This was my last Austen book luckily (only in that it meant I am not sure I would have picked up her other books). I had a crisis of identity bc loving Austen is a core part of me as a reader! Everything you wrote here was spot in with my experience reading the book.

    The good news is you already ow this is the worst one. And all that walking, chatting, etc. is a defining characteristic of Austen’s writing so you have lots to look forward to there.

    Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility both seem like good options for you as they are both very witty. (P&P is my preferred book of the two). Persuasion is my all time favourite but it’s by far her most contemplative writing. There are lots of observations of society just like her other books, but it’s a little less sharp and a little more forgiving. I would stay away from Emma, it’s hard to get through and I wouldn’t read it after only having read her worst book haha. Northanger Abbey is super fun (although that is an unpopular opinion), but you can tell it is her first boon and she is still figuring some things out.

    I am so excited you read an Austen novel, and that Mansfield Park didn’t make you rage quit! (I had a total meltdown about this book on my blog haha)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elspeth says:

    I think it’s considered Austen’s worst book because there are so many terrible people in it! There are people who are less than stellar in all of her books, but in Persuasion, Emma, or Pride and Prejudice, the unlikeable people are more annoying than outright bad.

    However, Maria Bertram and The Crawfords are just bad people because they are. It’s been a while since I read it, but I don’t recall her offering any kind of mitigation for why they are as they are and why they do what they do. Austen offers very little redemption in their characters, which is out of step with the way we experience characters in most of her books.

    But that’s based on my 6+ year old memory of the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kim @ Traveling in Books says:

    It took me three tries to get through Mansfield Park because of the play, but when I listened to the audiobook and got past the play, I really enjoyed it. Olive from the BookTube channel A Book Olive has a great review of Mansfield Park and explains why Fanny is one of her favorite Austen heroines.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Miri ♪ Book Dragoness ♪ says:

    Oh dear! I read Austen for her wit and characterization and I hope this won’t fall short! Maybe you could try reading her other books. If you like hate to love, Pride and Prejudice is the obvious! I’ve read only P&P, Emma, and half of Sense & Sensibility (which I need to finish), and my favorite is Emma. It has more complicated plots and all and I really loved it!

    If I read Mansfield Park, at least I think I might enjoy the play aspect in it. Thanks for the review!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Emma is my favorite, as well! I love how she comes across as snotty and meddling (and she is), but you can start to see how it’s because she’s young and never really had anyone to teach her better; her father leaves her to her own devices. I love how she grows throughout the book.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sammie @ The Writerly Way says:

    I’m not really a Jane Austen fan (don’t shoot me, but I just don’t like her writing style), but Mansfield Park was the first one of her books I read for a book club, too. It wasn’t awful, but I didn’t love it, either. I think my qualms were basically the same as yours.

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    • Krysta says:

      I think I know one person who likes Mansfield Park There’s just something unbearably dull about Fanny and how she does no wrong. Austen’s other books are (to me) more interesting because the heroines are flawed, but still sympathetic. Lizzie, for instance, is wrong for immediately dismissing Darcy based on first impressions. Emma is wrong for butting her nose in everyone’s business, trying to matchmake, and making fun of other people. Both have more compelling stories because they are required to grow in ways Fanny is not; she’s already perfect.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Grab the Lapels says:

    I’m with you, Briana — I’m not a fan of Austen. I was assigned Pride & prejudice in college and couldn’t finish it. Feeling silly that I had not read a full Austen book, I chose Northanger Abbey to read aloud to my husband because he has an interest in Victorian Lit (and had a much better professor than I). I was really bored for most of what was supposed to be a Gothic spook-fest. *sigh* The commentary on plays in your review reminded me that playacting is not uncommon in such stories. They wrote plays constantly in Little Women. Also, I think Shirley Jackson has some of the best stories about writing plays for her children, but those are all stories from her nonfiction essays.

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I feel as if I can’t read P&P because I’ve seen the miniseries so many times and it’s so close to the book that it’s not really worth it!

      And, yes, I thought doing plays was a normal thing that happened around this time period, from reading other books, so the fact that this was highly scandalous in Mansfield Park was very surprising!

      Like

        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          That’s a good question! I think if there are times I see the movie before the book, it often makes me more inclined to like the movie actually. Because then the character already looks/acts like the actor in my mind. Whereas if I read the book and then watch the movie, I judge the movie more.

          Like

          • Grab the Lapels says:

            True. I saw Rebecca loads of times before I read the book, but I felt that they danced with each other. In cases like watching Alias Grace on Netflix and then reading the book, I just had a better picture of everything.

            I’ve heard reviewers are having kittens over what the script writer did to Where’d You Go, Bernadette and that the movie is an abomination.

            Like

  7. ireadthatinabook says:

    I must admit that Mansfield Park is my least favourite Austen too, but I think part of the problem is that we expect her novels to be light hearted romances. Thus we want a witty young heroine, a dashing young hero and a convincing happily ever after, but that is not the story she tells.

    Instead I would argue that several of her novels have more in common with Agatha Christie mysteries than with average romances. Much like Christie, Austen leaves plenty of evidence on what is actually going on and yet manages to make her readers completely misjudge the situation. Take Fanny vs Mary, Fanny is timid, boring, meek, where Mary is a sparkling character, so naturally as a reader it is easy to favour Mary, just like the other characters in the novel do. And yet, if I look their virtues more objectively it is Fanny who sticks to her conscience, despite her timidity and very vulnerable social position, which is really rather impressive. I believe that one of the clever things Austen does in this novel is to show how easy it is to mistake wit and charm for virtue and miss virtue in more humble forms.

    With that said, I do prefer to read about her wittier heroines, I guess I’m just a bit surficial that way…

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I suppose I’ve never thought of Austen books as being mystery-like both because Austen seems to be part of the Western cultural consciousness and because she has her own formulas that repeat throughout her novels. So, on a basic level, I think even people who haven’t read Austen know already that Lizzie ends up with Darcy, even though Darcy is not a dashing hero and Wickham apparently is. But once you’ve read one Austen novel, you see the formula. Very often, this formula is that a heroine meets a suitable but (to them) unattractive bachelor (Lizzie, Marianne, Emma), overlooks him for someone more dashing and/or younger, then finds out that dashing men are immoral, deceptive men, and ends up with the original hero. (This is also the basic formula for most love triangles; the initial love interest usually ends up winning over the second one, who is merely an obstacle to create drama in the relationship, and almost never someone the protagonist actually ends up with.)

      In Mansfield Park, this formula is reversed with the hero being in love with an unsuitable woman, but it’s basically just the Lizzie/Marianne/Emma plotline with gender roles reversed. It’s also basically the romance Elinor has; she’s in love with a hero in love with someone he obviously is never going to end up with. So while Austen may not be writing a typical Harlequin romance with witty heroines and dashing young heroes, I don’t tend to see her work as very surprising. She also likes to make it clear who the moral heroes and who the villains are early on. Basically, if you see Frank Churchill and you see he’s a dashing young man, you already know he’s trouble because, in an Austen novel, dashing young men always are.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ireadthatinabook says:

        When it comes to the final pairings I of course agree that they appear formulaic, but my impression is that this is because those pairings aren’t really the main point of the stories. While it’s fun to see who end up with who and how that’s not really what I meant when I argued that she writes like a mystery author. Take Wickham for example, the reason why we should suspect him in P&P is not because he is dashing, but because already from the beginning his words does not match his actions. It is just that Austen, like any good mystery writer, distracts us so that we easily overlook such inconvenient facts.

        Sure we can suspect any dashing characters on principle, but it’s much more satisfying to observe how her characters actions diverge from their words and their impressions of themselves. Even rereading them, when I know for sure what will happen, I still temporarily get caught in trusting the characters or narrators words, rather than focusing on their actions. The mystery is not so much who gets who but to see what truly happens through all the surface impressions.

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        • Krysta says:

          Good point! Even though Wickham seems dashing and wonderful, if you look closely, you can see how things don’t start to add up. Same with Churchill, etc. It’s especially fun to reread and already know what’s going to happen–then you can pick up on little clues that were always there, but maybe were missed in the first read!

          Liked by 1 person

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