Hello everyone, and welcome to another installment in Austen Adventures! This time, Mathuri and I are tackling Mansfield Park. It about a young lady, Fanny Price, who is taken from her impoverished home with her parents and is brought up with her rich cousins at, you guessed it, Mansfield Park.
This installment also marks the halfway point in our Austen Adventures. I hope you have enjoyed it so far, and will continue to stay with us as we barrel towards the finish line!
Fanny is frequently silent in scenes, and the narrator often describes her speech to us instead of letting us hear Fanny speak herself. How does this technique affect the narrative? Does this impact how we know and understand Fanny as a character?
Mathuri: Absolutely! It was strange to be reading a lot more thoughts. Especially after Pride & Prejudice (Lizzie speaks her mind!) it was definitely a contrast. At first I was almost annoyed at Fanny for her refusal to say anything and avoiding all conversations. Of course, with the character development it turned more towards pity (and anger at Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram, the WORST!). The narrative helped me see that while Fanny was quiet and reserved, she was definitely extremely sensible. She could tell what kind of people the Crawfords were, even when the rest couldn’t.
Jessica: I have to call on my experience with other books where this happens. It definitely affects how I read a character because I always have to wonder who the narrator is. When you have the main character as the narrator, you always have to wonder if they are biased or not. What many don’t realize however, is that you should still wonder that regardless.
But specific to this book, I do agree with Mathuri in that it helped for Fanny’s characterization as quiet reserved, and sensible. This, I think, helps her be very observant compared to many others in this book, as well as Austen’s other novels. You have to be a quieter person, I find, to be more observant. The more you talk, the more you miss out on.
Should Fanny have given Henry a real chance or was she right to refuse his proposal?
Mathuri: From Fanny’s perspective, at first I thought that if she’d had guidance growing up, she would realize that a man of wealth and higher status offering marriage was rare and definitely should have been considered, even if he wasn’t a super great guy or even if there wasn’t love between them. It was her way to get out of being a slave to Lady Bertram and the family. I know that if it were me in that time period, I might have even said yes (with the influence of parents and if they thought it was a good choice, and that maybe I’m not as good at reading people as Fanny is). However, after the reveal of Maria and Henry running away together, I am so relieved for Fanny that she didn’t say yes. She would have been a wreck if Henry had done something like that after accepting a proposal. I’m also happy that she did start to consider it, after a lot of persistence from Henry. On paper, he sounds like a good choice, so I think Fanny shouldn’t have completely shut him down right away (I would have been good with an eventual no though!).
Jessica: For me, I always have the immediate reaction that you have to marry for love, so I do think that she was absolutely right to refuse him. I mean, it was obviously different in those days so refusing someone was…scandalous? Or, for the most part it was…like in Pride and Prejudice with Elizabeth and Mr. Collins. Just like Mathuri, I am absolutely relieved that she did say no, even beyond the lack of love thing. She does seem like one who would be devastated after Henry and Maria running away together.
I do disagree though about her considering him at least. Well, in a way. If she absolutely knew that she would be unhappy, why not immediately say no? I mean, I only put this into practice once, but I decide a little while ago that if there was a “hell no” response, then I could immediately say no (nicely), but if I had to think about it, I would give it a shot. If that makes sense.
The narrator often withholds exciting details and scenes from us. For instance, we get pretty limited information about the book’s major scandals. What’s the impact of this withheld or second-hand information on the narrative?
Mathuri: Maybe the idea is the represent that it’s not the scandal that’s important, but more the repercussions of it. Because of the Maria/Henry scandal, events occurred that led to Fanny and Edmund getting married. The play that was being put on could be a scandal in itself, and showed a lot of character development with the choices these characters made.
Jessica: I definitely agree here. It does put more focus on the fallout from the scandal. Frankly, I believe that in books, the scandal doesn’t particularly matter when compared with how everyone reacts to it. Like, if no one reacted to Lydia and Wickham running away in Pride and Prejudice, would there have been as much fallout? Probably not. I think it is the same here. The fact that we only get limited information on the major scandals in this book allows us to focus more on the fallout. Without that focus, I think many readers would have looked at the scandal. You cannot change what happened, but you can work on your reaction. A little bit meta, but there you go.
Moral behavior and “right” principles are major themes in this novel, and the novel shows us a lot of different kinds of moral behavior. Do you think Mansfield Park is something of a morality tale, a story that has a sort of moral lesson in it? Or is it making fun of morality tales? Why do you think so?
Mathuri: I think that it’s very much an insight into human behaviour and interesting to read. It was a great range of characters with Fanny and Edmund being on one side of the spectrum, and maybe Henry and Mary on the other. I thought that it was hard to judge who was wrong and right sometimes, and I think it’s a fun read being in a different time period to the book. The play for example, was considered wrong at the time but nowadays wouldn’t be as “scandalous”. I’m not sure if it’s making fun of morality but I think it gives more of an inside look at compatibility, and how while Edmund and Fanny are definitely very firm in their morals, it helped them get along.
Jessica: I think that it probably does have a moral lesson that was relevant to the time during which Jane Austen wrote it. But, like Mathuri mentioned, certain things would not be nearly as scandalous or immoral now as they were back then. I don’t know that this was a particularly comedic or “spoof” like novel, so I don’t feel as if it was making fun of morality tales. Maybe in terms of Austen it is, but on the whole I would say know. I think the only one that really makes fun of anything significant is Northanger Abbey. But we’ll get to that.
Is the ending of this novel believable? If not, why is this important?
Mathuri: I think the ending while believable, was not satisfying. I loved seeing Edmund and Fanny’s relationship grow, but I wish I’d seen more of Edmund realizing his feelings for Fanny, like we did for her (I will admit that I might have rushed the ending as I started a new job!).
Jessica: I always like seeing the…descent into madness. Okay I had to use that phrase, but I actually mean people falling for one another. So I do think it was believable, but like Mathuri, I’d have liked to been privy to more of Edmund’s side of things. Men are an absolute frustration and mystery, so that would’ve been helpful.
Thoughts from Mathuri
I thought I’d add a couple final thoughts this time round. Firstly, this book was definitely a little harder to get through. I disliked all the characters and behaviours. Edmund, for whom I had higher hopes for, had his very much lust for Mary that makes me want to say all boys are dumb (kidding…sort of). All the characters are a mess in different ways and I just wanted Fanny to run away or start a business and make her own way. Secondly, I used an audio book this time. I thought it was a good way to get into the book since I was having difficulties. I wanted to recommend people check out the LibroVox recording by Karen Savage if interested! Finally, I’m excited that we’re halfway through the Austen books! I can’t believe it’s been 6 weeks already, and that we’re at a point where we can compare novels. Can’t wait for more Austen Adventures!
Next Time on Austen Adventures: Emma on December 25th!
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