Mansfield Park (In Modern Life?)…

Okay. Semester is almost done so you will soon no longer have to read my thoughts on Austen and how confuddled they sometimes make me feel. Just a few more…

Mansfield Park is not my favorite of Austen. I know the values hidden underneath are important, and I know that I should be less critical of Fanny Price, but I still find myself being hard on her.

She is just so utterly passive the first two thirds of the novel that sometimes I cannot stand her. I cannot stand the way she is so utterly devoted to her morals—and the way she simply lets Edmund shape her every thought. She just stands by as Mary Crawford takes her man and does nothing about it at all. Even at the end, *spoiler* she wins him over by default.

It was really hard for me to read this book, because somewhere in the middle of the novel, I realized I was more like Fanny than I ever wanted to be. I am quiet. I am an observer. I don’t like to express my opinions unless someone asks for them. When I read the passage of Fanny describing her room in the attic, surrounding herself with faux memories in order to distance herself from her real life, I saw so much of myself in her it almost made me feel a little ill.

I would like to think I am more of a Lizzy Bennet than a Fanny Price, that I would be able to voice my opinions to Lady Catherine De Bourgh with no shame. And maybe I would if I was confronted with that situation. I would like to think I was more of an Elinor Dashwood, who keeps things to herself, but it’s because she is strong—more than being passive.

But I think the reason we are still able to connect with Fanny on some level is that there is always a part of us that can relate to her. We all want to be a Lizzy. But every now and then, I’m sure we can all admit that we have just wanted to disappear like Fanny.

What do you think? Which Austen character do you relate to the most?

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P.S. I am having a Shakespeare’s Lady giveaway on Goodreads! Enter to win a free copy.

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5 thoughts on “Mansfield Park (In Modern Life?)…

  1. I think you’ve gotten “Mansfield Park” exactly right. I think it’s Austen’s most difficult book because Fanny is more like the person we are than the person we would like to be (just as you said). Fanny also slows the story down, so there is less action, which means we get to spend a lot of time watching the characters do very mundane things; and after a while, this slowness plunges us — or me anyhow — right down the rabbit hole, so I feel I know these characters better than any other Austen characters, but at the same time feel they are aliens from another universe. It’s almost a modernist work, as if Austen dreamed she read “To The Lighthouse” 100+ years before it was written, woke up, and said, “Yes, I can take a crack at that.”

    • Good point. It’s always interesting to me when people absolutely love it–but I can understand why it would appeal to readers who want to take Austen a step further than her role as a classic romance writer. Although it wasn’t my favorite, it was refreshing. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Funny you should bring this up. I’ve also been thinking about passivity in myself and others. I read a line in a biography last week that was something to the effect of she ‘used her strength to endure rather than to shape her life.’ I think that describes me far more often than I would like.

    I disliked Fanny in the extreme the first time I read MP, but when I read it again last spring, she didn’t bother me as much. I could at least admire her for her consistency and her loyalty. Also, the second time through you notice little things that tell you she’s not quite as passive/prudish as she seemed at first glance– for example, she never actually condemns the theatrical, she just doesn’t want to participate (if I’m remembering right, my books are packed so I can’t pull it out and see). And there’s a line from (Trilling?) (Kenner?) that also helped– she is a perfect example of what the Sermon on the Mount calls “the pure in heart.”

    • I can’t remember exactly if she condemns the play, but I know at the beginning Edmund does and Fanny tends to take everything he says as the golden rule. (Of course, before he goes against everything and takes the role on Anhalt.) I like the point you bring up. Maybe the reason I don’t like her is because of the way she manifests her passivity. It’s so interesting to think of her in comparison to a character like Elinor Dashwood, whose passivity we’ve come to represent as strength of character–while we chide Fanny for hers.

      Thanks so much for your comment. I love getting to discuss literature with someone from home. Seems like I don’t get the opportunity all that often. 🙂

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