Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park 1999

Fanny's (Australian actress Frances O'Connor) first ball

I've just finished reading Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. This is only the second time I've read it through. I thought I'd take the time to jot down some of my thoughts, as I did with P&P a few weeks ago.

(I'm assuming that my readers are familiar with the plot and characters; if you're not, get yourself a copy of the book and read it, for goodness sake!)

Mansfield Park 1999

Mary Crawford (Embeth Davidtz)

In MP, moreso than in almost any other Austen book, one gets a sense of the living, breathing society of Regency England. I'm not just talking about the upper-middle-class and the aristocracy. In MP, we see many instances of the Bertrams and their associates interacting with people from all levels of society, including the lower classes.

There tends to be this public perception (no doubt influenced by all the movie adaptations of Austen's work that have been made) that the characters in any given Austen novel do little more than:

Mansfield Park 1999

a.) Sit inside and drink tea; the ladies might also do some embroidery, while the gentleman bestow gallantries on all and sundry,

b.) Spend hours and hours gracefully walking through the beautiful park grounds of various stately homes; the ladies in their bonnets, the gentlemen in top hats,

c.) Get all dressed up and go to balls, participating in complicated, well-choreographed "country dances", and, mostly importantly,

d.) Fall in and out of love; the gentlemen making, the ladies receiving, various proposals of marriage.

Of course, this is all complete rubbish. 19th century life was comprised of much more than drinking tea and going to balls, and this illustrated again and again in MP.

Mansfield Park 1999

Henry (Allessandro Nivola) and Mary Crawford

Some examples of the Bertrams' active involvement in Regency life:

*Tom Bertram, the eldest son, the one who should be responsible and mature, is rarely at home. Instead, he is constantly spending time with various friends, drinking, partying, attending the [horse]races. . . (hey, I didn't say that all this "active involvement in Regency life" was positive!)

*Edmund is also not often at home through much of Fanny's girlhood. He is off attending school at Eton, then university at Oxford.

Mansfield Park 1999

The indolent Lady Bertram (Lindsey Duncan) with her beloved Pug

*We are told that Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram used to go to London every year, where Sir Thomas would "attend his duty in Parliament" (chap. 2) until eventually Lady Bertram decided she couldn't be bothered with the annual trip to London, leaving her husband to go alone each year.

*Sir Thomas regularly checks his "plantations" on his estate (chap. 20). Presumably crops/trees? The "farming" aspect of having a large country estate in the 1800s? 

Mansfield Park 1999

Julia Bertram (Justine Waddell) with Aunt Norris (Sheila Gish)

*Aunt Norris is a busybody (almost like a much nastier version of Mrs. Lynde from Anne of Green Gables) so not surprisingly she is constantly interfering and bossing people around (e.g. the housekeeper and gardener at Sotherton, chap. 10; the carpenter's son, chap. 15, etc. etc.)

Mansfield Park 1999

Fanny's childhood home in Portsmouth

*William's involvement in the navy. And indeed, the Price family and their home provide a unique glimpse into the lives of a genuinely poor family living in the city (Portsmouth). They have enough to keep clothed and fed; but little more. 

The above are just a few examples out of many.

Mansfield Park 1999

Henry Crawford and Fanny Price

Mansfield Park is a book that can be enjoyed on many levels, depending on how deep you want to delve into the moral and philosophical questions that are posed with brilliant subtlety. There are many passages in the book that could be seen to have a secondary meaning in them. But, on the other hand, Mansfield Park is also enjoyable simply as a wonderfully good Regency soap opera, with drama and love triangles galore.

Mansfield Park 1999

Henry and Fanny again. . . 

I realised once again just how different MP is in tone from Austen's other books. There are hints of Jane Austen's marvellous wit here and there, but for the most part MP is much more serious than any of the three books Austen had previously penned - Northanger Abbey, S&S, and P&P.

Mansfield Park 1999

The young Fanny (Hannah Taylor Gordon) travels from Portsmouth to her Uncle's house, Mansfield Park

Jane Austen doesn't usually use up many passages in poetic descriptions of nature -- this doesn't mean that JA didn't appreciate the natural world; I think she just preferred to focus on people, not landscapes, in her novels. Here in Mansfield Park, however, our heroine Fanny Price is a nature-loving soul, and there are several descriptive passages of a kind that we don't normally see in Austen's novels.

Mansfield Park 1999

Henry Crawford. Henry CRAWFORD! He is the only Austen "bad boy" for whom I have any real sympathy, but in the end I always want to wring his neck. You stupid man! If only he had stood firm and resisted temptation, he could have won the heart of the woman he loved and lived happily ever after with her. Instead, he took the bait, he failed the test, and in doing so, forever shattered all his hopes of happiness.

Henry Crawford, ruined by early independence and bad domestic example, indulged in the freaks of a cold–blooded vanity a little too long. Once it had, by an opening undesigned and unmerited, led him into the way of happiness. Could he have been satisfied with the conquest of one amiable woman’s affections, could he have found sufficient exultation in overcoming the reluctance, in working himself into the esteem and tenderness of Fanny Price, there would have been every probability of success and felicity for him. His affection had already done something. Her influence over him had already given him some influence over her ... Would he have persevered, and uprightly, Fanny must have been his reward, and a reward very voluntarily bestowed, within a reasonable period from Edmund’s marrying Mary.

Had he done as he intended, and as he knew he ought, by going down to Everingham after his return from Portsmouth, he might have been deciding his own happy destiny...

...we may fairly consider a man of sense, like Henry Crawford, to be providing for himself no small portion of vexation and regret: vexation that must rise sometimes to self–reproach, and regret to wretchedness, in having so requited hospitality, so injured family peace, so forfeited his best, most estimable, and endeared acquaintance, and so lost the woman whom he had rationally as well as passionately loved.
(MP, chapter 48)

Henry, you IDIOT!

Mansfield Park 1999

Another one of the reasons why I like Henry - he has the sense to fall in love with the right girl! Edmund has steadier principles and better morals than Henry, and yet he falls for the selfish and worldly Mary Crawford. Eventually, in the final two pages of the book, Edmund comes to his senses and realises it was Fanny he loved all along, &c., but I still get a little bit annoyed with him for falling in love with Mary instead of Fanny.


Now - a couple of discussions starters.

  • Have you read Mansfield Park? How would you rate it against Jane Austen's other books? What did you think of Fanny Price?
  • Henry Crawford - did you loathe him, or did you (like me) secretly want Henry and Fanny to get together? In literature, who are some of your favourite could-have/should-have/would-have bad boys who almost came good, but didn't?

The pictures featured in this post are from the 1999 adaptation of MP. It's not a great adaptation of the book, and in some ways it wildly diverges from Austen's plot and characters. I don't necessarily recommend the film, but the pictures are gorgeous.

Current Mood: Sleepy


Bria said...

Love this post!!! I always love coming to your blog Elise! It makes me want to go read every Austen novel and make regency dresses! And you have such a knack for telling things the way they are.

Alexandra said...

Ooooh. Um, let me think. Sydney Carton in "A Tale of Two Cities"...I guess he's more of a tragic character than a bad boy, but you still wish that he would get together with Lucie.

Um...I'll have to think and come back. ;-)

The Editrix said...

Thanks, Bria! :-)

A Tale of Two Cities - I must read it sometime. . . I've heard that it's one of Dickens' best.

Theresa said...

I loved MP too, but it didn't 'click' for me as much as the other Austen books. I just got SO frustrated with Fanny and Edmund! [especially Edmund] And yeah, I liked Henry too but I always felt like there was an other motive for his liking her. Kind of like Mr Elliot in Persuasion, he just wanted Anne so that she could be his little wife and he could still have mistresses.
But as far as bad boys go, I always liked Willoughby... haha.

The Editrix said...

LOL, I know a couple of other Janeites who like Willoughby, too. But I've always liked Henry better. Henry has (so it seems to me) more sense than Willoughby. And Willoughby talks too much. . .

LadyBug-Laurie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LadyBug-Laurie said...

Willoughby does make flowery speeches but he could have turned out differently if he'd only made the right choices - I feel sorry for him sometimes, but only sometimes. Henry Crawford on the other hand, I feel that he could never be trusted, I distrust him instantly like Fanny. I am very convinced that he could never truly appreciate Fanny's merits or get to know her true self. What he "fell in love with" was only his idea of her and the idea of himself wooing her. He really is the most narcissistic villain Miss Austen created. So full of himself - I get a very bad taste in my mouth every time I think of him!

While Edmund is a bit of a fool at first I think in his heart he is really deserving of Fanny, he really truly understands her heart and what makes her tick and he appreciates her.

I'm currently reading MP straight through for the first time though I know the story by heart. I enjoy it but agree that it's more serious in tone. I think Miss Austen enjoyed writing something more serious than P&P, more original than NA (which was more a satire on Gothic novels), and with less sensibility than S&S (which has a very young tone to it).
As for Fanny herself I love her dearly and think I understand her well. I can't talk/hear/read about her without wishing I was a bit more like her.

Thank you for your post, I've been needing some JA discussion lately! :)

Miss Jen said...

Oh... you have inspired me to read or
watch Mansfield Park.... :)
Awww... I wonder which one
I should do first.... that is
always a tough decision!

Love~ Jen

Laurel Ann said...

Lovely post. Mansfield Park is one of my favorite Austen novels and you have truly paid homage. Thanks

The Editrix said...

Laurie - I read somewhere that Mansfield Park was Jane Austen's favourite novel, out of all her books. I think you're right - the relatively light "P&P" style Austen is the one we're most familiar with, but in MP Austen shows another side to her writing - a more mature, more serious style of writing. If only Jane Austen had lived longer. . . I wonder how she would have matured further as a writer?

Henry. . . yes, I suppose you're right, but I've still got a soft spot for him all the same. :-) I don't normally go for the bad guy, but. . .

Jen - you should DEFINITELY read the book first. Trust me. And if you're going to watch the 1999 version, proceed with caution - there are a couple of scenes that need to be fast-forwarded through. . .

Laurel Ann - thankyou for your encouraging words! :-)

The Editrix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I love your new period film photos on the side! And so glad you wrote some more about Mansfield Park. It's so under-appreciated by readers today, which is so unfair.


The Editrix said...

Yay, someone noticed the new piccies! :-D I'm glad you enjoyed the MP post!

Grace said...

I have not read MP.

But I think it would be a good book

The Editrix said...

You should read it sometime, when you're a little bit older. :-)

Big sis

Annette Piper said...

It has been ages since I read MP or seen this adaption (that the pics were from). It is a little more gritty than the general lighthearted stories with their many frolics. I basically just wanted Fanny to have a bit more get up and go - but that wouldn't have fit in with the period!

Nice to meet a fellow rural -NSW blogger into the same sort of films/books as me!! Will be following you :)