Fanny Price, a girl of ten, undergoes a complete change of circumstances when her rich relatives the Betrams offer to bring her up, away from her large and under-privileged family. Small and scared, it takes time for her to grow accustomed to her new family, but she is much comforted by the kindness of her cousin Edmund.
By the time Fanny is eighteen, she has become quite necessary to the comforts of the extremely laid-back Lady Bertram, but her other aunt –Mrs. Norris, quite the opposite of her sister in every way – likes to spend her time criticizing and over-scolding Fanny for anything she can possibly think of. She is not of much consequence to her other cousins (Tom, Maria, and Julia) one way or another. Her uncle Sir Thomas, whom she always found rather frightening, had been gone for a year or two, his business dragging on longer than he’d expected.
Henry and Mary Crawford, the half-sister and brother of the parson’s wife, arrive at Mansfield and find their way into the emotions of the Bertram siblings. Henry is quick to capture both Maria and Julia’s fancy, while Edmund finds himself attracted to Mary.
Fanny is disturbed by all this – disgusted by Henry’s flirtatiousness, and worried about Edmund and Mary; not only does Fanny herself have tender feelings for Edmund, but she observes Edmund’s (sometimes purposeful) blindness to Mary’s faults and shortcomings. When he does notice something – be it an inappropriate way of looking at things, or something that goes against Edmund’s beliefs and principles – he is bothered by it for a while, but then conveniently forgets as he is distracted by her good looks, playful wit, and sparkling dark eyes.
After sporting with the Miss Bertrams’ hearts, Henry Crawford decides that he must make Miss Price attached to him, and though he tries very hard to be agreeable, he does not succeed with her so easily as he has with everyone else. Eventually, Mr. Crawford finds himself to be the one in love, and everyone is very happy about the proposed match – except Fanny herself.
Mansfield Park was Jane Austen’s third book, published in 1814.
My sentiments (for those who are already acquainted with Mansfield Park)
Now, there is some scandal in most of Jane Austen’s books, but Mansfield Park must top them all off. I got towards the end, and goodness! It all happens at once! I went through the last seven or so chapters with great rapidity. (Great rapidity for me, that is, but I’m never much of a fast reader.)
I like Fanny. All the Jane Austen heroines are so different! Fanny is shy and timid, gentle and selfless. One thing I especially like about her – she cries easily. (I can relate to that.) Even though she is timid and quick to do anything anyone wants her to do, she stands firm in her beliefs, and with important things, while it makes her very upset to be displeasing anyone, she won’t let them change her convictions. She is a better judge of character than anyone else in the book.
I felt sorry for her a lot. The words “poor Fanny!” were so often running through my head, since unpleasant things were so frequently happening to her, and because of the way she had to bear them all.
Despite other opinions I know have been expressed, I thought as badly of Henry and Mary Crawford as Fanny did. I hated the control Mary seemed to have over Edmund, and I always thought Henry was a jerk – even before the scandal. It would have been horrid if Fanny had married him – he would still have been a flirt, even after they were married, and likely worse. As to Mary and Edmund, I was very happy they didn’t end up together! They both would have been miserable.
I actually liked Mansfield Park better than I had expected to – other than it’s being written by Jane Austen, I didn’t have many expectations. I’m not quite satisfied with the hurried ending – I would have liked to see more dialogue there (especially where Edmund and Fanny are concerned) but then, with only one chapter to settle it all, I didn’t expect more than that.
I had chosen Mansfield Park to read next, because it was the story I knew least about. I’d seen the 1983 mini-series once, but that was all, and I felt so under-educated when it came to the characters. I am very glad I read it.