Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is not the most thrilling novel. Even amongst its less-than-thrilling brethren, it may seem a bit dull and uneventful. It is the story of a relatively poor young girl who is taken in by her wealthy uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, and for years lives with him, his wife, and his four children on their big estate, Mansfield Park. Fanny Price --that is the girl's name-- is never treated unkindly, but she is always made to feel apart, not a servant yet not on the level of the Bertram children.

The book skips fairly quickly to her young womanhood, to around the age of 18. Sir Thomas has gone off to see to business matters in Antigua, and you know how it is with mice when their personal member of parliament is away. The young Bertrams are especially a'tizzy about the arrival of a dashing brother-sister pair from London. Love interests and intrigues abound amongst the others, while Fanny sits quietly by.

Fanny seems to be a matter for contention amongst readers and reviewers. She does seem awfully timid and dull. Why, even the author herself seems to neglect Fanny through much of the first half of the book, and after reading just one chapter of Emma I am convinced that she is no Emma Woodhouse. Yet, I like her. I feel she and I are of a similar mind -- at least, while reading, I need not examine and contrast the depicted worldview with mine. And as dull and timid as she may seem on the surface, she is simply bubbling over with things to say, on the inside. It is her sense of propriety, and probably some feeling of inferiority, that make her hold her tongue.

Fanny is a character for the middle child, the girl who has felt neglected amongst the wooing of the eldest and the cooing at the baby. As Fanny bears the neglect beautifully and later flourishes, ultimately triumphing in her way, those who have felt neglected in their time can learn from her and take hope. She is a wonderfully strong character, though she works within the conventions of society. As she is no Emma, so she is no Antigone -- she is a quieter sort of heroine. I like her, yet I understand the demand for a lively, fiery protagonist. And yes, I long ago decided that I, like Fanny, might make a dull main character.

Now a bit about some of the other characters:

Mrs. Norris, the unpleasant cat of Hogwarts caretaker Argus Filch in the Harry Potter series, is a fitting tribute to the Mrs. Norris of Mansfield Park. Fanny's other aunt (along with Sir Thomas' wife, Lady Bertram), Mrs. Norris is eternally harassing and chiding the girl. She is a bustling, meddling creature, and the only characters who like her are the two Bertram sisters, on whom she dotes.

Tom, Maria, and Julia Bertram: Three of Fanny's cousins, they are all greedy and opportunistic. The girls especially are perfect foils to Fanny, examples of greed and other "ill thoughts" that Fanny does not, cannot posses. They are certainly not evil incarnate, and I felt they all deserved to be forgiven for their faults and misdeeds, but they do each receive a degree of punishment.

Edmund Bertram: Fanny's fourth cousin, he is good-hearted and proper, but at times misguided. To Fanny, he is always her only something, whether companion, advocate, listener, or... I'll let the ellipsis tell the tale.

Henry and Mary Crawford: The dashing young broth-sister duo from London, everyone at the Park is impressed by them, except Fanny, naturally. They seemed more like plot devices than characters to me.

Sir. Thomas is the dignified, above-it-all patriarch, though that view is occasionally parodied. He does not play an enormous role, though I found myself liking him, for some reason, so that is why he gets a mention.

I think of this as a novel of characters; there are many strong, interesting characters, and yes, with the absence of a thrilling plot, the characters must needs take over. In the second half, when the plot has much more life, the characters come even more alive. I imagine few will fall madly in love with this novel, but I still consider it worthwhile to have read.

View all my reviews on Goodreads >>

No comments:

Post a Comment