Shayne's Reviews > Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
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's review
Oct 05, 2008

really liked it
Read in October, 2008

This was a re-read, but the first in many years.

Mansfield Park seems to appear quite frequently on people's "least favourite Austen book" lists, but I enjoyed it a lot. I actually like timid, frail little Fanny, whose heart is a good deal warmer than those of the more flamboyant female characters. She's affectionate, loyal, and prepared to stick to what she feels to be right even though she suffers all the more for it because she's so powerless.

But Fanny is not a beguiling heroine to hang a whole novel on, and Austen does not attempt to. Mansfield Park is a rich and complex work, with ambiguous characters, plots within plots, and layers of symbolism that aren't what I usually associate with Jane. Her use of the play "Lovers' Vows" is sheer brilliance in what it shows us of the characters and their entwined relationships, even down to the fate of the performance itself. On a smaller scale, the game of "Speculation" does something similar.

Mary Crawford can be seen as a portrait of what Elizabeth Bennet might be if she had all the wit and liveliness we love, but without solid virtue at her core. Mrs Norris is, I think, Austen's nastiest female character (in the six novels, at least; I'm not counting Lady Susan). She makes Lady Catherine seem like a cuddly granny. Edmund is very silly for most of the book, but it's (mostly) convincing, and it's forgivable, because he gets there in the end. Henry Crawford plays the villain, but he had a very good chance of being the hero.

The editor of my edition says he considers Mansfield Park "one of the most profound novels of the nineteenth century", which is high praise indeed. I'll content myself with saying I like it very much.
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