Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship's Reviews > Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
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Jun 30, 2012

bookshelves: england, classics, literary-fiction
Read from June 30 to July 04, 2012

I've never been a huge fan of Jane Austen, even though it seems like I should be. This book was well-written and, for the most part, engaging, but I don't feel like I have enough of an opinion about it even to rate it (and, uh, that's not usually a problem for me).

A lot of the ratings seem to turn on what people thought of Fanny. For people who dislike the book, the reason is generally her conspicuous lack of awesomeness--she's timid, shy, and self-effacing, she's not witty, a walk in the garden exhausts her, and she doesn't ever do much of anything. ("I cannot act," she says, in response to her cousins' request that she take a part in a play--but this pretty much sums up her role in the book, too.) At the same time, it's clear that Austen thinks a good deal of her--the girl's practically a Mary Sue. She grows up overlooked and emotionally neglected, but she's still sweet as can be and loves everybody, even those who don't deserve it. Plus, she's always right and everybody else has to admit it in the end. She reminds me a bit of Esther in Bleak House, except Esther I'm not entirely sure we're supposed to take at face value, and Fanny I think we are.

Fanny's redeeming quality is that she sticks to her guns (incongruous a metaphor as that is). Even when it's not cool, and despite her dependent status, she won't go against her principles. Unfortunately, she doesn't distinguish between morality and the stultifying sense of propriety at the time, so one of her two big stands is against her cousins and their friends putting on a play. (The other one, dealing with her love life, is more interesting and I liked the way that turned out.) I've read some reviews that made me think she spoke out against the corruption in her society, the fact that her family's money depends on slave labor in the Caribbean--and that would've been cool, but actually nobody ever mentions this. (I hear the movie is totally different so maybe that's where this meme came from?)

Anyway, I also noticed here just how little physicality there is in Austen's books. There's not much description, nor physical action in the scenes. They're all dialogue and exposition. This contributes to how limited and stultifying her world feels, to me--although it's not her fault we're used to more cinematic writing these days.

This all makes it sound like I didn't like the book. In fact, I read through it in a few days and am sure it's a good literary effort. And it sounds like I disliked Fanny--but I don't really have strong feelings about her one way or the other. Guess I just didn't "get it."
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message 1: by Jocelyn (last edited Jan 05, 2016 09:54PM) (new) - added it

Jocelyn Even as an Austen fan, I totally see your point of view, especially with the (lack of) physicality. There's a sense of repression to Austen's writing that takes some patience to bridge, especially with such a narrow social focus; personally, I enjoy that kind of style simply for the novelty of it, but I can imagine seeing it as stifling too. One thing I do struggle to get my head around is why Austen occasionally tends to replace dialogue with narration (Henry's proposal to Fanny comes to mind), which really cuts off the vividness of some scenes.

This contributes to how limited and stultifying her world feels, to me--although it's not her fault we're used to more cinematic writing these days.

Out of curiosity, have you watched any of Austen's movie/TV adaptations? If nothing else, the lack of cinema is fixed quite well, for obvious reasons.

Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship Yes, I've seen a couple of the movies, and they were good. They're a very different experience from the books though - the ones I've seen went the costume romance route, which can be sweet, but I'm not over the moon about them. What it comes down to for me is that I don't find the social lives of the independently wealthy a particularly interesting subject for commentary, and especially not when those lives are heavily circumscribed and repressed and there's little at stake. (I mean, I know these girls don't have infinite opportunities to meet men, but the protagonists themselves express very little urgency about finding husbands in the general sense, so it doesn't feel to me as if there's much more at stake than in a modern romance.)

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