Not halfway through this book (which seemed to go on forever), I was thinking that what poor little Fanny Price needed in her life was an Emma Woodhouse to take her in hand and give her some substance and direction. Alas, no Emma appeared, and Fanny wandered through these pages, a pale and wan presence with little to recommend her.
I could not like Fanny. Indeed, she is pitiable and pathetic, but not especially likable. Truth to tell, there is not a single character in this book that I really liked. They are finely drawn, as are all Austen's characters, and perhaps in the time they were written and for the audience they were written, there might have been things to admire or feelings with which the reader could sympathize. It is hard to see how a modern reader could find them so.
Fanny Price is the daughter of the poorest of three sisters - the sister who made a disadvantageous marriage and was subsequently lumbered with nine children. The poor sister appeals to her other two siblings for help with her children and a plan is devised for Fanny, the oldest daughter of the poor family, to go and live with the richest of the three sisters' families, the Bertrams.
Fanny goes to live at Mansfield Park, the Bertrams' home, where she is treated with offhand kindness by her Aunt Bertram but as a very poor and undeserving relation by just about everybody else including her Aunt Norris, everyone's worst nightmare of an aunt. The exception to this poor treatment is the second son of the family, Edmund, who goes out of his way to be kind to Fanny and to be her friend and confidante. Consequently, of course, the ten-year-old Fanny falls in love with him and never falls out again.
This is essentially a novel of manners, the manners of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and is an explication of the rigid standards of conduct which must be adhered to in order for one to be acceptable to "society". I have enjoyed the other Austen novels that I have read which are, similarly, looking glasses reflecting that time and place, but this one was just too tedious and precious for even my patience and longsuffering nature as a reader. I read it to the very end where everyone finally received their comeuppance, but I had long since ceased to care.