Sherwood Smith's Reviews > Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
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Most Austen aficionados agree that Pride and Prejudice is a great book. Jane Austen thought it might be too "light and bright and sparkling"--that its comedy might outshine its serious points--but its continued popularity today indicates that her recipe for brilliance contained just the right ingredients.

Yet a lot of modern readers loathe Mansfield Park, despite its being thought by others the greatest of all Austen's work. What's going on here?

Frequently leveled criticisms:
* Fanny is a stick.
* The moral stances against the Lovers' Vows and against the Crawfords are baseless and pompous.
* The marriage of cousins is not just disappointing, it's disgusting.
* The ending is disappointing. Edmund is a dreary hero--Henry would have been much better a match for Fanny.

Fanny is a stick. The ink spilled about Fanny pegs her as physically weak, humorless, and worst of all she disapproves of innocent and harmless fun like the play for what seem to be self-righteous reasons.

Fanny's physical weakness seems easy enough to dismiss as a criticism. However uninteresting continuous illness is for a modern reader (unless it's a reader who loves hospital and doctor stories), that is actually a slice of reality 200 years ago. Fanny's physical state is an observant portrait of a sensitive child who was never given the warmth of a fire in winter, who wore cast-off clothing, and probably was fed last in the nursery, maybe even the leavings that the bigger cousins didn't want. She gets a headache being cooped up indoors, suggesting allergies. Aunt Norris made it her business to see that giving Fanny as much as her cousins got was "unnecessary waste" and Lady Bertram was too indolent to notice. Sir Thomas had little to do with the children's upbringing, so he didn't see it either--we discover this when he comes to the nursery for the first time, and discovers that Fanny has never had a fire in winter.

There is plenty of corroborative detail of this sort of treatment of poor relations raised as charity cases by wealthier relatives, if one reads period memoirs, letters, even sermons. Aunt Norris says later in the book to Fanny Remember wherever you go you are always least and lowest, and no contemporary reader ever pointed this out as unbelievable.

Fanny's character is retiring, but that's understandable considering the way she's been raised. Austen (who had a brother adopted into a wealthy relation's family) seems to understand what it would be like for a young person to be taken from her home, crowded and humble as it was, to be raised in a completely different manner--and manor. Fanny is an acute observer, at least as acute as Mary Crawford is, and far more charitable. Probably moreso, for Fanny was able to descry emotional changes in both Mary and Edmund as well as her more readable cousins, and Mary--while seeing Julia's plight, and shrugging it off--did not see Fanny's adoration for her Cousin Edmund. Mary was also able to talk herself into believing Fanny's unswerving politeness to Henry, and her occasional flushes of anger, as expressions of love. Fanny sees into everyone's heart, and feels for them all, deserving or not--excepting only Henry. She sees his love, but she does not trust it, or him. Though Austen does say later she might have married him, after time--if Edmund had married first.

Fanny has no humor. If you compare the number of moments of laughter, you'll find that Fanny exhibits far more sense of humor than Anne in Persuasion or Elinor of Sense and Sensibility, much as I love both characters, especially Anne. I suspect many readers overlook examples like this bit in Book One, Chapter XII, where Tom has just come in during a hastily-arranged ball, and is bitching to Fanny:

"...they need all be in love, to find any amusement in such folly--and so they are, I fancy. If you look at them, you may see they are so many couple of lovers--all but Yates and Mrs. Grant--and, between ourselves, she poor woman! must want a lover as much as any one of them. A desperate dull life hers must be with the doctor," making a sly face as he spoke toward the chair of the latter, who proving, however, to be close at his elbow, made so instantaneous a change of expression and subject necessary, as Fanny, in spite of everything, could hardly help laughing at. "A strange business this in America, Dr. Grant! What is your opinion? I always come to you to know what I am to think of public matters."

After which Austen makes it clear that, despite the situation, Fanny cannot forebear laughing out loud. Later, she and brother William talk and laugh in the coach all the way to Portsmouth. I just can't see Anne Elliott cracking a smile in either situation. The real sticking points are Fanny's disapproval of the Crawfords, and . . .

The moral stance Fanny takes against the play. I've seen modern readers inveigh against this as a harbinger of lugubrious Victorianism. They overlook the fact that in Austen's day, it was a sign of disrespect to carry on as if unconcerned when the head of the house was away, and in danger of his life. And even now, who among us would like to make a long, fatiguing trip just to come home and discover that our own room (out of all the rooms in a big house) is the scene of an ongoing party? As for the Crawfords and ther innate badness, Austen tries to show us attractive people who can be kind, are socially acceptable, but were raised without any but the most superficial moral awareness, much less conviction.

Many feel that this novel is filled with more delicious wit and comedy than any of the others outside of Pride and Prejudice. Contemporary psychology, psychiatry, and social sciences of various sorts worry anxiously at the nature-versus-nuture debate, as we try to figure out why we are the way we are; Austen tries to show us that someone without morals may reform, but it takes time and effort as well as love. And would Henry Crawford have reformed? I'll come back to that.

The marriage of cousins is disgusting. No getting around that, not what with we know about genetics, so we grow up regarding our cousins as being as off-limits as siblings. On first reading Austen's novels, my then-teenaged daughter was only slightly less repulsed by the marriage of cousins than she was at Emma's marrying a guy well old enough to be her father--and who acts like one more often than not. But the truth is that these things were quite common during Austen's time. And, given the sequestered lives country girls lived, it was a miracle if they met any young men outside of their handy cousins--who presumably at least had the proper rank in life; there was still a tendency for parents to feel it was better for older and wiser heads to select husbands for their innocent daughters, and handy male cousins, well known to the family, also rounded out estates nicely.

Edmund is a dull hero. Is he really dull? He exhibits about as much of a sense of humor as does Mr. Darcy, which is to say very little. When he's with Fanny he is, at best, the kindly, well-meaning, but rather patronizing older brother.

In fact Edmund is at his worst in his scenes with Fanny. He's insensitive and condescending--he's a typical teen-age boy in the early scene when he tries to talk Fanny into being glad to live with Aunt Norris. Even his being a teenager is no excuse for such insensitivity, for he has to have observed her unsubtle cruelties. Unless he believed that Fanny really was a second class member of the family--which observation does not redound to his credit. In all their other scenes, he's unfailingly kind (except when he permits Mary to monopolize Fanny's horse, which is prompted by his crush on Mary), and when he tries first to to bully Fanny into participating in the play, and then he tries to bully her into marrying Henry--despite his vaunted principles, which he knows Henry doesn't share, his motive being that giving Fanny to Henry will bring Mary closer to himself. He does care about Fanny in his own peculiar way, but there is absolutely no chemistry; he calls her Sister right until the end, when he wants to denounce his own sisters for straying from societal norms, so that Austen's unconvincing narrative that he fell in love "after just the right amount of time" carries a strong whiff of incest.

Edmund also comes off poorly when he discusses Mary Crawford with Fanny, metaphorically wrinkling his nose over her rather free speech and attributing her frankly expressed opinions to bad upbringing. He proves himself a first class hypocrite when he denounces the acting scheme, but then gives in because Mary wants to act--and then he's so involved with Mary that he totally overlooks the more serious trouble going on between his sisters over Henry. The evidence is there--Fanny sees it--but Edmund doesn't.

Mary falls for him in spite of herself, and here is our clue that the Edmund the family sees is not the Edmund the world sees. She sees Edmund as a man and not as the family's moral windvane. It's through her eyes that Edmund becomes mildly interesting. "He was not pleasant by any common rule, he talked no nonsense, he paid no compliments, his opinions were unbending, his attentions tranquil and simple." She's fascinated by this kind of guy--she's never met one before--and in her company, Edmund comes alive. In some of their passages he exhibits intelligence and even a faint semblance of wit. I think the internal evidence is clear that, had they married, it probably would have been happy for a few months. But once the reality of being a minister's wife really hit Mary, and the newness wore off, she would have felt imprisoned, and made Edmund's life hell. That she craved some kind of peace and security was clear enough, but not as a minister's wife. She knew her limitations, and was satisfied enough with herself to not wish to change.

If one speculates, as I do, about what happens after the end of each novel, it's easy to see Edmund carrying a torch for Mary Crawford for the rest of his life--and Fanny knowing it. There's too much a sense of settling for second best when he marries Fanny--which brings me to my own problem with this novel.

In his essay on Mansfield Park in Lectures on Literature, Vladimir Nabokov says, "An original author always invents an original world, and if a character or an action fits into the pattern of that world, then we experience the pleasurable shock of artistic truth, no matter how unlikely the person or thing may seem if transferred into what book reviewers, poor hacks, call "real life." There is no such thing as real life for an author of genius: he must create it himself and then create the consequences."

The weakest point in Pride and Prejudice is the coincidence that brings Darcy and Elizabeth face to face at Pemberley. Jane Austen tried to smooth it as much as she could, having had Mrs. Gardiner grow up in the area, and making it possible for Elizabeth to visit because she is safe in the knowledge that the Darcy family are away. But still, when he comes round the side of the stable and their eyes meet, it's an interesting moment, and a moment we hoped for, but not an inevitable moment.

In Mansfield Park, until the very last there are no coincidences. Each action unfolds with dramatic integrity, flowing logically from the preceding. Where the consequences falter is at the end of the third book, when Austen shifts from showing us the novel in a series of exquisitely detailed scenes. Abruptly the story is tucked away and the narrator steps up and addressed the reader directly, telling us what happened. We are told what happened, we're told why, and in short, we're told what to believe.

Austen kept the subsequent actions off-stage because delicacy dictated such a course. A lady would not 'show' Henry's crucial decision to run off with Maria Bertram Rushworth--making some readers think it an arbitrary decision. We're told in Austen family lore that Jane's sister Cassandra begged Jane to end the book differently, with Fanny marrying Henry, but Jane was obdurate.

I suspect that Jane Austen intended this bit to be the convincing piece of evidence against Henry:

He saw Mrs. Rushworth, was received by her with a coldness which ought to have been repulsive, and have established apparent indifference between them for ever: but he was mortified, he could not bear to be thrown off by the woman whose smiles had been so wholly at his command; he must exert himself to subdue so proud a display of resentment; it was anger on Fanny's account; he must get the better of it, and make Mrs. Rushworth Maria Bertram again in her treatment of himself.

This passage echoes his first conversation alone with Mary, when he decides so idly to make Fanny fall in love with him. We already know from earlier evidence he likes the chase. Never all the way to marriage. He makes jokes about that. With this decision about Fanny, we see that he stirs himself to action if any woman resists his flirtation, even someone as insignificant as Fanny; early on in his pursuit, he can't even remember if he saw her dancing, though he professes to remember her grace.

But saying that Henry pursues Fanny all the way to proposing marriage just because she resists him is too simple. The reason he doesn't ask Maria Bertram to marry him when she's dropped as many hints as she can that she's not only willing, but expecting a proposal, is that though he finds her extremely attractive (all those rehearsals of the tender scene prove that) he has no respect for her. He knows she's selfish and a hypocrite, which is fine for idle flirtation. Fanny is the first woman he respects. And that respect might--might--be enough to change him, some readers think, before we're abruptly thrust out of the story, just to be told by the narrator that the deserving got their happy ending, and the others didn't.

Finally, in Fanny's and Henry's relationship there is that fascinating element of the reformed rake, the taming of the beast, that was as much a draw to women readers in Romantic poetry (check out Byron--and the reactions from his audience, in old letters and articles) as it is now. I wonder if, in fact, readers 200 years ago were as disappointed with this ending as modern readers are now--saying out loud, "Well, this is the way it ought to be," but internally rewriting the story so that Henry does resist Maria's angry, selfish intentions despite her physical allure, and Fanny gets her passionate and reformed Henry, rewarding him with all that devotion and sensitivity that seems wasted on Edmund. Opinions in Austen's circle seemed to have been mixed, and the book apparently did not sell as well as the others.

Why did Austen end it the way she did? Were Fanny's feelings for Edmund real love? They don't read that way to me.

It could be my opinion is colored by Edmund's reactions to Fanny, for chemistry has to go two ways if it's to be sustained, but her admiration, sparked so early in her teens, seems the kind of crush romantic youngsters form and then grow out of. She's clear-sighted enough to see Edmund's faults concerning Mary, but she doesn't seem to see his other vagaries. She does see Henry's faults, but at the very end, it seems she is slowly being won over through his alterations; when they walk together in Portsmouth on a Sunday morning, energy sparks between them. She cares for his opinion, she watches him. It seems to me that this is the start of real love, the love of a mature woman. But then, quite suddenly, it all is thrown away, the more unconvincing because Austen resorts to telling us what to think, after an entire novel in which she had shown, so beautifully, living and breathing characters.

Consistency, in Nabakov's sense, is sacrificed; moral truth is firmly asserted, at the cost of artistic truth. I don't blame that on Fanny, but on her creator.
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Finished Reading
October 18, 2008 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-50 of 67 (67 new)

message 1: by VMom (new)

VMom I just noticed (browsing the listopia page) that you voted for this on Books with the Worst Ending List. Do you feel she should have accepted Henry?
I never much liked Edmund myself -- I don't see that he really appreciated her.

message 2: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Austen says that if Edmund had married Mary, Fanny would have married Henry. I think that might have been the making of Henry--and it would have been an adult love for Fanny, who has that girlish crush on her cousin.

But I think it the worst ending because the rest of the book is so brilliantly shown, then Austen shoves the action off stage, and has her narrator lecture the reader on what happened next, right down to E and F falling in love "after the right amount of time" without showing us a smidge of it.

message 3: by VMom (new)

VMom Sherwood wrote: "Austen says that if Edmund had married Mary, Fanny would have married Henry. I think that might have been the making of Henry--and it would have been an adult love for Fanny, who has that girlish c..."

It's been so long since I read it ... and it's my least favorite Austen so it doesn't get re-read much. Everything ends up so safe. I wonder if Austen was unexcited about F & E and just did the hand-waving instead of showing.

message 4: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith I don't think so--the rest of the novel is so brilliantly done, and she get so deeply into the characters. I suspect that she was too reticent to show Mary and Henry running off, but kept that at a respectable remove. (Like she did Lydia and Wickham, but in that case, they were side characters, so we never needed to see them)

message 5: by VMom (new)

VMom Yes, that would have been to sordid to detail, I suppose.
Now I want to read an alternate ending where Edmund marries Mary and Fanny marries Henry.

Lee Anne The only Austen novel I've never gotten around to reading, but I'm familiar with the plot. Very fascinating thoughts on it! Nineteenth century novels leave open some very interesting "what might have beens" (Like, for example, The Woman in White, in which some buried plot suggestions were teased out when it was made into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber)

message 7: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Lee Anne wrote: "The only Austen novel I've never gotten around to reading, but I'm familiar with the plot. Very fascinating thoughts on it! Nineteenth century novels leave open some very interesting "what might h..."

Oh yes, good point!

message 8: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira I want to eat this review, or have it to lunch. Brill.

message 9: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith :-)

message 10: by Katharine (new) - added it

Katharine Kimbriel I have never gotten around to Mansfield Park, although I have a pretty good idea of what goes on in it, and your lovely review has taken that farther, thanks. From what you have said, I don't get the feeling that Austen became impatient with her characters, and decided to end it. It could have taken, what, at least 60 pages and another dozen scenes to get her characters to the Alternate Ending?

You do make me wonder about a couple of things. Austen might have felt that after showing how young people get themselves into bad places, one step at a time, she felt she must show them making the choices those paths had carried them toward. From where we look, they might be bad choices -- Fanny choosing Edmund, for example -- but in Fanny's case, choosing a husband was one of the few choices she actually could have a say in. She had no parents to pressure her into a choice, correct?

Edmund was both a minister and someone who presents as an intelligent, moral and not unkind person. He has or will have a living, and can support a wife and children comfortably, if not with every bell and whistle. The odds are, he will be good to Fanny, and come to love her after they share children and a life together, even though he will still carry a torch for the idealized Mary of his heart, unless something about Mary later jars that image loose from him.

At the time, the smart choice for both of them will be each other. They will probably not have a passionate marriage, unless they are very lucky, but they will respect and support each other. It's more than many people of the time find, and many would see it as the intelligent choice -- a choice that many, most, would make if in that position. (Not the Romantic choice, though.) The immature Henry, at this point, would be a very risky choice as a husband. And he hasn't asked Fanny, has he? Has never asked anyone, apparently.

There is also the possibility that something Austen has watched recently, or thought long about, made her decide that waiting for someone to grow up can only be done for so long -- then someone should make the sensible choice. She sugar coats that by saying that, after a reasonable time, they fall in love with each other. But this may be Austen wanting Fanny to make a choice that has a better chance of long term happiness and comfort than the other choice might hold.

I don't know enough about her own life to know if Austen could be regretting turning down her suitor -- is this post her refusal? -- but I cannot read your review of Fanny's life without wondering if her own life, in the twilight zone and on the edge, might have lasted longer if she had better nourishment in her youth, and had married someone who could have kept her comfortable. Of course, she might have died young in childbed.

At any rate, clearly I must gt around to Mansfield Park! Thank you!

message 11: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith We should probably come back to this discussion after you've had a chance to read it--too many impressions you've picked up are not in the text. (fanny does have parents, and Henry is not immature, he's morally suspect, for example.) Thank you for replying! I'd love to discuss this further after you get that chance to read it.

message 12: by Katharine (new) - added it

Katharine Kimbriel I'll keep an eye out at Half Price Books for a copy. ;^)

message 13: by Hallie (new)

Hallie I love every word of this review/essay! The only thing that still niggles about the book to which you haven't reconciled me is the play. Given Fanny's feeling that it was wrong, then of course her behaviour was admirable, but I'm not totally sure why she thought it was wrong. As it is true that the Austen family put on plays within their family themselves (right?), it seems odd that her stance is so firm. Can totally see it from Sir Thomas's point of view, once you've pointed it out, but that isn't the important perspective to the book, is it?

message 14: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Hallie wrote: "I love every word of this review/essay! The only thing that still niggles about the book to which you haven't reconciled me is the play. Given Fanny's feeling that it was wrong, then of course he..."
It wasn't respectful to Sir Thomas. I think that it's something so alien to us now it's nearly impossible to see, but it's a matter of what they called delicacy. Sir Thomas is away on a dangerous journey, which means the family ought not to be whooping it up while he's gone, as if his being gone doesn't matter. It's the same thing as not having parties the six months after a relative dies, even if it wasn't a relative you loved. Delicacy.

message 15: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Sherwood wrote: "Sir Thomas is away on a dangerous journey, which means the family ought not to be whooping it up while he's gone, as if his being gone doesn't matter"

I think that's a really important point.

message 16: by Hallie (new)

Hallie Yes, the delicacy I get. I'd forgotten that extent to which it was clear that the journey was dangerous and with that in place, it makes perfect sense that they oughtn't be whooping it up, as you said. "With Sir Thomas gone" is readable in two entirely different ways, and I was thinking more along the lines of "as Sir Thomas isn't here to tell us it's wrong, I have to decide it's wrong for myself".

Just as a minor data point for how this isn't quite as foreign to our thinking as it might seem, my mother went into mourning dress when my dad died - black for a good while and then moving to lavender.

message 17: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Hallie wrote: "Yes, the delicacy I get. I'd forgotten that extent to which it was clear that the journey was dangerous and with that in place, it makes perfect sense that they oughtn't be whooping it up, as you ..."

Did she also curtail certain activities? It took me a very long time to figure out this whole play thing, because Austen gives us just a clue or two that Fanny actually has the feelings and the rest of the family knows the lip-service version but ignores it, safe in the knowledge that they aren't entertaining anyway. (And then Tom is ready to invite the entire countryside.)

Anyway, it took a lot of reading of letters of the period, and journals, to figure out what was going on because it was one of those things that Austen assumes everyone knows--like what everyone was wearing.

message 18: by Hallie (new)

Hallie Sherwood wrote: Did she also curtail certain activities?

I wouldn't think so, but she'd been living alone with my dad, worrying about him, when he died, and I'd been with my grandparents in Annapolis. I don't think she wanted to do much frivolling anyway!

I'm glad you did the figuring-out for the rest of it, Sherwood! I'll be writing about it at some point, but one of the books I read for the history project is a recent book about a cousin of Jane Austen's, who goes to live with the Austen family. The author obviously did lots of research into the family, but has them rehearsing for a play they're going to put on on a Sunday morning, before church. (Also traveling on a Sunday, but I'm not quite so sure about that one in the circumstances.) Heck, there are quite a few members of our congregation (liberal Anglican) who generally avoid grocery shopping on a Sunday now! But writing at the time, as you say, you don't point out the universally understood. Fascinating.

message 19: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Traveling on Sunday? That would have been as bad a no no as rehearsing a play on Sunday.

message 20: by Hallie (new)

Hallie Sherwood wrote: "Traveling on Sunday? That would have been as bad a no no as rehearsing a play on Sunday."

The character didn't start his journey on a Sunday, and there may have been some indication that he got caught with no alternative but to continue it overnight, arriving very early on Sunday. I don't remember the exact reason that I thought it might have been partially excused, but the rehearsing before church followed immediately after and that was written in a way that actually maximized its wrongness so really stuck out for me.

message 21: by Chas (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chas @Hallie

I think one has to read the play to understand some of the underlying tensions it would bring out. The scene Maria and Henry have with one another (though they do play mother and son) gives them the opportunity to get quite intimate with one another (with a hug and a kiss)--which would be seen as inappropriate for an engaged woman to be partaking in with a man who wasn't her intended. Which is why Julia and Maria fight for the part, as whoever plays the mother gets to be in that particular scene with Henry. So essentially the play becomes an excuse for the two sisters to try and find some "legitimate" way to break some taboos. And the fact that Maria is doing that in addition to being engaged makes it all the more twisted.

To me it's not that "plays are bad", it's more how the play is used as an excuse to "not so innocently" skirt around some societal taboos. A good way to think about it would be to think of Maria as trying to use the play as a legitimate reason to cheat on Mr. Rushworth. Add into that that the family is doing this while Sir Thomas is on a perilous trip as Sherwood mentions and the "wrong" meter goes up a whole load of notches.

Marte I remember reading the end, and loving it! I was practically bouncing and squeling of joy! I'd loved Edmund troughout the book, hating him in some parts, yes, but always knowing who were right for each other. I don't feel like he chose next best, I really believe that he understood Mary Crawford's ugly persona, and discovered Fanny, which he could not see beneath Mary's "glittering and blinding" personality. I loved it, reading it for the first time at the age of fourteen, and I still love it dearly.

message 23: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith At the back of one of the Chapman editions of the novels, included is a set of notes that Jane Austen wrote down. She describes the reactions of various readers as reported to her. It's interesting to see the variety: some, like you, felt the ending was just right; others felt it ought to be right, but seem to have been ambivalent; and in her nephew's memoir about her, he records that Cassandra begged for a different ending. But Jane was adamant. Today, there is just such a variety!

Lee Anne And yet, it seems that if authors change the ending at someone else's request, they always seem to regret it. I'm thinking mostly of Thomas Hardy's "Return of the Native," and Agatha Christie's "Death Comes as the End." That second one is particularly maddening, because I can't find anywhere what exactly she changed about the ending (and later regretted)or figure out how drastic a change it was.

message 25: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith It's a fascinating dilemma.

Carolinecarver I love your review...well supported and you almost convinced that Fanny would have been better off with Henry.

message 27: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith I gather Cassandra thought so!

Thank you.

message 28: by E.S. (new)

E.S. Ivy Thanks! You answered all the historical questions I was wondering about.

message 29: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith E.S. wrote: "Thanks! You answered all the historical questions I was wondering about."

Thanks for reading!

message 30: by Kay (new) - added it

Kay Great review. I've read all of Austen's books except this one. I plan on tackling it this year though.

message 31: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Kay wrote: "Great review. I've read all of Austen's books except this one. I plan on tackling it this year though."

Thanks. You are in for a treat!

message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, your review is great. I'm really glad I stumbled on it.

message 33: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Angela wrote: "Wow, your review is great. I'm really glad I stumbled on it."

Thank you!

Tristan As seen in my review, I loved this book. But I will agree about the ending. That is the heavy handed morality tale that made it a tarnished five star, rather than a pure one. I don't really agree about Henry. Yes Edmund and Fanny seem sort of forced, but I don't think she could have really fixed Henry. She might have eventually loved him, and he definitely loved and respected her, but she would never have gotten the fidelity she would want, the genuine constancy he promises (although he would improve with time, given that he already had).

message 35: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith I can see your interpretation. He's such a complex character (well, they all are, though some more than others), supporting differing views. I do wish that Austen had SHOWN us her ending, rather than told us, though!

Tristan I totally am with you about being shown the ending. Usually she is very good about that, so I don't know what was up with Mansfield Park

message 37: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith I suspect the problem was one of delicacy as far as Henry's fall is concerned. She wasn't going to show us Henry and Maria running off (indicating a sea change between the writing of Lady Susan and Mansfield Park) but it's interesting that she doesn't show us Edward and Fanny falling in love. Just tells us. Which is why I think even her own beloved sister Cassandra begged her for another ending (according to family history).

message 38: by fantsiatocute (new)

fantsiatocute This book is good

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Fascinating review, Sherwood. I had to read the entire comment thread after I finished it. :) You've given me a lot of food for thought. I think my views of this book have been influenced too much by seeing the film(s) afterwards, so I will definitely have to tackle this one again sometime soon. Sense and Sensibility will come first, though!

message 40: by Sieran (new)

Sieran I agree with you for the play comment, and I myself wouldn't want to come back home to see my room with the furniture all moved and with junk (as it would feel like) put inside it!

For the cousins marrying, I was confused since Sir Thomas didn't want the "cousins falling in love" as mentioned at the beginning of the book, so I thought that meant cousin marriage is incestuous in Sir Thomas's opinion too. Yet at the end of the book, Sir Thomas was perfectly happy to let the two cousins marry!

Cool, I read Jane Austen's collection of different acquaintances' (and friends and family members') opinions too and there is indeed so much variety! I personally love Fanny and Edmund but hate Mary and Henry Crawford, but that could partly be due to my own personality and experiences. Much of my childhood was lonely and almost friendless, so I could really relate to Fanny always being left out and feeling inferior to everyone else. Also, it's interesting how a lot of readers dislike Fanny and Edmund for being moral prudes...while I actually like them for having such strong morals. But maybe I'm a moral prude myself, so that's why I didn't see anything wrong with that, haha.

message 41: by Sherry (new)

Sherry This is the only one of Austen's books that I haven't read. I made it half way through and then gave up on it. I think Austen, in trying to write a novel with an obvious moral tone, hampered herself too much in terms of building her story. Based on your description, I wonder if she started to like Henry too much and had to rein herself in to give the book the moral ending that she wanted. That might explain the difference in tone at the end of the book.

message 42: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith It's very possible.

Hannah I find it interesting that so many cry out against Edmund and Fanny, because they're cousins; but I don't hear anyone crying out against Lady Katherine's intentions for her daughter Anne and Mr. Darcy--perhaps it's because they didn't marry; but there's also Henrietta Musgrove and her cousin, Charles Hayter. It was a thing that was done, as has already been stated--Jane seemed to think nothing of it. I believe Sir Thomas's fear was of suspicion: that his neighbors would think he had adopted Fanny with the motive of raising her for one of his sons to marry (see the end of the ball, where "it would have been plain to any looker-on that Sir Thomas had not been bringing up a wife for her younger son").

That said, this is an excellent review--it leaves me feeling that to write one of my own would be unnecessary.

Hannah *his younger son

I should've proofread better.

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Sherwood Smith I suspect that many who cry out against it are objecting to the cousinship marriage for a romantic hero. Nobody thinks that Mr. Darcy will actually marry poor Anne de Bourgh, and Henrietta and Charles Hayter are secondary characters in whose romantic lives readers are not invested. It's different for Fanny and Edmund.

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Sam I just started reading Emma. Decided to look at the synopsis for the other Austen books. Found your lengthy review. I was very glad at how you started it bc it gave me the idea without giving away the full story. I had made the decision to read it and stopped reading so as to not "ruin" the story for me. Thank you for your review. ☺️

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Sherwood Smith Samantha wrote: "I just started reading Emma. Decided to look at the synopsis for the other Austen books. Found your lengthy review. I was very glad at how you started it bc it gave me the idea without giving away ..."

I'm glad you found it useful!

Catherine Glad for the review and the comments. A few items to clarify. Morality, moderation and self-governance should always be remembered as the true north in this novel, which is why Fanny is our heroine. Yes, sickly and shy and rather a kicked-puppy, her views and decisions are always guided by what is socially acceptable and appropriate for the situation, environment and persons involved. The play was inappropriate not because of Sir Thomas' absence and peril, nor for the spending of his finances while absence for mere frivolity and entertainment. The play was inappropriate because of the way the classes partook of plays, in some circles referred to as "spectacles". Only the lower classes took part in acting because the heightened drama was not seen as an appropriate display of emotion from the higher classes. Some of the higher classes WOULD ATTEND plays, leaving room for societal whispers about who attended the "vulgar shows" (meaning common, not lewd), how often they attended, which plays were viewed (as some were less morally reprehensible than others). But as far as ACTING, those with position only partook with the understanding whispers would be spread of the scandal in them exposing themselves to such vulgar amusements. The play decided upon was considered particularly salacious, and no young woman of any moral fiber or standing would have partaken, even in private. The error in judgment was then further compounded when the audience was extended beyond the immediate household. Sir Thomas' two purportedly moral, modest, self-governed, well-stationed daughters taking part in a particularly salacious selection of a vulgar entertainment while their moral, self-governed, highly respected father was out of the country, and exposing this egregious moral failure to the twitterings of the servants, neighbors and the like...and that not one, but BOTH of their elder brothers not only permitted this immoral indulgence, but ENCOURAGED it by participating begin to get the picture. As to the charge of Sir Thomas not wanting the cousins to fall in love because it was incestuous, I think others have already established that was acceptable in the time. I would propose his consideration came from self-preservation of the family respect and inheritance. Fanny was a lesser cousin. They were being rather charitable in allowing her to come under their protection and upbringing, and in doing so, they increased their reputation with no cost other than pittance money. For her to MARRY into their household, however, would certainly exalt her even higher, but would inevitably cause the family to loose some of their esteem and reputation. Modern readers tend to consider such Cinderella stories only from the view point of the exalted Cinderella, but in the reality of nobility and classes Cinderella stories don't happen without the prince and the royal family being lowered in the perception of their aristocracy.

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Sherwood Smith The theater was very popular in England at the time, all classes attended. Also, Austen's family participated in home theatricals. The problem was appropriateness given the father's situation.

message 50: by Laila Herlache (new)

Laila Herlache Good review

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