Book Review: Mansfield Park

mansfieldparkRead for: FABClub Classics Series

Rating 2.5/5

I suppose I am in the minority in declaring that I don’t like Jane Austen’s writing. This is the second book of hers that I have read and hated. Well, maybe hate is a strong word, but I really didn’t find it as engrossing and magical as everyone else, apparently. I didn’t have a problem with Fanny, which seems to be a common complaint among the few others that didn’t like this book, though she did lack a bit of pizazz. My beef with this book (and also with Pride and Prejudice) is that it’s just about marriage. Yes, in Mansfield Park Fanny refuses a marriage proposal, and that is the only reason why I persisted to the end and gave it a 2.5 rather than the 1 I was seriously tempted to slap onto this review at first. Fanny refuses the proposal and continues to rebuff advances from the sleazy Henry Crawford which I was glad to see as apparently all the women in Austen’s novels just want to find a man and get married (I can chalk much of this up to the times, I suppose). But her reasons for doing so – she’s actually in love with her cousin Edmund – kind of bummed me out. I’m sure there’s more to it than just that, but I was utterly unable to submerge myself in the world of Austen in a way that would allow me to see the different facets of this story that others have. Fanny’s morality and want to do what is right drives the whole story, and while others have dubbed Fanny “priggish” and “insipid” (I think the latter came from Austen’s own Mother) I kind of liked her. It could be argued that she had strength and independence that her cousins didn’t have, and she also wasn’t interested in marrying for profit like Mary (who actually wished for the death of Edmund’s older brother Tom so that Edmund would inherit Mansfield Park and she could marry him for the prestige). I admired her for turning down Henry even when everyone was telling her what a “good match” it was because of how much money Henry had. Fanny didn’t take anyone’s shit, despite her shyness and social discomfort, and I couldn’t help but root for her for that.

Overall, there just weren’t enough likeable characters in this story for me; Mrs. Norris was heinous, Mary Crawford seems to be likeable but then is revealed only to be acting kind towards Fanny to convince her to marry her brother, and the sisters Maria and Julia were vapid and unpleasant. And then very little of interest actually happened. They rehearse a play, natter about how many carriages to take when they go out, and fuss over who is going to marry who. Sigh. All that complaining aside, I did enjoy parts of the writing, but the pacing was a bit off… there was a pretty long period of inactivity leading up to the rapid fire of events at the close of the tale. I was surprised that I made it to the end, but it required a lot of effort on my part and that is never a good sign. You’re supposed to LIKE reading a book! I feel like I should still be determined to find something about Austen that I enjoy because so many do, but really, there are so many other books to be read… I’ll at least take a break before I try any more of her work because I anticipate I am not done with Jane Austen.

5 comments

  1. Personally, I’ve never considered Jane Austen’s books to be about marriage; they’re about surviving in a cold, lonely world that hates honesty. Marriage is just a way to gain stability and get away from awful relatives.
    I hate Edmund, but love Fanny. I agree, she’s seriously underrated as a heroine.

    • I will definitely keep that in mind when I try again… I know I will eventually because I feel like Austen is too big to ignore. And yes Fanny doesn’t get enough cred!

      • I think the theme of survival is most apparent in Sense and Sensibility, so if you don’t like a focus on marriage, you might like that book.
        Oh, and another nineteenth century author who didn’t focus exclusively on marriage–Elizabeth Gaskell, who wrote North and South. She explored class issues in Northern England. Not sure if you’ve read her or not.

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