Mansfield Park is also notable for me in that it contains probably my favourite Jane Austen quote.
“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”
The reason I love this quote is that it sums up my reading attitude; I feel there is so much misery in the world that I don't need to read about more of it - let other reader's eyes dwell on guilt and misery, I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can...
I thought I'd share with you the review I wrote last year, after finishing the book:
Fanny Price's mother suffers from a surplus of children compared to income. As was fairly common at the time, Fanny is taken in, at age 10 by another relative, her aunt (Lady Bertram) who is married to Sir Thomas Bertram, the owner of Mansfield Park. The Bertrams have 4 children, two boys, Tom and Edmund, and two younger girls, Maria and Julia, the youngest of which is about 2 years older than Fanny. Also heavily involved over at Mansfield Park is Lady Bertram's sister, Mrs Norris. There is no real expectation that Fanny will be brought up as one of them as her prospects would always have been less; she is brought up instead as a poor relation.
The children aren't especially all that interested in her, aside from Edmund, 6 years Fanny's senior who takes pity on her and looks after her. Indolent Lady B finds her useful for being at her beck and call and Mrs Norris (who is a truly horrible woman) really dislikes Fanny. Mrs Norris seems to feel that any kindness she shows towards Fanny will somehow be disrespectful towards her other nieces, who she very much spoils. Although taught good manners the Bertram children are not encouraged to learn good principles - they aren't compassionate, thoughtful or self-denying. Edmund is the only Bertram child who has much in the way of principles, and they must have been innate to him.
This book took a while to get into, as most of the characters are pretty unlikeable. Fanny herself, although a good person, is so timid and shy that it takes a while to like her rather than merely feel sympathy for her. For a modern reader some of the things which I presume would have been obvious to a contemporary reader weren't immediately understandable. For example, in Sir Thomas's absence to visit his plantation in Antigua a decision is made to put together a play and both Fanny and Edmund are vehemently opposed to this scheme as being improper. For a modern reader it's hard to understand why this would be the case - the play they choose is obviously inappropriate, but it seems as though the principle of putting any play on is improper. Another thing that doesn't necessarily translate to a modern reader is Fanny's distrust of the Crawfords. In many ways they are quite likeable, even though he is quite rakish and his sister sees no problem with this. I can understand why Fanny didn't like them but I DID like them.
Fanny herself I grew to like, but she is not as easy to like as other Austen heroines. She is a good person, and very unloved, and put upon. She is quite intolerant of weakness of character in others, although she is careful not to let this show inappropriately. She is quite a clear-sighted and shrewd judge of character but she is quite unforgiving in her judgements. I was beginning to despair in her, but she shows a bit of growth in her tolerance levels when she gets to know her sister and realises how principled she is despite the environment that she has grown up in.
A strong theme in this book, and one which gave me a lot of food for thought, is nature v nurture. How the Bertram siblings turned out with an indolent mother, a harsh father, and brought up mostly by an interfering old busybody aunt who spoilt them and encouraged them to think well of themselves and what they were due and denied them nothing. How the Crawford siblings turned out, brought up in a home with a very unhappy marriage, clear 'sides' and no principles. How alike in nature Mrs Price and her sister Lady Bertram are, and how differently they now are due to the big difference in their financial situations. A visit to her mother's home in Portsmouth (where Fanny is even more unloved than in Mansfield Park) teaches Fanny a lot and she realises how much being at Mansfield Park has shaped her character. A crisis calls her 'home' to Mansfield Park - finally Fanny is appreciated more truly there, and her family there have also begun to know themselves and each other more truly too.
Once I got into this book I really enjoyed it. I won't leave it so long until the next re-read!
To celebrate Mansfield Park's big anniversary I will be trying to read some more MP-inspired books throughout the year. I'll let you know if I find any good ones! In addition to this, there are other people celebrating Mansfield Park's birthday - for example, Sarah Emsley has a whole series of events planned with the first one kicking off today.
Also, over a decade ago Benedict Cumberbatch and David Tennant were part of the cast for a radio version of Mansfield Park which is being re-run on Radio 4 extra from Monday 12 May. I think it will be downloadable so I will try and listen to that if I can understand how it works!