After having finished my second Jane Austen novel, I am willing to take back all the prejudices that I used to have towards her and feel confident to say that I will intend to read all her bigger works - at first I only added two books to my Classics Club (CC) list and now I have read them both and can safely say I've not yet had enough of Jane Austen. It's no "chick lit of the past times", as I mistakenly thought. She was clearly a clever and eloquent woman.
I had heard of Mansfield Park as being the most boring and "meh" out of Austen's six biggest novels, and that was partly why this was the book I added to my CC list. I deliberately did not add the more popular ones, knowing that if I did like what I read from the two more controversial ones, I would get to the more popular ones anyway.
My guess is that the reasons why people are not that into Mansfield Park lie in characters and the pacing of the story. It is a slow roller, that is true, the romance is not that "in your face", and there are parts that can bore some people (for example, the whole fussing around with the play, which took several chapters). I personally am not disturbed by slower stories, maybe even quite the contrary.
When it comes to characters, and specifically the character of the female heroine Fanny, I actually liked her a lot more than I think I will like girls from Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility or Emma. I liked Fanny's quiet ways; she was almost invisible most of the time, but she had her values that she did not trade for anything. I think the mistake that is easy to make here is taking quieter personality for spinelessness. Fanny has a spine, and I would actually tip my hat to her (if I was wearing one) for what I think is her great survivability instinct. Here's what I mean: in the age of a child, Fanny was sent away from home, to live with relatives. Even if it was better for her, no-one asked whether she liked it or even, what she thought of it. In the family there were the children, and then there was Fanny, often an object of oppression and basically free workforce. I guess what I am trying to say is that Fanny never had the home field advantage, and in such situation, I think it's wiser to lay low and see how it goes, rather than show a lot of personality.
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One can probably claim that Fanny is a bit boring in the sense that she is not noticeably strong heroine, but I disagree; Fanny, like many others, is a character similar to those we meet in life, and not everyone of us is always vastly unique, original, witty, snarky, et cetera. Life is full of different characters, some more outstanding than others, and although I certainly can value a very strong female character (think Marian Halcombe from The Woman in White), I am a bit disturbed by the fact that it is the characters with lots of extravagance that get most attention. I am a quiet, modest person myself, although with a lot of spine and stubborness ;), and I guess a part of me would like to think that in skilled writer's hands, a character like me would also form a (half) decent story.
In short, I did enjoy Mansfield Park, but partly because of low expectations to begin with; I am glad I am getting over my prejudices towards Austen, even though I know that she will never be my favourite author.
Here are few other reviews on Mansfield Park that I have recently read and liked:
* Thoughts: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen by Adam from Roof Beam Reader
* Mansfield Park by Jane Austen by Eszter from Anneish Imaginary Adventures
* Mansfield Park by Mary from bibliographic manifestations
* Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Review) by Ekaterina from In My Book
* Mansfield Park by Jane Austen by Brona from Brona's Books
* Mansfield Park by Jane Austen by Brona from Brona's Books
Austen in August is hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader.
It's very interesting to read a defense of Mansfield Park! Although I'm not a fan of it (maybe because, unlike you, I had high expectations!), I admit that Fanny has value and spine and is very well adapted. I admit all this. It's just that she irritates me, and can't do anything with it... Maybe because I myself am very bustling, social and outspoken :) Nabokov says that judging a character from a personal point of view is the last thing we should do as readers, but I guess it's hard to get rid of :) That's why our different characters make us view Fanny differently :)ReplyDelete
Even though Nabokov definitely has a point there, I think it's not possible to separate our opinions from our personas :) I admit, had I had very high expectations, this review would probably be different... But all reviews and takes on things are, I think, by default very personal, thus they are so different and that's pretty awesome because differences are good and enrichening! :)Delete
Oh gone on then, I'll add to my pile! Fanny sounds a much more interesting character than I have seen her portrayed in tv versions before. Perhaps when you are quiet and stubborn (as I am too) you can understand that subtle strength in the 'invisible' characters a lot more. I have always struggled to relate to Austen's characters in that sense because they are all so outspoken and full of confidence so perhaps I will have more luck with Fanny. Ithink I'll add it to my CC list. Wonderful review, Riv!ReplyDelete
I do like "loud" characters, I do, but sometimes I feel that they get worshipped too much, in comparison to quieter ones, who are interesting, too - but just as in life, maybe a bit more difficult to notice.Delete
Mansfield Park and Persuasion are the 2 Austens I haven't read yet. Mansfield Park does interest me the least out of all her books, but I'm still looking forward to it.ReplyDelete
You should try Northanger Abbey next. It's also a bit under-rated, and is my favourite so far.
I am pretty sure you will enjoy Persuasion, but not so sure about Mansfield Park, it does have it's good sides and its weaknesses. I will actually try Northanger Abbey next (your review was very encouraging), I decided to go in kind of reverse order from now, so it will be NA, Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice for last. I'm interested how this order will form my opinion on books and Austen in the end.Delete
Thanks for the link! I think you make an excellent argument for the strenght of Fanny as a heroine. In many ways she is much stronger than other, feistier, Austen heroines who do not stick to their guns the way she does. I think you may like Sense and Sensibility because the character of Elinor has some similar qualities.ReplyDelete
I am quite curious about Sense and Sensibility and to read a story about focus on sisters. And I agree about Fanny.Delete
I'm glad to see another Fanny fan!ReplyDelete
I've always been shy and reserved, but my first reading of MP was not completely favourable. Fanny seemed insipid and the play scene bored me to tears. Maybe back then I was trying very hard to change my shyness and Fanny's story just cut too close to the bone.
Since then I've accepted who I am, have learnt to work with it and draw strength from it. All things that Fanny highlights beautifully.
A story about a shy, reserved, moral woman can be a very satisfying experience after all :-)
Thanks for the link back to my post as well.
Yes, the play scenes could be taken as dragging. I have to say that if I had read Mansfield Park when a lot younger, I probably would have found more problems with it as well. But when growing as readers, we tend to grow also in tolerance, which can be very satisfying in the end.Delete
I'm so happy you liked this - it's my last Austen novel that I haven't read yet, and I want to like it. The main complaint I hear about Mansfield Park is that Fanny is basically too much of a goody-goody, which doesn't seem fair. I mean personally I love Emma because she's ridiculous and spoiled and a bit mean, but that doesn't mean that quieter, nicer characters don't have their merit.ReplyDelete
But yay for coming around to Austen! I can't wait to see what you think of some of her more popular ones :-D
I'm not sure if you are going to like Fanny a lot, Sarah, because I've noticed you have liking for way feistier heroines :), but I hope you will like the book. Fanny is indeed claimed to be without flaws and too good, but I think there are a few things in her personality that can be criticised, especially by us modern readers.Delete
I've decided now that I'll definitely read all six bigger works of Austen :)
Great review! It was so interesting to read your thoughts after all the blog discussions about Mansfield Park. I liked how you said, "Life is full of different characters, some more outstanding than others ..." I think I liked Fanny for the same reasons you mentioned. She is an underdog and stays under the radar.ReplyDelete
Thanks! I've read quite a few reviews on Mansfield Park and it's really a novel that triggers many different opinions.Delete