Why You Should Read Mansfield Park

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Hello everyone, 

This year is going to be the year of the chunky classics. I'm planning on sinking my teeth into as many as possible, starting with Mansfield Park by Jane Austen! I did cheat a little bit with this one and started it in 2017, carrying it over into the new year to wrap it up, but I am so glad I started with this one :-)

I have been a fan of Jane Austen since I was a child, I loved watching the tv and movie adaptations and I devoured Sense and Sensibility! From there I went on to read all her shorter novels, with Persuasion reigning as my long term favourite. Then I read Mansfield Park and boy did it knock Persuasion off its pedestal! So I am here today, singing the praises of my new favourite Austen, to give you 5 reasons why you should read this book. 

1. Fanny Price is the most fascinating heroine I have ever encountered
As a general rule novels are either character or plot driven, with the majority of character driven books being dictated by the protagonist. This is not the case in Mansfield Park. Fanny Price is so passive that she is almost invisible. I have never read a novel with a heroine you barely notice! She just bobs along following her cousins and their friends, reflecting on their decisions and predicting the outcomes of their poor choices. She is the ultimate advocate for patience, showing that if you make choices selflessly and based on good morals you will eventually get what you want. 

2. This book is laugh out loud funny!
I found so many of these characters completely ridiculous that I couldn't help laughing out loud at their antics. In my mind the winner of the most ridiculous person award goes to Henry Crawford. This man is such a pompous ass, in fact he is almost a caricature of the typical womaniser of Jane Austen's day. He makes sport of causing young women to fall in love with him, filling his jar of hearts everywhere he goes. Sounds familiar for some men (and women) of our day too right? However, he meets his match with Fanny. He chases her for so long to no avail that he convinces himself he is in love with her! Obviously he isn't really, it is a case of wanting desperately that which he can never have. A very good taste of his own medicine if you ask me. 

3. Hating a literary character is a lot of fun
I'm assuming many of you have read Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, or at least watched the movie. Is Dolores Umbridge not one of the most hateful characters you have ever read? Well Fanny's Aunt Norris certainly gives her a run for her money. I hated her from my first encounter with her, she is mean spirited, snobbish and controlling. She despises Fanny for no better reason than the circumstances of her birth and idolises Maria for being high-born and beautiful, despite Fanny being a far nicer person than Maria could ever be. Reading her downfall at the end of the book and watching her get the social isolation she deserves is so much fun! 

4. Mansfield Park is a clever piece of social commentary
This book shows close up the very common practice of poor relations handing one or more children over to wealthier relatives to raise and house as their own. In the days before birth control family sizes could get a bit out of control and sending your children away wasn't seen as harsh, but as a kindness. Fanny is a recipient of this "kindness". Theoretically it should be great for her going to live with richer "betters", but in reality she is never truly accepted as one of their own. She lives in that twilight zone of better than a servant, but not as good as one of the children. It is a hard place for her to live and gives her all her strong morals and very dutiful nature. The commentary is seen most strongly when Sir Thomas (Fanny's uncle) urges her to accept Henry Crawford's proposal of marriage based on his lineage and wealth. Sir Thomas purposefully ignores his questionable morals and improper behaviour, growing angry at Fanny's protestations that she does not love him and would be miserable. In those days women were almost forced to marry men they did not care for on a daily basis and this is something Jane Austen spent her whole life rebelling against. Obviously there are more areas of social commentary than this, but I chose this as an example because I felt it to be the moist poignant. 

5. There is romance in abundance! 
So many people read Jane Austen's novels for the romance and it is definitely not lacking in this story. There is something here for everyone! The unrequited love of Julia for Henry Crawford is touching and cute, making you reminisce about all the silly crushes you had when you were young. Edmund and Mary's love burns bright and passionately, with arguments causing sparks to fly. This one definitely reminds you of that destructive relationship you held onto for too long. Maria and Mr. Rushworth have a selfish form of love, with Maria loving his money and status far more than she loves the man himself. Henry Crawford's pursuit of Fanny is comical and laughable, it made me want to reach into the pages and shake Fanny saying "please don't fall for this man, he doesn't really love you!" And finally, the slow-burning natural love of Edmund and Fanny is the cherry on top of a wonderful bookish cake. Fanny loves Edmund for years, supporting him and advising him even when it pushed him into the arms of another. She is so selfless and kind, that you wish for Edmund to love her almost as much as she does. Eventually he comes to his senses and realises that he what he desperately wanted to see in Mary Crawford has always been there in Fanny Price if he had only cared to look :-) 

Those are my reasons to read Mansfield Park and if they don't persuade you nothing will! I wish I could go back and read this book from scratch all over again, but as I can't do that, instead I'll look forward to the many times I will be re-reading it. I hope you enjoyed this post, if you've read this book let me know your thoughts on it in the comments below :-) 


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