Okay, okay. I’ve been very bad about posting. I have been reading though! At first I thought I’d adjust to just recording my notes and general impressions by chapter but that’s not working now as sometimes I can read a few chapters in a day and then can’t read for a week, let alone take time copy and paste notes from my kindle to the computer. So, when I am finished, I will give a cold read opinion by topic. Instead, and probably infinitely more interesting and insightful, we have a guest post by Jane Austen Fan Fiction author, and long time Mansfield Park aficionado, Leenie Brown.
Sometimes (okay, quite often), I hear songs or read things totally unrelated to a Jane Austen novel and my brain makes a connection. I like to refer to this as seeing the world through Jane Austen-coloured glasses. :
Recently, being inspired by Rose’s notes on Mansfield Park as she reads through it, I started listening to an audiobook of the novel. Oh, my! The narrator is fantastic. She uses different voices for each character and adds all the right inflections and even laughingly says whatever bit of dialogue if the dialogue tag says that the statement was made with a laugh. Now, I have read Mansfield Park many times, but to hear it so presented has brought out things that I might have glossed over in my reading. It has given depth and meaning to things that I may have recognized before but had not dwelt on for any considerable amount of time.
If I were as smart as Rose or perhaps if I were not listening to the book while my hands were busy making supper or doing dishes, I should take notes on my thoughts as the story progresses. But sadly, I have not done so, although there are some messages that have been sent saying, “Have you ever wondered or thought…” or some such comment about whatever just crossed my mind as I was listening. And no, they are not always that pleasant. I have strong feelings about this book ─ feelings which tend to clash with popular views, and I usually keep to myself for that reason.
I say all that to say this. My mind has been making Mansfield Park connections lately.
One of these MP moments happened while I was reading a devotional on my YouVersion app before work on Wednesday morning. This particular devotional, “Chosen,” was about being adopted into God’s family and living our lives as gifts back to God as expressions of our thankfulness for what He has done. The author, Matthew West, used a few illustrations to make his point. The following illustration is the one that caused the MP moment.
At a dinner party one night, two of my girlfriends both told the table of guests they had been adopted into families as babies. One of the adopted women turned to the other and asked, “Did you buy your parents a gift when you graduated from college?”
The other adopted woman said, “Why, yes I did. Did you?”
“Of course,” the other responded. “I was just so grateful for all they have given to me.”
“Me too,” the first agreed.
The rest of us sheepishly sat at the table, completely convicted. It had never occurred to any of us to give a thank-you gift to our parents for our education. We had all taken our family privilege for granted. Our two adopted friends had lived lives of gratitude for having been chosen.
I thought of Fanny, of course, and her situation in being taken in by her uncle. Now, I know a lot of people do not like Fanny. I am not one of those people (and no amount of ranting, raving, or other forms of persuasion will move me on this 😉 )
She is not altogether too good or too perfect. She is flawed ─ very flawed. She is timid to a fault. She is fearful when she ought not be. She is envious. And she is very self-depreciating, to name but a few of her faults. BUT, she also has her strengths. She is tender-hearted, kind, forbearing, discerning, and, when pushed, determined to stand by her beliefs and principles.
Oh, but she is so stupid! I hear a Maria or Julia Bertram mutter under their breaths. Sorry, but no. She was undereducated when she arrived at Mansfield but not stupid.
He (Edmund) knew her (Fanny) to be clever, to have a quick apprehension as well as good sense, and a fondness for reading, which, properly directed, must be an education in itself. Miss Lee taught her French, and heard her read the daily portion of history; but he recommended the books which charmed her leisure hours, *he encouraged her taste, and **corrected her judgment: he made reading useful by talking to her of what she read, and heightened its attraction by judicious praise.
Austen, Jane (2012-05-16). Mansfield Park (pp. 13-14). . Kindle Edition.
side notes: *I think he understood what she liked and encouraged her to strengthen those likes, I do not think that this was a forcing her to be something. **He did what any teacher or older male figure (such as Mr. Knightley does to Emma) would do. That was, after all, the role of man and master at that time.
I truly feel sorry for Miss Price when she is sent away from all she knows. What she has known in her ten years of life has not been easy and pleasantness. She has lived in a house that we see later is quite chaotic and with a mother who has very little time or care for her daughters and a father who is drunk. And the financial circumstances were not good. She, of course, was called upon to care for her siblings and help her mother. She was the eldest girl. Her next youngest sister, Susan is also treated similarly, but Susan’s personality is not the highly sensitive one that Fanny’s is, and, therefore, she copes much better than Fanny does. To have a sensitive child in such conditions is bound to make them more closed in upon themselves. And then to send that child away? She will feel it greatly.
It is impressed upon her as she travels with Aunt Norris that she has been given a great opportunity and need to feel gratitude ─ something on which I do not think Fanny needed to be lectured. But then, no one, save Edmund, really seems to understand her. And her treatment at Mansfield, though not unkind intentionally, is at times less kind than it should be. In fact, there was a moment when listening when Mrs. Norris sends her to deliver flowers and then go back to fetch the key and demands that she sit with them even though she has a headache that I was briefly reminded of Cinderella.
Now, let’s get back to the illustration that brought Fanny to mind and try to tie it up. Fanny did feel grateful for what she had been given. She knew she owed something to her uncle. I think it can be seen in two very specific places.
The first is when Edmund is speaking to Fanny about the Crawford’s dinner visit. (Another side note: I think Edmund was speaking to her to see if what he thought was wrong was wrong ─ as if he needed a second opinion and since her opinion on such things would be closest to his, she was the one to whom he spoke. Not that it did much good as he was always explaining way why Mary’s misconduct was not so bad as it seemed.)
Here Edmund has just asked Fanny how she likes Miss Crawford and if she had noticed anything in Miss Crawford’s conversation that was not quite right.
“Oh yes! she ought not to have spoken of her uncle as she did. I was quite astonished. An uncle with whom she has been living so many years, and who, whatever his faults may be, is so very fond of her brother, treating him, they say, quite like a son. I could not have believed it!”
“I thought you would be struck. It was very wrong; very indecorous.”
“And very ungrateful, I think.”
Austen, Jane (2012-05-16). Mansfield Park (p. 44). . Kindle Edition.
Ah, “very ungrateful” to speak poorly of an uncle who has taken you in! Edmund did not approve of the way Miss Crawford had spoken of her uncle, but he did think that ungrateful was perhaps too strong a word and then proceeds to reason it away. But Edmund did not see the situation from Fanny’s point of view. He had never had to rely on the generosity of a relative in the same way that Fanny did. And so, he could not see that speaking ill of the one providing the generosity was a sign of ingratitude like Fanny could.
Fanny was grateful for all that she had received from her uncle, even if he did scare her. This feeling of gratitude for her uncle can be seen in the second instance when she has refused and refused and refused Mr. Crawford’s offer of marriage. Below is the thing that hurt her most about having refused him. It is actually repeated twice in this section.
Her heart was almost broke by such a picture of what she appeared to him; by such accusations, so heavy, so multiplied, so rising in dreadful gradation! Self-willed, obstinate, selfish, and ungrateful. He thought her all this. She had deceived his expectations; she had lost his good opinion.
And then later…
Her mind was all disorder. The past, present, future, everything was terrible. But her uncle’s anger gave her the severest pain of all. Selfish and ungrateful! to have appeared so to him! She was miserable for ever.
Austen, Jane (2012-05-16). Mansfield Park (p. 225-226). Kindle Edition.
But even her heartbreak over disappointing her uncle and appearing ungrateful were not enough for her to be persuaded from her belief, which was proven true later, that Mr. Crawford’s character was not what it should be and was, therefore, not a good choice for her. I think when we consider the story used as an illustration in that devotional, the sorrow we read here is better understood. Fanny may have been a lot of things, but ungrateful is not one of them.
So, before I tell you about the song that I heard on The Voice that reminded me of Henry’s character, let me take off my Jane Austen-coloured glasses. Maybe I will share that at some other time, but like I said, my views of the book, I suspect are not in line with popular opinion, and you may not wish to hear my opinion ─ especially since it is something on which Fanny and I would agree…and since she is not well-liked for he views, I might also find myself quite disliked.
How about you? Do you ever find yourself wearing JA-coloured glasses? If so, I would love to hear about it.
Thanks so much for visiting Leenie! I loved your insights!
Read earlier posts in this series:
Mary, Music and Mansfield – the harp in Regency England by Beverlee Swayze