Happy February! It’s the month of Valentine’s Day and I could certainly count the ways I love Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice in particular, but I’m challenging myself with something new! I sometimes “cold read” for other authors. That means I give an honest, unfiltered reaction to their stories. They’re more detailed than comments or a review, in an effort for the author to know how the story feels to readers. I am one piece of many and do not try to change the plot. I’ve started and stopped Mansfield Park many times but am challenging myself to finish it in this month. Along the way, I’m keeping notes.
Let’s see. What do I already know about Mansfield Park? I’ve seen the 1999 and the 2007 adaptations. I know there’s debate about which is better. Everyone thinks universal truths are reserved for P&P, but I’ve found readers are much more adamant about Mansfield Park. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Fanny was a self-righteous know it all. Or it’s a truth that she’s too good for Edmund. It’s true that Mary is a tramp and Edmund stupid enough to fall for her. One of my best friends says Mary is very like Elizabeth Bennet and either Austen was fonder of Mary Crawford than people think, or less fond of our dear Lizzy. I’ve never heard of a more debated Austen novel! People either love it or hate it but are never ambivalent.
As I wade into the trenches, I welcome you to read along with me and/or add your own comments and opinions about my observations.
I’m hoping to host some guest posts this month as well! More on those when I’ve got dates!
Well, here I am, hoping to Fall for Fanny just like Edmund does. Or is it Henry who does? Or maybe the story is she falls for herself!
“Mrs. Norris was sorry to say that the little girl’s staying with them, at least as things then were, was quite out of the question.”
If after so many years of knowing her, he didn’t guess this was her plan than it really shows how little attention he pays to others.
“I should wish to see them very good friends, and would, on no account, authorise my girls the smallest degree of arrogance towards their relation; but still they cannot be equals. Their rank, fortune, rights, and expectations will always be different.”
Sir Thomas sounds nice when talking about not treating Fanny differently. Judging from the distinctions of the time, it seems he has very good intentions. I wonder which is worse. It seems difficult to keep those distinctions without arrogance. On the other hand, without arrogance it seems a straightforward fact of life, which must be terribly depressing and oppressing to live.
Final thoughts on the chapter: I think it says a lot about Fanny that we haven’t met her yet and instead have a decent handle on the people ho will be raising her.
“You have robbed Edmund for ten, twenty, thirty years, perhaps for life, of more than half the income which ought to be his.”
Everyone wants to talk about how bad women had it, but men were seldom any freer. I shall now turn in my feminist card.
Tom listened with some shame and some sorrow; but escaping as quickly as possible, could soon with cheerful selfishness reflect, firstly, that he had not been half so much in debt as some of his friends; secondly that his father had made a most tiresome piece of work of it; and, thirdly, that the future incumbent, whoever he might be, would, in all probability, die very soon.
I feel like Tom’s back story of what would drive him to partake of this lifestyle and get into such debt would be more interesting than all this Fanny stuff. I’m trying, Jane. I’m trying. Also, he could be great friends with Mrs. Bennet.
In the fullness of his belief that such a thing must be, he mentioned its probability to his wife; and the first time of the subject’s occurring to her again happening to be when Fanny was present, she calmly observed to her, “So, Fanny, you are going to leave us, and live with my sister. How shall you like it?”
Wow. They’re so insensitive! This is an addition, as I’ve read further along and came back to this note. Lady Bertram seems ready enough to give up Fanny when she’s 15 but several years later can’t do without her for an afternoon so she can go to Sotherton.
“Never, my dear; but you are sure of a comfortable home. It can make very little difference to you, whether you are in one house or the other.”
Darn it Jane! Quit intriguing me with back stories of other people. What would make the Ward sisters feel this way about each other? For they must feel it about themselves for it to never occur to them that others would feel differently.
“I can never be important to anyone.”
“What is to prevent you?”
“Everything. My situation, my foolishness and awkwardness.”
“As to your foolishness and awkwardness, my dear Fanny, believe me, you never have a shadow of either, but in using the words so improperly.”
Is this true, or just his perception? If true, I think it’s interesting. Many people feel insecure but instead give off different vibes. If it’s just his perception then that’s a mark in his favor for wearing love goggles.
“Ah! cousin, when I remember how much I used to dread riding, what terrors it gave me to hear it talked of as likely to do me good (oh! how I have trembled at my uncle’s opening his lips if horses were talked of), and then think of the kind pains you took to reason and persuade me out of my fears, and convince me that I should like it after a little while, and feel how right you proved to be, I am inclined to hope you may always prophesy as well.”
Interesting. It seems like Fanny has always been cajoled into accepting things which her natural instincts reject, which if she were richer and in a better position in Society she could indulge more.
Lady Bertram did not go into public with her daughters. She was too indolent even to accept a mother’s gratification in witnessing their success and enjoyment at the expense of any personal trouble, and the charge was made over to her sister, who desired nothing better than a post of such honorable representation, and very thoroughly relished the means it afforded her of mixing in society without having horses to hire.
Ah, and here Lady Betram is Mr. Bennet.
When he returned, to understand how Fanny was situated, and perceived its ill effects, there seemed with him but one thing to be done; and that “Fanny must have a horse” was the resolute declaration with which he opposed whatever could be urged by the supineness of his mother, or the economy of his aunt, to make it appear unimportant.
Resolute is good. (Said in a “Murdered by pirates is good” tone).
He had three horses of his own, but not one that would carry a woman. Two of them were hunters; the third, a useful road-horse: this third he resolved to exchange for one that his cousin might ride;
Aww, so sweet. I haven’t met Mary Crawford yet but I’m pretty sure I hate her.
Sir Thomas’s sending away his son seemed to her so like a parent’s care, under the influence of a foreboding of evil to himself, that she could not help feeling dreadful presentiments; and as the long evenings of autumn came on, was so terribly haunted by these ideas in the sad solitariness of her cottage, as to be obliged to take daily refuge in the dining-room of the Park.
Dude. Is Mrs. Norris in love with Sir Thomas? She cares so much more about him than anyone else in the book. She can’t worry just about money, because Tom would inherit and yet she’s not chiding him for his actions etc. and nothing is mentioned of her actually getting extra money from the Bertrams.
It was some months before Sir Thomas’s consent could be received; but, in the meanwhile, as no one felt a doubt of his most cordial pleasure in the connexion, the intercourse of the two families was carried on without restraint, and no other attempt made at secrecy than Mrs. Norris talking of it everywhere as a matter not to be talked of at present.
He could allow his sister to be the best judge of her own happiness, but he was not pleased that her happiness should centre in a large income;
I love a man that is both sensible and also allows people to have their own opinions.
Nor could he refrain from often saying to himself, in Mr. Rushworths’ comapny- “If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.”
Wow. Quite the thing to say. And notice that others tried to cajole him into accepting this marriage and yet it’s perfectly acceptable for him to have a differing opinion when they likely would not tolerate the same from Fanny.
They were young people of fortune. The son had a good estate in Norfolk, the daughter twenty thousand pounds.
I’m hearing Caroline Bingley music.
Matrimony was her object, provided she could marry well: and having seen Mr. Betram in town, she knew that objection could no more be made to his person than to his situation in life. While she treated it as a joke, therefore, she did not forget to think of it seriously.
And now I’m reminded of Lizzy Bennet and her jokes.
I have three very particular friends who have been all dying for him in their turn; and the pains which they, their mothers (very clever women), as well as my dear aunt and myself, have taken to reason, coax, or trick him into marrying, is inconceivable!
Ok, maybe not Lizzy-like.
Miss Crawford’s beauty did her no disservice with the Miss Bertrams. They were too handsome themselves to dislike any woman for being so too,
Ha. I’m not sure I’ve seen that much these days but then few people are inheriting 20,000 pounds.
“So I should suppose. She has the advantage in every feature, and I prefer her countenance; but I like Julia best; Miss Betram is certainly the handsomest, and I have found her the most agreeable, but I shall always like Julia best, because you order me.”
Ick. The charm. Also dropping of the Miss.
“But Miss Betram does not care three straws for him; that is your opinion of your intimate friend. I do not subscribe to it. I am sure Miss Betram is very much attached to Mr. Rushworth. I could see it in her eyes, when he was mentioned. I think too well of Miss Betram to suppose she could ever give her hand without her heart.”
**must not fall for the sarcastic rogue** **must not fall for the sarcastic rogue**
“Look where I will, I see that it is so; and I feel that it must be so, when I consider that it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves.
This is pretty true even for contemporary marriages.
“The error is plain enough,” said the less courteous Edmund; “such girls are ill brought up. They are given wrong notions from the beginning. they are always acting upon motives of vanity, and there is no more real modesty in their behaviour before they appear in public than afterwards.”
Oooh, I like him.
“No, Idaresay, nor if he were to be gone a twelvemonth, would you ever write to him, nor he to you, if it could be helped. the occasion would never be foreseen. What strange creatures brothers are!”
Ok, she’s getting on my nerves.
“When they are at a distance from all their family,” said Fanny, colouring for William’s sake,” they can write long letters.”
Fanny has a very strong sense of justice.
“Of Rears and Vices I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.”
No, I still don’t take that to mean a sodomy joke. I think she’s calling them wicked (her uncle was) or asses, which according to the online etymology dictionary was a new use for the word rear, showing up in print circa 1796. They had different slang for sodomy. As much as writers can coin things (and Jane did) it doesn’t help to coin it if no one knows what you mean. Edmund feels grave but he isn’t upset as he would be by a crude sexual joke when he gets upset about other little things Mary does. So at the very least we’d have to say that Mary’s audience doesn’t get her joke if that’s how it’s meant. I think it’s more likely that Edmund is annoyed that Mary is still casting aspersions on men in the navy and bringing up her uncle in a bad light.
“I dare say Mr. Crawford would take my two nieces and me in his barouche, and Edmund can go on horseback, you know, sister, and Fanny will stay home with you.”
Lady Bertram made no objection; and every one concerned in the going was forward in expressing their ready concurrence, excepting Edmund, who heard it all and said nothing.
Grrr. Displeased with you, Edmund.
“It is her countenance that is so attractive. She has a wonderful play of feature!”
Mary’s face is like an actress.
“I do not censure her opinions; but there certainly is impropriety in making them public.”
I really, really like you, Edmund.
“She made me almost laugh; but I cannot rate so very highly the love or good-nature of a brother who will not give himself the trouble of writing anything worth reading to his sisters, when they are separated.”
Haha. You wouldn’t like Charles Bingley!
“And what right had she to suppose that you would not write long letters when you were absent?”
“The right of a lively mind, Fanny, seizing whatever may contribute to its own amusement or that of others; perfectly allowable, when untinctured by ill-humour or roughness; and there is not a shadow of either in the countenance or manner of Miss Crawford: nothing sharp, or loud, or coarse.”
I’m not sure I like such Lizzy-like words said about Mary.
Edmund was at the Parsonage every day, to be indulged with his favorite instrument: one morning secured and invtation for the next; for the lady could not be unwilling to have a listener and every thing was soon in a fair train.
This is the difference between Elizabeth Bennet and Mary Crawford. The things Austen leaves unsaid.
A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foilage of summer, was enough to catch any man’s heart.
No, just the young and less experienced in the world.
Without studying the business, however, or knowing what he was about, Edmund was beginning, at the end of a week of such intercourse, to be a good deal in love;
Well, he’s no Darcy. But lasting a full week must be better than some, like Bingley.
to the credit of the lady it may be added that, without his being a man of the world or an elder brother, without any of the arts of flattery or the gaieties of small talk, he began to be agreeable to her. She felt it to be so, though she had not foreseen and could hardly understand it; for he was not pleasant by the common rule: he talked no nonsense; he paid no compliments; his opinions were unbending, his attentions tranquil and simple. There was a charm, perhaps, in his sincerity, his steadiness, his integrity, which Miss Crawford might be equal to feel, though not equal to discuss with herself.
The Admiral might be awful, but I suspect it was those very traits who attracted Mrs. Crawford. Mary talked about being taken in. Well, if you could value sincerity over charm it wouldn’t happen, you stupid woman!
“No part of it fatigues me but getting off this horse, I assure you,” said she as she sprang down with his help; “I am very strong. Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like.”
The sort of impulse control Fanny always has.
“I do not want her at all for myself,” said he; “but whenever you are next inclined to stay at home, I think Miss Crawford would be glad to have her a longer time–the whole morning, in short.”
Not liking you, Edmund.
“You can have no reason, I imagine, madam,” said he, addressing his mother, “for wishing Fanny not to be of the party, but as it relates to yourself, to your own comfort. If you could do without her, you would not wish to keep her at home?”
“To be sure not, but I cannot do without her.”
“You can, if I stay at home with you, as I mean to do.”
So sweet of Edmund. It seems like he quickly learns his lessons.
Miss Crawford’s countenance, as Julia spoke, might have amused a disinterested observer. She looked almost aghast under the new idea she was now receiving. Fanny pitied her. “How distressed she will be at what she said just now,” passed across her mind.
It’s so kind of Fanny to pity Mary.
Miss Crawford, rallying her spirits, and recovering her complexion, replied only, “If I had known this before I would have spoken of the cloth with more respect,” and turned the subject.
But it wouldn’t be her true thoughts.
“You really are fit for something better. Come, do change your mind. It is not too late. Go into the law.”
Oh, so she wants her independence but no one else must have it. She knows best.
My thoughts upon Maria scrambling through the fence with Crawford and Edmund and Mary walking off together: This seems like some kind of parable. The fence is to protect and the authority is off fetching the key. Unruly impatience, selfishness and conceit send them in a dangerous path while left unattended by adults. Fanny keeps being abandoned and yet she does not follow. She has her own principles.
Thoughts thus far
I think this is the most intricate of Austen’s plots and I’m only 23% into it. I’m really glad that I finally got past the second chapter! It does move slower and is less light and twinkling than any of the others. Something I noticed that this book lacks is a market town or trip to a city. Emma felt stifled at Highbury but the Bertrams do nothing but sit with Mrs. Norris and now the Grants and Crawfords.
Fanny- I would wish she had more scenes but I think right now Austen is showing a lot about Fanny by how little attention she gets from anyone. I think reading the opening chapters as a mother has really helped. I could see that young Fanny was just very upset at leaving her family and shy, scared to make mistakes. She needed encouragement. I always saw it but as a mother, it pulls on my heart much more. I think it’s also clear that while she’s improved in a lot of ways, she still has a lot of timidity and a very deep feeling of duty and gratitude. She’s also younger and less socially mature than Austen’s other heroines. Catherine Morland is around the same age and definitely very naive about the world, but otherwise seems more sure of herself. Catherine’s the eldest daughter and had been in the company of others whereas Fanny is kept home with Lady Bertram most of the time. Obviously the Crawfords are turning the family on it’s heel and it will be interesting to see what happens with Fanny if she gets a bit of attention from them.
Edmund- I do see that he can be wishy-washy. I think right now he considers Fanny his cousin, nearly his sister, and his duty to protect. I don’t know that he considers her really an equal or an adult. He’s a young man and has been told his way in life and now even that is put in hazard by his older brother who lives rather unrestrained while Edmund is taking care of the family during his father’s continued absence. He’s also still quite young- around the age Edward Ferrars was when he entered his imprudent engagement with Lucy. Mary is everything fresh, fun and seemingly uncomplicated. I have a feeling I’m really going to dislike his increasing attention toward Mary, not because I immediately think he should have feelings for Fanny instead, but because it seems like a betrayal of his own principles. Right now he’s couching it all in ideas of being gentlemanly and a good host, but it’s selfishness.
Mary Crawford- I may hate her more than any other Austen female because she’s also the easiest to like. On the surface she’s charming and even when she’s doing something inappropriate it’s with a softness. It does remind me of Elizabeth Bennet. But she is also very cynical and almost deceitful underneath it all. She has not made any pretension that marriage should be for love or companionship. She has more scruples than it seems Maria has about marriage, but they’re still not of the best sort. She wishes to be entertained by a man who can keep good company. It doesn’t appear she needs his respect or he needs hers. Again, I wonder about her back story.
Henry Crawford- So far, I think he’s a guy I wouldn’t mind talking to. I don’t think I’d like to spend constant time with him. In the last chapter I read, he seems to be emerging as a true cad. Inspiring feelings of jealousy in the Bertram sisters, encouraging Maria to slip away instead of wait for her intended and just as oblivious of Fanny as anyone else and all without true intent. It was all just second nature to him. He never seems to have a reason to consider anyone else. I’ll see how it goes, but I think I will have a hard time buying his supposed desire to redeem himself, just as Fanny does (if the movies are right).
Bertram siblings- I truly wonder how Sir Thomas didn’t think he had gone astray in his parenting with Tom and didn’t wonder about his daughters. I think Maria being mostly kept at Mansfield is very problematic. She now feels it is a duty to marry and without degradation, so she has a limited pool to look at. There’s little true attachment and nothing has ever had to test her character to build resolution and strength of will. Julia isn’t a total dimwit and is easygoing, but perhaps too easygoing.
Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram- It’s tempting to absolve Sir Thomas of the storm that’s brewing since he’s away but he was the father. Even though they were left to governesses and the boys to school, if you believe a certain kind of instruction is important you’re going to ensure it happens. We know he does take things like that into consideration, like making Fanny learn to ride. He seems to think character development would just happen incidentally. Lady Bertram I think would be better off without Mrs. Norris. I’m not sure she’s entirely indolent and doesn’t care to exert herself or she’s just so totally under her sister’s thumb and found it easier to let Mrs. Norris deal with nearly everything. The sisters have an interesting dynamic.
Mrs. Norris- I kind of feel like she was a less pretty and less rich Mary Crawford in her youth. On the surface she says things that can appease most people but there’s something fundamentally flawed in her feelings for others and she’s always self-serving. And you have to wonder how happy she can be feeling like that. Mary would do well to take note.
Whew! That was a lot for one post! I kept meaning to post all week in little nuggets but didn’t get my computer back until Tuesday and then it had to update to Windows 10 etc. I’m going to try to post 3-4 times a week this month and I will have to read a few chapters a day to get done by March 1st.
I hope you’ll stick around and chime in too! What do you think of Mansfield Park? Too preachy? Too dull? Interesting? I want your thoughts!