Thursday, 20 August 2015

'Mansfield Park' by Jane Austen: A Book Review

'We have all been more or less to blame ...
every one of us, excepting Fanny.'
Taken from the poverty of her parents' home, Fanny Price is brought up with her rich cousins at Mansfield Park, acutely aware of her humble rank and with only her cousin Edmund as an ally. When Fanny's uncle is absent in Antigua, Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive in the neighbourhood, bringing with them London glamour and a reckless taste for flirtation. As her female cousins vie for Henry's attention, and even Edmund falls for Mary's dazzling charms, only Fanny remains doubtful about the Crawfords' influence and finds herself more isolated than ever. A subtle examination of social position and moral integrity, Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen's most profound works.


Why does it take me so long to read Jane Austen's novels? I started Mansfield Park more than a month ago, and only finished it recently.
This is the third Austen book I've read, the first two being Pride and Prejudice and Emma.


I've done some research, and it seems like this is one of Austen's least-liked books, because the protagonist, Fanny Price, is the complete opposite of the powerful, independent women she has written about before. Fanny is no Emma or Elizabeth. She's shy, demure, soft-spoken, anxious and, well, a pushover.

But I think that's what makes this book endearing. As a writer, I understand the pressure most authors feel to write strong female characters. Personally, I think that's balderdash. The important thing is to write a believable, relatable character. It doesn't matter whether a woman is brave or cowardly or interesting or boring or promiscuous or a prude, as long as she's real. And with Fanny, Austen has really hit the mark.


Fanny is all of us, deep down. She's every fear you've ever had, every flutter your heart has felt when you looked at your crush, every thought of terror that has crossed your mind when you're forced to socialise. Fanny is a real, young girl.

Mansfield Park doesn't get very interesting until the first hundred or so pages. Until then, it's just an introduction to all the characters and an understanding of their relationships. But once the initial phase sets in, this book is an absolute delight.

I thought Emma was as dramatic as Austen could get. I was wrong. Honestly, I cannot count the number of plot twists this book has engineered. From affairs to proposals to betrayals to sudden illnesses - my goodness, Mansfield Park reads like a soap opera you never want to end.


Jane Austen's classic style of weaving humour, satire and tragedy into her words continues with this novel. This is what I love best about Austen: though she's from a different century, her writing is still so fresh and true. Here are some quotes that stood out:


"How differently we feel!" cried Fanny. "To me, the sound of Mr. Bertram is so cold and nothing-meaning, so entirely without warmth or character! It just stands for a gentleman, and that's all. But there is a nobleness in the name of Edmund. It is a name of heroism and renown; of kings, princes, and knights; and seems to breathe the spirit of chivalry and warm affections."

"Believe me, I have no pleasure in the world superior to that of contributing to yours. No, I can safely say, I have no pleasure so complete, so unalloyed. It is without a drawback."

Never were such characters cut by any other human being as Edmund's commonest handwriting gave! This specimen, written in haste as it was, had not a fault; and there was a felicity in the flow of the first four words, in the arrangement of 'My very dear Fanny', which she could have looked at forever.

Had she ever given way to bursts of delight, it must have been then, for she was delighted, but her happiness was of a quiet, deep, heart-swelling sort; and though never a great talker, she was always more inclined to silence when feeling most strongly. 
One thing I did with this book that I didn't with Emma or P&P was discuss the many twists and turns with my friends and family. They hadn't read the book, but it definitely piqued their interest. (Although my sister might have just considered it spam.)
Somehow this engagement made me like the book even more. Is this what being in a book club feels like?
 


I'm going to go with 4 stars out of 5 for this one.
Mansfield Park is thrilling, romantic and hilarious all at once, but what strikes me best about this novel is the innocence and purity of heart of Fanny Price, the girl every shy introvert will relate to, and the friendship of Edmund Bertram, who is definitely my new book boyfriend.

Have you read this wonderful book already? Who was your favourite character, and did you hate the Crawfords as much as I did? If you haven't been acquainted with the world of Jane Austen, I suggest you start with Pride and Prejudice and slowly make your way towards this one. It shall not disappoint you, my dear Geek. 


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