So, I confess to finding this book more difficult to read, like many people out there. So why was this novel more like a Dickens than an Austen! Dark and somber. What happened to Jane Austen? Whilst Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice were published in 1811/13, they were written in the 1790s, when Austen was in her twenties. After that, Jane was forced by circumstance to be removed to Bath - a place she hated and did no writing in. The darker, more serious book may be a reflection of her darker, more serious outlook on life with the seriousness of age and through the seriousness of this time, in which her Father had also passed away (1805). It was only once cheerfully back in Hampshire, Jane began to consider publishing her previous works and to write new works. Was this book a reflection of her sombre mood at that time?
When set into context in this way, it is easy to comprehend that this book, whilst no one's favourite, and whilst less attractive than her others, is clearly an important book to gain an insight into Austen's life.
The heroine of this book - Fanny - is neither attractive or sparkly or any good thing, but has principles and does the right thing - doing the right thing is not necessarily to choose the more attractive option! The book is about what we should do and what we ought to do. In this way Fanny is different to other, more flawed, Austen characters and it is less easy to identify with such morality than with human flaws.
|Fanny - the most flawed, yet most morally perfect Austen character who demonstrates substance over style!|
The same theme of marrying for love alone runs through this book. Austen never did marry, although she once accepted a rich suitor when her family had struck harder times in Bath, only to change her mind over night. She had fallen in love before this, but her suitor had died. Perhaps Jane's decision to publish her works stemmed from her realization that she wouldn't now get married and that she was without fortune, being an author was not considered a gentile profession at the time and it must have been a hard decision to make.
Jane Austen has often been attacked for the narrow views and outlooks in her books...her opening lines of 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man of great fortune must be in need of a wife' in pride and prejudice set the theme for all of her stories. There is nothing of politics, nothing of the world in them, just the relationships and social standing of rich country folk. Mansfield Park is in this way similar to her other works - the characters are defined in the opening sentences in terms of rank and fortune and thereafter we are allowed to make up our own mind. But this is why I love Austen! She talks about the things many women really cared about, although I don't necessarily care so much about rank and fortune. The things we continue to care about - relationships and provision for our future offspring and generations, creating and abiding by our own moralities. Right and wrong. Don't get me wrong, I am all for feminism. But to me, the most important part of being female is femininity. And Austen books are so female that it is little wonder I don't care if she doesn't talk overtly about politics, except through changing fashions and morals! Yet, in her manner of ensuring happy marriage is for love, is she not exerting feminism at that time? I would love opinions on this.
'Cash for Jane Austen is like calorie counting for Bridget Jones' states the daily mail in this article about why her face shouldn't be on the £10 note as the replacement for Charles Darwin. Ummmm...excuse me, but is evolution really any more important than relationships and morality?! Seriously...what is more important right and wrong or evolution? Gah....Maybe I am being a girl here, but my day to day life and struggles with morality, helped along by novels such as Mansfield Park are equally important, if not more so than understanding I am the descendent of a monkey!!
Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice are more like fairy tales. In Mansfield Park, our heroine does not turn down a ludicrously rich man only to find an even rich man (whom she happily also tends to love ) as in these other novels. She finds a man, her cousin Edmund, a clergyman, despite that he is of less consequence but more morality than the man she turned down, Edmund's elder brother, heir to Mansfield park. In this way, isn't this book less like a fairy tale and more like real life, yet no less romantic in intention?
|Fanny keeping things real in Mansfield Park|
And so, whilst I found this book harder to read, it was, to me, more important than many books by Jane Austen in helping me to develop a stronger moral code and in helping me understand the great author herself!