In Which We Rant and Rave in Favor of Mansfield Park

Needlepoint book cover of Mansfield Park by Leigh-Anne Mullock (2009)Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park really gets a bum rap from critics and readers. Sometimes I think that I am its only advocate, campaigning to an empty room. Granted, it is not as emotionally charged as Sense and Sensibility or as light, bright and sparkly as Pride and Prejudice, but it does have an admirable heroine in gentle Fanny Price and two viper-like antagonists in Mary and Henry Crawford, that other authors just dream about creating.

I find the arguments against it are thin. Some say MP is overly moralistic, dismally dark, and the hero and heroine are wimps. (So harsh)  I say they are not reading the same novel that I am. All this remonstrance was prompted by a conversation I had today with a customer at work. As a bookseller, I recommend books all day long. Today, when I offered Mansfield Park to a young lady who loved P&P and S&S, her mom flatly said no, pronouncing that she would not like it. Inwardly, I cringed at such parental reproach. Give the kid a chance to make up her own mind. So Mansfield Park was eliminated because mom didn’t like it when she read it thirty years ago. Geesh.

So for all those parents out there that think they are doing your kids a favor, let them make there own decisions and mistakes with the classics. Just be HAPPY they want to read them.

On a more upbeat note, here are a few of my favorite quotes from Mansfield Park to remind skeptics that there are some grand one liners.

But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them.” The Narrator, Chapter 1

Do not let us be frightened from a good deed by a trifle.” Mrs. Norris, Chapter 1

Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 7

Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 7

Everybody likes to go their own way–to choose their own time and manner of devotion.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 9

Oh! Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 9

To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” Fanny Price, Chapter 9

It was a quick succession of busy nothings. The Narrator, Chapter 10

Where an opinion is general, it is usually correct.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 11

Those who have not more must be satisfied with what they have.” Mrs. Rushworth, Chapter 12

Let your conduct be the only harangue.” Edmund Bertram, Chapter 15

Oh! you can do nothing but what you do already: be plagued very often, and never lose your temper.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 22

A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 22

A woman can never be too fine while she is all in white.” Edmund Bertram, Chapter 23

The enthusiasm of a woman’s love is even beyond the biographer’s. The Narrator, Chapter 27

I am worn out with civility,” said he. “I have been talking incessantly all night, and with nothing to say.” Edmund Bertram, Chapter 28

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” Fanny Price, Chapter 42

Nobody minds having what is too good for them.” The Narrator, Chapter 48

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can. Narrator, Chapter 48

So there!

31 thoughts on “In Which We Rant and Rave in Favor of Mansfield Park

  1. I am a convert to Mansfield Park, so now you are not alone in that room! I used not to like Fanny Price, but she grew on me. I came to admire her courage and quiet strength in resisting all the pressure put on her by her benefactors and peers and even by the man she loved.

    But the reason I really grew to love this book is that it is so suspenseful and could have easily ended with the principals making very different romantic choices. And those unmade choices might have worked out for the best. We’ll never know. But for that reason I think this book is a perfect choice for book groups.

    What makes this book difficult for a lot of people is the fact that one needs social context and explanation in order for the whole play conflict and debacle to make sense. This is the one instance in Austen in which part of the plot hinges on something that is very culture-specific and not easily translatable to a modern readership. My advice to prospective readers of MP would be to think of the play as the equivalent of high-risk teenage behavior in today’s world, like having a party where there’s a good chance of sex and drugs when your parents are away. Some kids would only be concerned about not getting caught, and others would be concerned about doing the wrong thing.

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    • Laurie, you are so correct about the need for social context. A play? What’s so shocking about putting on a theatrical within one’s own family and friends. I love your modern drug/sex analogy! Too true.

      I love MP more with each re-reading.

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  2. I certainly agree with you on the merits of Mansfield Park, though I thought the critics were less set against it. It is really rare to see enthusiasm for Fanny and disdain for the Crawfords (but I love Fanny and can entirely sympathise with her caution where the Crawfords are concerned).

    Concerning Laurie’s comment, I think the business with the play is intended to challenge. The Austen teenagers ‘s, including Jane, engaged enthusiastically in amateur theatrics so Sir Thomas’s strictures were pretty strict even in Austen’s time. The tension of the rests on parental authority–an issue for all ages, though I suppose Sir Thomas’s strict notions of decorum will now be entirely incomprehensible.

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  3. You are certainly not alone! I am a FOF (Friend of Fanny). I will admit MP was not my favorite book upon first read, but it has become my favorite. While I love P&P on an emotional level, I think MP is the better book. I think people expect it to be another P&P – maybe if that book didn’t exist, MP would fare better. I guess everyone wants Henry Crawford to be another Darcy, without really seeing why he never can be.

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  4. MP was my second Jane Austin book that I read, after P&P. And while it’s not my favorite, I did like it a lot. I honestly need to re-read it though because it’s been a while and I have the movie version stuck in my head rather than the book version. I think I remember liking the book because, while P&P had Darcy and the hilarity, MP seemed more real and a bit more dark. Which I kind of liked.

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  5. Some like to bash Austen for being “lite.” “Mansfield Park” is not “lite;” it’s Austen really breaking out into some more complex issues of the day. I quite enjoy it.

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  6. Mansfield Park is probably my favorite Austen novel. I love the richness of the characters and Austen’s attention to detail.

    And it’s such a spectacularly triumphant moment when Fanny gets Edmund’s love in the end, probably moreso than any other comparable moment in any of the other novels. Yes, Fanny is a bit of a door-mat…but that’s how some people are (ahem…myself included), and many people can really relate to Fanny’s anguish when she feels she can’t stand up for what she wants or confront others about their behavior. But when it comes to her personal moral convictions, she is steadfast and firm (e.g. refusing Henry Crawford), and I admire her for that. Her faithfulness to her heart and to those she loves wins her the man and the respect of her relations (Sir Thomas, especially). Isn’t that how it ought to be in the real world?

    I’m 100% with you on loving Mansfield Park. Always and forever. :o)

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  7. When I first read it (well, only read practically all of them twice each, but still LOL), it quickly became a big favorite. My favorite, yes is P&P, number 2 is NA (loooove Henry!). . . but MP is my #3 — and while I was reading it, I just kept thinking I love the dialogue, connection, whatever it is that I can’t pin down and call it something between Fanny and Edmund. And with all the criticisms on Fanny, I almost figure I like her because she reminds me of me. Which, I guess from all the talk against the book and her, might be a problem for me. LOLOLOL :)

    Lois

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    • Laura, some critics claim that Emma is Austen’s masterpiece. Among the 6 major novels, artistically I think that MP surpasses them all.

      Thanks for your support.

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  8. Whenever I read MP, I am surprised by how much I like it, how funny it is, and how grieviously Fanny has been maligned. I blame the adaptations, frankly. I think she is a terribly difficult character to portray other than on paper, and no actress has come close to what Austen creates.

    Has MP always been at the bottom of the heap. I think I remember reading at least one of her family pronounced it a favorite…but I can’t remember who or the reference!

    I’m reading the Tomalin bio and was particularly reminded of MP during the time when Eliza is visiting the Austens and they are putting on plays at Xmas time. There is a fair amount of Eliza in Mary Crawford, and a lot of Henry in Henry.

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    • Jane, interesting notion that Mary Crawford was inspired by Austen’s cousin Eliza and Henry Crawford by her brother Henry. Must investigate this theory further. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. I am always delighted to hear words of appreciation for Mansfield Park. I think that Fanny Price is unique among Austen’s heroines – while the others are (initially, at least) defined by their failings (Elizabeth’s bias, Emma’s self-conceit, Marianne’s emotional indulgence, etc), Fanny is defined by her virtue. Virtue – the adherence to an innate sense of right and wrong (which she certainly did not acquire from Bertram/Norris) – gives her the stamina to hold fast to her refusal of Crawford; what it takes for Fanny, who is weighted down by the sense of her own insignificance and the enormity of her indebtedness to the Bertrams, to stand up to Sir Thomas shows an impressive strength of character. Just MHO.
    And thanks so much to Mrs. Astle, my ninth grade civics teacher, who caught me reading P&P in class and slipped me a note – “Have you read Mansfield Park yet? You should.”

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  10. Amen. MP was the second-to-last Austen novel I read, and at the time I just wanted to see how it ended. I thought it terribly dense and slow. But when I re-read it recently, I fell in love. I feel of all her novels, it has the most depth—and as someone else mentioned earlier, I felt I could empathize with Fanny. We can’t all be Lizzie Bennets! It’s my favorite Austen novel, second only to Persuasion.

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    • Lady Ashley, most people apire to be Eliza Bennet, but in actuality, are probably closer to Fanny Price. Not such a bad thing in my view.

      Thanks for visiting today and sharing your support.

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  11. I admit when I first read MP in my teens, I wanted to give Fanny a good shake. But the older I get, the more I admire Fanny’s integrity, quiet determination and perception.

    Edmund, however, has not improved with age. For me, he remains the one who is really weak, and easily led to sacrifice his principles over a pretty face and seductive airs. Fanny is far better than he deserves IMO!

    The Crawfords I have always loved, like Byron they are deliciously “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” and Fanny seems to be the only one astute enough to figure it out early on. Mrs. Norris is sooo enjoyably wicked and the insipid Lady Bertram is so infuriatingly ludicrous–in fact, the more I think about it, there is a great supporting cast of characters. There’s a lot to savor in Mansfield Park!

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    • Maria, I think that MP should be read after P&P and S&S and with a bit of age and life experience. Interestingly, Jane Austen wrote this in her more mature years and it reflects her older perspective. Edmund is not one of my fav of Austen’s heroes. The Crawfords and Mrs. Norris are perfectly crafted evil and spite. Such a great contrast to our virtuous heroine Fanny. That is one of the reasons why this novel is so brilliant.

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  12. I got one young person to read Mansfield Park by showing her the movie, which I thought was not bad. And I got another to read it by surmising that Filch’s cat in the Harry Potter series must surely be named after that Mrs. Norris!

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  13. I have to agree with you that nobody writes a silly, trifling pain like Mrs Norris and Mrs Bennet and vixens quite as third dimensional as Mary Crawford and as sly as her brother… but I’m sorry to say, I tried to like Mansfield Park very much but I couldn’t.

    Fanny Price wasn’t real to me – and as much as she was much like Anne Elliot with her patience and morals and resolute character, I could relate to Anne but not to Fanny. Her romance with Edmund took so long to come about and when it finally did – it seemed such an anti-climax! It wasn’t half so sweeping as a romance as Jane’s other books.

    Sorry Laurel – I know this isn’t very nice of me to say on your own blog but on this topic, we must agree to disagree ;)

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    • Kate, no apologies needed. If everyone agreed with everything I said, it would be darn boring. I am by no means an authority or a be-all-end-all of MP.

      I appreicate your honest reaction. I think I felt the same way the first time I read it many years ago. I picked it up again after 10 years and liked Fanny so much more. Compared to S&S or P&P it is a completely different kind of novel. Once I let go of my expectations of it being not like Austen’s earier works, I enjoyed it for different reasons; the beautful language, the clever plotting, the amazing characterizations, but NOT the romance. I totally agree that the Fanny/Edmund romance had no passion or drama. This is the novel’s biggest weakness in many people’s eye’s. They can forgive Fanny being meek and unspirited, but no romance can really disappoint. I hope you will re-read the novel in ten years and see if your view changes, as mine did.

      Thanks for your comments.

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  14. I think this book is an okay romance. It is on the bottom of my favorites, but it’s there, because Fanny shows real moral fiber. The person I have a problem with in this book is Edmund. He’s just a pansy and I despise men who can so easily change their minds about who they love (or for loving the wrong person in the first place). Fanny and Ed are similar in many ways, you would think he would recognize the slime that is Mary Crawford. But NO! Anyway, he’s the reason I don’t like MP. He’s a worm, and I hate him.

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  15. I like MP (it’s one of my six favorite books, ha-ha) but I realized on a re-read that I don’t really like any of the characters, except &heart;&heart;&heart; William Price &heart;&heart;&heart; of course. ;-)

    Edmund is not so much a wimp as a wanker. I hate how he rationalizes his attraction for Mary by “talking it through” with Fanny, and she sits there and agrees with him.

    At the same time, I wish Fanny would rise up righteous and say, “Look, cousin, Mary Crawford is almost completely without morals. Do you seriously think she’ll be a good wife for a country parson? Do you think she will change? I am not so sure. But it’s your life.”

    So it’s both their fault, I think. Of course all comes out well in the end. They deserve each other. ;-)

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  16. Oh god. I hate when parents do that about anything, but especially books. Way to instill a love of book reading in your child! I swear. I always said teaching would be easy if it weren’t for the parents!

    I have Mansfield Park sitting on my bookshelf right now staring at me and wondering why I have not picked it up yet. I am now wondering it myself. So I have 5 other books I am reading. I just might have to make it 6. :)

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