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on September 18, 2001
"Mansfield Park" has always been Jane Austen's most controversial novel.
The heroine of the book is Fanny Price, a powerless and socially marginal young woman. To almost everyone she knows, she barely exists. As a child, she is sent to live with the family of her wealthy uncle. Her parents give her up without regret, and her uncle only takes her in because he is deceived into doing so. Fanny's wealthy relations, when they deign to notice her at all, generally do so only to make sure she knows of her inferiority and keeps in her place. Fanny is thus almost completely alone, the only kindness she receives coming from her cousin Edmund. Forced by circumstances to be an observer, Fanny is a faultlessly acute one, as well as the owner of a moral compass that always points true north.
Those who dislike "Mansfield Park" almost invariably cite Fanny as the novel's central fault. She is generally accused of being two things: (1) too passive, and (2) too moral.
The charge of passivity is perplexing. Surely it is evident that for her to challenge those in power over her is extremely dangerous - in fact, when she finally does challenge them, on a matter of the greatest importance to her and of next to no importance to them, she is swiftly reminded of the weakness of her situation by being deported back to the impoverished family of her parents, who receive her with indifference.
The charge of morality is easier to understand - many readers feel themselves being silently accused by Fanny, and they don't like it. The interesting thing is that those same readers often enjoy "Pride and Prejudice", even though it is evident that the same moral standards are in place in both books. So, why do readers feel the prick of criticism in one and not the other?
Part of the answer is that in "Mansfield Park" the stakes are higher, which squeezes out the levity of "Pride and Prejudice". Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of "Pride and Prejudice", can afford to smile at the follies of others - they are not dangerous to her (at least she thinks not - she comes to think differently before the book is over). Fanny, however, can seldom afford to laugh. Vices that are funny in the powerless can be frightening in the powerful. Fanny's vulnerability to the faults of others is clear to her, and she suffers for it throughout "Mansfield Park".
Another part of the answer is that attractions that are combined in "Pride and Prejudice" are split in "Mansfield Park". In "Pride and Prejudice", Mr. Darcy is both rich and good; in "Mansfield Park", Henry Crawford is only rich. In "Pride and Prejudice", Elizabeth Bennet is both witty and good; in "Mansfield Park", Fanny Price is only good. Readers who liked "Pride and Prejudice" because it had a rich man attracted to a witty woman, will either find nothing in "Mansfield Park" to engage their enthusiasms, or, as is not uncommon, they will actually find themselves drawn to the book's sometimes-antagonists, the Crawfords.
Having dealt with why some people dislike "Mansfield Park", it remains to deal with why other people like it. Its central attraction is the skillful blending of the story of Fanny Price herself, which is the Jane Austen's adaptation of the "Cinderella" archetype, and the story of the other characters, which are of the great Christian themes of fall and redemption.
"Cinderella", is of course the story of hope for the powerless. It has been subject to a certain amount of well-intended misreading in recent decades, but the motive for that misreading really concerns an accident of the eponymous story - the sex of the main character - rather than its real theme, which is universal. "Harry Potter", for example, shows how easily and successfully the Cinderella archetype can be applied to a male protagonist.
Fall and redemption is the other story of "Mansfield Park". At the start, the characters other than Fanny are fallen or falling. Some are so corrupt that we are have no hope for them; their presence is purely malign, endangering those not so badly off as themselves. Others have fallen far, but are not quite so far gone that we do not have hope for them as well as fear of them. Finally, there are those who are only beginning to fall, whose danger is all the more alarming for it.
In "Mansfield Park", these stories are not just side by side, they are interwoven. Jane Austen's Cinderella saves not only herself, but also saves - and almost saves - others as well. All but the worst characters in the book are drawn to the goodness in Fanny, even while they yield to the temptations that threaten them. The book has real tension in that we don't know who will make it and who will not. Those who feel sympathy for the Crawfords are not entirely misreading the story - we are not wrong when we sympathize with a drowning man clutching at a rope thrown to him. Where we can go wrong is not when we wish not for the drowning man to be pulled to shore, but when we wish for the person at the other end of the rope to be pulled in after him.
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VINE VOICEon July 10, 2000
I am a new reader of Jane Austen and after reading the other reviews of this book, I was a little scared to read this one so I saved it for last. I was so surprised how much I liked it. Fanny, the main character, is someone I could relate to in ways that many other readers apparently have not been able to. Unless you grow up in a home where you are made to feel unwanted, and have a Mrs. Norris as an aunt in Fanny's case or a stepmom in my case, it would be hard to understand Fanny. Take it from me,the character is very real in many ways and not the wimp or doormat that many other reviewers find her. Alot of people said this book of Jane Austen's is her deepest because of the social issues she tackles. I will have to read it again to pick up on more of that, I was so busy focusing on Fanny's situation and understanding her feelings, knowing how her situation affected her responses, that I missed things. I look forward to reading it again. I think others will enjoy it too,don't be put off by the other reviewers. Of course, I look forward to rereading all my Jane Austens.
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After having read (and loved) Jane Austen's more famous novels EMMA and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, I found MANSFIELD PARK a true delight. Fanny Price is taken in by her wealthy aunt and uncle as charity to her more lowly-married mother, and is raised with her cousins with the idea she needs refinement and education to become as good a woman as her lesser social standing will allow. Fanny is nervous and self-effacing, struggling with her new situation until her cousin Edmund makes her feel more at home. Gradually, she feels like a part of the family, although the nagging sense of unworthiness always asserts itself. As cousins marry and suitors appear, as scandals arise and emotions become known, Fanny finds herself in the equivalent of a Victorian soap opera.

Fanny is undoubtedly one of Austen's less assertive characters, although she does mature into a woman who knows what she wants and will accept no less. I loved Fanny and her honesty, the little girl who fears the stars in her eyes and still manages to grow up into a respectable - and respected - woman. Her complexities are subtle and understated, making the reader work at times to understand her motivation, although anyone who has felt like an outcast even once, or anyone who respects honesty, will identify with her. In true Austen fashion, the observations are witty, with pointed social analysis and cynicism dressed up in sly humor. Fanny's aunts in particular are skewered, but no one, not even Fanny, is spared.

Readers picking up this novel for the sheer delight of it will find it difficult to put down, as its language is accessible and free-flowing. Students and book club members who must pay closer attention to themes and other literary issues may want to consider the role social standing and money play; the evolution of Fanny's character (and whether she is sympathetic); the techniques Austen uses to evoke humor; and the courtship protocol for Victorian England and how the characters both work within, and violate, the social rules.

I highly recommend this book for teenagers and adults alike, especially those whose literary tastes run toward the classics.
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Out of all Jane Austen's wonderful novels "Mansfield Park" is perhaps her most widely-debated. With a heroine who triumphs through her utter passivity, uncomfortable themes of familial power and corruption, and sub-text on slavery, it is rightfully described as "Austen's most complex and profound *and* her least likeable novel." As well as this is Austen's own declaration that "Mansfield Park" was her favourite work. To say it is unique is an understatement.

Fanny Price is only a child when she is sent from her impoverished home to live with her aunt at the grand Mansfield Park. A quiet child, Fanny is overwhelmed by her wealthy and privileged family and is painfully homesick - a condition that the Bertrams cannot possibly understand. Hasn't she been removed from a life of near-squalor and no prospects? But the noble-yet-cold Sir Thomas Bertram, his child-like wife Lady Bertram, his self-centred eldest son Tom and his daughters Maria and Julia are not cruel to Fanny in the way that the evil step-family was cruel to Cinderella - simply misguided and so removed from her situation as to not understand the first thing about her. But from her second aunt, the loathsome Mrs Norris, Fanny receives only criticism and thinly-veiled scorn. Only the youngest son Edmund, with ambitions to become a quiet country clergyman, shows genuine compassion and sympathy to her, and soon the cousins are as close as siblings.

Fanny grows into a young woman, but keeps her timidity - which hides a bright mind and a clear sense of right and wrong. From London come the glamorous Crawford siblings - the rakish Henry Crawford who shamelessly flirts with Maria, even though she is engaged to one Mr Rushmore, and the witty Mary Crawford, who soon captivates Edmund. This is much to Fanny's heartbreak since she has been secretly in love with Edmund for years, and she cannot help but distrust the dazzling Crawfords.

It is not an understatement to say disaster strikes when Mr Crawford proposes to Fanny, as for her the attentions of such a man are utterly unwelcome. Unwelcome suitors are standard fare in Austen's previous novels, such as Mr Collins to Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Elton to Emma Woodhouse, but here the situation takes on a darker tone. Firstly, because Austen's previous uses of this plot-turn are usually played for laughs with the suitor as a comical buffoon, and second because her heroines are well able enough to reject such men. For Fanny however, the experience terrifies her and one can feel her distress and conflict as her family pressure her into marriage against the utter conviction of her heart. Like a bird in a cage, Fanny is completely helpless.

Austen is renowned for poking fun at contemporary issues with her ingenious wit, and "Mansfield Park" is concerned with the disillusions of the upper-class: the belief that superior educations, convenient marriages, good manners and breeding and sparkling wit automatically make a morally good person. As such, whilst the Bertram family live their lives with the complete assumption that they are decent people, Fanny's modesty and self-discipline ensures that her character is superior to each and every one of them. The saying "the moment you believe you are a worthy person is the moment you cease to be one" caters nicely to Austen's ideal, and her general themes of conservatism, modesty and quiet reflection.

All of Austen's heroines are diverse in a central, particular way. For instance, Emma of "Emma" is the only one removed from the pressure of making a financially secure marriage, whilst Anne of "Persuasion" is the only one who is at a more mature age than the others. In this way, all of Austen's novels have a unique individual young woman as its protagonist. And so what is Fanny Price's particular trait? You may think that it is her timidity, but more surprising is the fact that Fanny is completely infallible. Throughout the course of the story Fanny's judgement never falters, nor is she ever once proved incorrect. She is a positive angel, and as Edmund says at one point: "We have all been more or less to blame... every one of us, excepting Fanny."

As well as this, Austen turns her eye onto the topic of family and home-life, in a particularly bittersweet way. Fanny continually suffers from displacement - first at Mansfield Park, and later in the novel when she returns to her family home in Portsmouth to find it is not the idealistic family home she half-remembers. It is a poignant, but too-often true sensation that many contemporary readers may relate to: the return to your childhood home only to find that it isn't really "home" anymore.

In this Penguin Classics edition, Kathyrn Sutherland and Tony Tanner provide excellent Introductions/Appendixes to the work. Even if you usually skip over these sorts of things, I highly recommend taking the time to read them, as Tanner in particular sheds new light over several episodes in the novel: for example the metaphorical connotations in the family's walk through Rushmore's gardens, and the foreshadowing prevalent in what appears to be a simple game of cards.

Despite its controversy, "Mansfield Park" is perhaps my favourite Austen novel (I still haven't read "Northanger Abbey", so I can't truthfully make that claim yet) and though Fanny is not as spunky or spirited as many readers would like or are used to, it is actually quite refreshing to have a shy and introverted protagonist who wins the game of life; who advocates the real importance of morals and goodness. You don't need to be a strong feminine role-model to be a good person.
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After having read (and loved) Jane Austen's more famous novels EMMA and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, I found MANSFIELD PARK a true delight. Fanny Price is taken in by her wealthy aunt and uncle as charity to her more lowly-married mother, and is raised with her cousins with the idea she needs refinement and education to become as good a woman as her lesser social standing will allow. Fanny is nervous and self-effacing, struggling with her new situation until her cousin Edmund makes her feel more at home. Gradually, she feels like a part of the family, although the nagging sense of unworthiness always asserts itself. As cousins marry and suitors appear, as scandals arise and emotions become known, Fanny finds herself in the equivalent of a Victorian soap opera.

Fanny is undoubtedly one of Austen's less assertive characters, although she does mature into a woman who knows what she wants and will accept no less. I loved Fanny and her honesty, the little girl who fears the stars in her eyes and still manages to grow up into a respectable - and respected - woman. Her complexities are subtle and understated, making the reader work at times to understand her motivation, although anyone who has felt like an outcast even once, or anyone who respects honesty, will identify with her. In true Austen fashion, the observations are witty, with pointed social analysis and cynicism dressed up in sly humor. Fanny's aunts in particular are skewered, but no one, not even Fanny, is spared.

Readers picking up this novel for the sheer delight of it will find it difficult to put down, as its language is accessible and free-flowing. Students and book club members who must pay closer attention to themes and other literary issues may want to consider the role social standing and money play; the evolution of Fanny's character (and whether she is sympathetic); the techniques Austen uses to evoke humor; and the courtship protocol for Victorian England and how the characters both work within, and violate, the social rules.

I highly recommend this book for teenagers and adults alike, especially those whose literary tastes run toward the classics.
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on March 5, 2013
Most readers might pick up this book expecting a light witty Austen tale, like her more famous novels Pride and Prejudice or Emma. This is more serious than some of her other novels. Now do not get me wrong, Austen is a personal favorite of mine. However, I did not enjoy this book as much as her other ones.
The story opens with young impoverished Fanny Price being adopted by her aunt and uncle. She is befriended by her cousin Edmund. This is almost a spin on Cinderella. The Craawfords arrive and after flirting with Julia and Maria Bertram, Fanny's cousins, Henry Crawford develops an attatchment to Fanny. Edmund also develops an attatchment to Mary Crawford while Fanny is in love with Edmund. Henry proposes to Fanny, but finding his character lacking, she refuses. Fanny's uncle cannot undersand her reasons for declining and sends her home to her poor birth family. Fanny's instincts prove true when Henry has an affair with married Maria. Fanny is invited back to Mansfield and Edmund admits that his intrests have shifted to Fanny and Fanny returns his affections.
All ends well. Yet one cannot help bu to compare Austen's lighter stories with this tle of morals. Where in other novels the characters learn from their flaws, Fanny seems to be flawless. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy Bennet learns from her Pride and accepts peope for who they are. In Emma, Emma learns to mind her own business and learns from Pride. Marianne learns from her own fiery passion in Sense and Sensibility. In Persuasion, Anne learns not to care what others think(not to be so easily persuaded) and to follow her own heart. In Northanger Abbey, (my personal favorite) Catherine learns that life is not what it seems to be in novels. However, Fanny seems to be faultless and finds easily the faults in others. It seems to eerily point out our own flaws. I think that we enjoy Austen's other tales because we find the likenesses of the characters in ourselves.
Austen also focuses on the flaws of society : pride, adultery, corruption; leading her into an almost Wharton/Woolfe/Brontë style of darker writing, though unlike their stories, all ends well for the main characters.
I did enjoy this book, though not as much as her others.
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VINE VOICEon April 16, 2004
While this isn't the greatest of Jane Austen's novels and is somewhat light on external action, it is certainly a fine example of characterization, by which I mean that the action takes place inside the heads of the main characters, especially Fanny Price, the heroine. Fanny is 10 years old when she comes to live with her mean-spirited relatives at Mansfield Park, and grows to womanhood in an environment full of condescension and personal challenge. Her story, and her resulting triumph over prejudice and emotional greed, was an inspiration to women when it was written, and continues to be so today.
If you are not familiar with Jane Austen's work, don't be put off by the comments of others. Start with one of her more well-known novels, such as Pride and Prejudice or Emma, and then work up to Mansfield Park after you've come to love Austen.
If you are one of those women who, like me, devoured Austen's more well-known novels and are now searching for the lesser known work, will enjoy Mansfield Park as well. I give it five stars just for the simple fact that it was written by Austen, arguably one of the greatest writers in the English language, male or female.
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on November 28, 1999
After reading all of her other works beforehand, 'Mansfield Park' struck me, like many readers, as almost told by a different person from the Austen we know. It is darker, much more humourless (the scenes of comedy are much less evenly spread, and even then they are tainted despairingly sarcastic rather than her usual warm irony), and with a very different heroine. It would appear a quieter, if more intelligent version of Harriet Smith from 'Emma' has taken centre stage here--that is, meek little Fanny Price.
Don't despair. It's brilliant as always.
To begin with, this time Austen's novel contains much more 'action'--what I mean by that is her prose actually describes her characters doing things, even with a touch of ! dramatic climax! to them, something she'd never done before. (Apart from a few scenes of Lydia's wedding in "Pride and Prejudice", Austen's novels usually just contain large blocks of dialogue between characters with the occasioanl longer expositional block detailing the passage of time.) The arrival of Sir Thomas, for example, at the end of volume one, is, surprisingly, thrillingly done with no small amount of adrenaline shocked into the reader, knowing what exploits he will catch his children in the middle of.
The humour is a sad loss, but then in this novel Austen deals with more 'racy' topics than her usual, which she probably felt deserved even more severe treatment than she would normally dispense to her characters through her razor-sharp tools of irony. The moral quotent, therefore, is much higher than normal--then again Austen never featured a married woman's affair before, did she?
The last thing other readers complain about is the lack of any attractive characters in the novel, save Fanny's older brother, William Price (I'd agree there--he was delicious!). Many people dislike and even detest little fanny, after the 'spirited' and 'lively' exploits of Elizabeth Bennet and her kin.
Notice how often the word 'lively' is linked to the poisonous Miss Crawford in this novel, and I think you'll see she was trying to make no small point about how dangerous an over-'spirited' girl could get!
I don't understand this hate of Fanny. Is it just because she's a disappointment from Eliza? Because she's morally invincible? Because she turns down the dashing hero (Henry Crawford) to marry boring but steadfast old Edmund? I can't find sufficient evidence to hate her in ANY of the above. She's a pleasant, intelligent, charmingly emotional little girl--certainly a pleasant change from that spoiled brat Emma Woodhouse.
My concluding statement is this: MP is a very enjoyable novel, if somewhat different from Austen's other works. Even if you come away wishing Fanny Price would drop dead on her pious little head, you should still read it. It's moral lessons are important, it's characters are vital additions to Austen's repetoire, and it reveals a very important shift in Austen's attitude in later life. Read it, please.
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VINE VOICEon January 4, 2008
I think this is my favorite Jane Austen book so far, although I still have Persuasion and Northanger Abbey to read. Most Austen fans would not count Mansfield Park as a favorite, though, at least from what I've heard. It's not that it's a profoundly different book from the more popular Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility, but many people seem to dislike the main character, or at least are not as impressed by her, as by P&P's Elizabeth Bennet or Emma's Emma Woodhouse. It's true that Fanny Price is a very different heroine than Lizzy or Emma, but her circumstances are profoundly different, too. She doesn't have Lizzy's spunk or Emma's forthrightness, but Lizzy and Emma both have the advantage of being more secure in their surroundings, both financially and emotionally. Fanny has a lot working against her from the start.

A generation before Fanny's birth, three sisters chose their paths of marriage: one to a respectable parson, one to a wealthy landowner, and the other to a basically worthless sloth. Fanny had the misfortune to be one of the numerous products of the latter. Her aunt, Mrs. Norris (married to the parson), convinces their other sister, the wealthy Mrs. Bertram, to take Fanny in as a ward. While this sounds like a kindness, it's really only an ego booster for Mrs. Norris. She has no love for Fanny and from the day the poor girl comes to live with the Bertrams at Mansfield Park, she is never allowed to forget that she is the beneficiary of charity and should grovel, beg and prove her gratitude every waking second. Not only are there constant verbal reminders from her aunts, uncle and cousins, but Fanny's status as a poor relation is made clear by her clothing, her rooms, the social functions she's allowed to attend (or not), and even whether or not she has a horse to ride. It's not that anyone is outwardly unkind to Fanny (except Mrs. Norris, at times) per se; she's just a non-entity entirely dependent on the whims of her superior relations, and she's always painfully aware of it.

The main event is the arrival of Henry and Mary Crawford, a brother and sister who proceed to turn things topsy-turvy in the circle of families around Mansfield Park with their somewhat laissez-faire, urban view on the rituals of courtship. The bittersweet backdrop to all this entanglement and game-playing is Fanny's genuine, unrequited love for her cousin Edmund, one of the few people who treat her as an equal. Other reviewers have expressed disdain and frustration with Fanny, labeling her a boring, moralistic, judgmental prig, but I didn't feel that way about her at all. I felt she handled herself and her situation the best she could, and the fact that she's a plain, ordinary girl with none of Elizabeth Bennet's wit or Emma Woodhouse's beauty only makes her more human to me. I enjoyed it and will definitely read it again.
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on December 26, 1999
I saw a preview about two months ago for an intriguing-looking film called Mansfield Park, later that day I went to the library and saw the book by Jane Austen there on the shelves. I decided I should read the book before I saw the movie, I started the book on a Monday night and through school and choir practice finished it that Thursday. I was enthralled, Austen had captured me as I reader, I loved Fanny's unassuming gentle qualities, she was a complex character, so very different from any other heroine I'd encountered. I have since gone through Austen's other novels and with the exception of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey have found them to be a disappointment after Mansfield Park. I think Mansfield was/is Austen at her finest.
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