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Mansfield Park

by Jane Austen
464 pages, Romance
Reviewed by Jeanne

A mild, stirring novel with a different tone than most other Jane Austen stories.

Plot

Fanny Price is the oldest daughter in a large, poor family, and as an act of charity, her rich uncle and aunt remove her from her home at a young age and take her to Mansfield Park. She is to be raised alongside her cousins, Maria and Julia Bertram, and given an education; but at the age of seventeen, when her formal education ends, her lovely, tranquil character is owing not to that education or to the influence of her female cousins, but to Edmund Bertram, the second son. It is perfectly natural that she should fall in love with such an honest and upright young man, but his heart is another's.

Morality

Fanny is the model of propriety and virtue; indeed, Jane Austen wrote that her heroine Anne Elliot of "Persuasion" was too good for her [the authoress], and I wonder how she managed to write Fanny Price. With Edmund's guidance, she develops a clear mind to judge her own actions and those of the people around her, and, though usually quiet, she will speak her beliefs if necessary.

Edmund's judgment is sometimes clouded by his love for Mary Crawford, but he continues trying to do what he knows to be right. Some of the characters appear good, but then show themselves to be deceivers; other characters are imprudent and selfish, and disregard what they know to be right in order to do what they like. Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, Fanny's uncle and aunt, are rather negligent parents, though Sir Thomas regrets this bitterly by the end. All bad behavior, in action or word, is condemned.

Spiritual Content

Edmund Bertram is intended for the church, and takes orders part way through the book. Mary Crawford mocks and ridicules the clergy in general and tells Edmund that he was made for "something better," but, despite his love, he holds to his profession. "Mansfield Park" actually contains some of Jane Austen's most pro-church statements, and she defends clergymen through Edmund's statements.

While in a chapel, Mary Crawford, Edmund, and Fanny have a somewhat lengthy discussion about household prayers and whether or not they were good; Mary says they were of no use, and Fanny and Edmund consider it a good practice. Fanny's parents and siblings attend church, though it appears to be mainly for the sake of the newest gossip.

Violence

One character suffers a dangerous illness and, it can be inferred, comes close to death. Fanny's father refers to "giving someone the strap." Those around Fanny are often forgetful of her, and her other aunt, Mrs. Norris, only thinks of her in order to make her useful; however, there is no real violence involved.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Fanny's father, in addition to swearing, drinks often and heavily. Fanny herself drinks wine mixed with water for her frequent headaches; alcohol, usually in the form of wine, was a common beverage for the time period. Drunkenness, however, is not condoned.

Sexual Content

There are several different romances going on during the course of the story, and also some flirtation among the lesser characters that Fanny is shocked by. Maria and Julia are jealous for one man's affection; an engaged woman flirts with another man and hopes that he will propose; a married character runs off with someone and a divorce ensues; and another character elopes. The circumstances of these events are given, but not in depth. It is stated once or twice that Mary Crawford's uncle had a mistress and made his wife's life miserable. The protagonists are virtuous, and all characters get what they deserve in some form or another.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Upon returning to her family for a visit, Fanny is shocked to find them a very vulgar lot. Her father in particular is fond of oaths; he says "by G--" and "the devil" frequently in the few speeches he has. Mary Crawford is somewhat astonishing in her language, considering the times; in a discussion concerning the profession of the navy she says that she has "met many Rears and Vices" (referring to high-ranking naval officers), and then laughingly begs her listeners not to take it as a pun. She is also somewhat flippant in her references to her uncle, Admiral Crawford. These faults shock Fanny, who, as a result, is not as enamored with Mary as others are.

Conclusion

As a storyline, "Mansfield Park" is as quiet and unassuming as its heroine. It has none of the impish wit of "Pride and Prejudice," the satire of "Northanger Abbey," the drama of "Sense and Sensibility," the mishaps of "Emma," or the angst of "Persuasion"; it is merely the story of devoted and unspoken love in a young woman's heart. It departs from many of Jane Austen's stereotypical plot points, and not least in her characters: her heroine, unlike witty Elizabeth Bennet or bumbling Emma Woodside, is circumspect and shy; her hero is sometimes, if not exactly stupid, at least very blind; her supporting male character goes from unlikeable to alarmingly dashing, instead of vice versa; and her supporting female character displays more of the typical vivacity and humor than Fanny Price herself.

Also, unlike Austen's other novels, this one does not lend itself particularly well to a film adaption, since most of the story centers around Mansfield Park and the struggles the heroine faces are largely mental. It is not a thrilling story, but it is heart-felt; and though it may be apparent to the reader at the beginning whom Fanny is to marry, the middle and near-end will keep one guessing.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 5
Written for Age: adult

Review Rating:

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