*thoughts after reading the book; in no way academically informed.
I just finished Mansfield Park this week, thus finally finishing all of Austen’s main novels. It only took me nine years, but we got there.
Mansfield Park is pretty notorious for being long, slow, and its heroine, Fanny Price, incredibly lackluster to say the least. I started this book five years ago, but couldn’t for the life of me continue. I watched the movie adaption (because Jonny Lee Miller), but I felt comfortable in agreeing with the general dislike towards this insufferable book.
This time, perhaps I had a more open mind. I actually enjoyed it. I laughed! I cried re-watching the movie. And in the end, here’s the conclusion I arrived at concerning Fanny Price.
The reason we dislike Fanny so much, the reason she (and Edmund) rub us the wrong way, is because her superpower is attainable. Hear me out.
We like stories of heroines who are beautiful, witty, and/or rich, and, of course, have one major character flaw: pride and prejudice (Elizabeth), excess or lack of sense and sensibility (Elinor and Marianne), unsteadiness of will and immense regret (Anne), overconfidence (Emma), and naivety (Catherine).
These flaws make the characters interesting, drive the story, but also make us feel good about ourselves. Just a little. “Well, at least I’m not that proud/sensitive/haunted/blind.” Or at least their stories soothe us in the way we can relate to them.
But Fanny makes us uncomfortable.
Fanny’s flaws are being poor, sickly, and not much to look at. But her character–ah, that’s a whole different story. She has “touches of the angel in [her].” Henry, with all his faults, was perceptive enough to see what Fanny’s own relatives could not.
We dislike Fanny not because she’s good. Too good. But because she shows we could be too. To be principled, think religion, a life of meditation and service, worthy above worldly riches and society, to choose to be good and hold oneself to a higher standard–it’s all within our reach. And Fanny proves that.
She stomps out excuses of peer pressure. Her own moral ally, Edmund, giving his approval for her acceptance of Crawford! Sir Thomas, her guardian, urging her to do so! The way it would influence her family for the better! Ah, to be so principled and discerning concerning one’s duty to others versus one’s duty to one’s self.
She disproves the need for “the right environment” to be principled–surrounded by indolence, a lack of morals and scruples, she stood firm.
She proves morals and goodness cannot be a result of education alone. (Her cousins received the same education if not a better one.) It is a matter of choice. Something we all possess.
After finishing the book, I read Henry and Fanny, by Sherwood Smith. In it, Mary C. says, “So I have learned that one can choose the moral path, even if it is not in one’s nature. Even if it goes against one’s nature,” (pg. 1592, kindle). This is the point, I believe, that Fanny’s character teaches. And it’s highly uncomfortable. So we call her a prude and wish her and Edmund happiness in their high castle riding their high horses.
But if we had a little less pride and prejudice, a little more sense and sensibility, a little less confidence in our own goodness, a little more resoluteness in our principles could do us all some good.
Also, I think everyone should read Smith’s alternate ending because, Jane, honey, why do you do this to us?
Further Ramblings With an Abrupt Ending:
Mansfield Park (1999)
This version seems so much more recent than ’99. The quality and cinematography are quite pleasing. Both movies stray from the book, and this version saddened me in the way it completely erased William’s storyline, as well as made Sir Thomas so horrid. In the book, his fault is inattentiveness. In the movie, he’s just awful and cruel.
Still, I think watching the movie informs the book. This version really stresses the slave trade and Sir Thomas’ probable involvement in it. It makes sense that if Tom ever did gain some notion of the business, he would be such a troubled person. The book tells us Mr. Price is gross; the movie clarifies a bit as to how.
This version also brought me closer to accepting Austen’s original ending. Henry Crawford had the choice to exercise self-denial for his own sake. But instead, his steadfastness only lasted as long as he believed he’d eventually get what he wanted, Fanny. The movie really brought that out to me in a way I didn’t grasp through the book. His fall took me by surprise, and I was disappointed. The movie showed what Fanny could foresee.
Mansfield Park (2007)
This version already had everything against it by casting Blake Ritson as Edmund. I am so sorry, Blake, but I can only see you as the awful Mr. Elton. He’s the parson in Emma and a clergyman in Mansfield. It’s like seeing Mr. Elton playing Edmund. It’s just… *shudders*.
Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Betram were not nearly as ridiculous as they needed to be. Although, Mrs. Norris’ cruelty was spot on. Sir Thomas looked too young. And Fanny’s romantic love for Edmund was too evident. It felt more restrained in the book.
I am glad they kept the William storyline, especially the necklace.