As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently following along with an “Austen in August” online event by participating in a Mansfield Park read-along. I finished reading MP a week ago, but I’ve had to wait for the second group of questions to be posted (and also, I was swamped from work this week so I was only able to look at the questions today). For anyone who hasn’t read past Volume 2 of MP, I won’t write any spoilers in my answers. I will only say that I really enjoyed the novel as a whole, including Fanny Price, despite the fact that most people strongly dislike both.
Mansfield Park Discussion Questions (Chapters 19-31)
- What do you make of Sir Bertram’s treatment of Fanny when he returns home? Consider this passage:
“[Sir Thomas,] on perceiving her, came forward with a kindness which astonished and penetrated her, calling her his dear Fanny, kissing her affectionately, and observing with decided pleasure how much she was grown! Fanny knew not how to feel, nor where to look. She was quite oppressed. He had never been so kind, so very kind to her in his life. His manner seemed changed, his voice was quick from the agitation of joy; and all that had been awful in his dignity seemed lost in tenderness.”
- What do you make of Sir Thomas’ completely new treatment of Fanny? Does it make you reconsider their relationship, or Sir Thomas as a character?
Honestly this chapter brought tears to my eyes. I thought Sir Thomas’s treatment towards Fanny was very kind and fatherly. Up until this point I had felt very sympathetic towards Fanny because her family is so cruel to her, but finally someone besides Edmund treats her with kindness.
- Considering this same question from another angle, let’s talk a bit about Fanny’s age and status. In Vol 2, multiple characters notice how much Fanny has “improved” in looks, and Henry even states that she’s grown at least 2 inches since the Crawfords met her, less than a year ago. It’s easy to forget, but Fanny is only 16 at the arrival of the Crawfords, and 17 by novel’s end; how does this color your interpretation of the events of the book thus far? Does your opinion of Fanny, or others treatment of her, change with her age taken into account? Yes and no. Fanny seems very grown up already, mainly because she’s treated like a servant in her relatives’ home. However, when you compare her age to those of Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, Elinor Dashwood, you realize that Fanny is really young.
- We often discuss Fanny as a very passive character, but in some parts of the novel, and especially in part 2, we begin to see another side of Fanny. Through some of her more unguarded conversations with Edmund, and through her own inner-monologues, especially when speaking with Henry Crawford, we see that a different, strongly opinionated Fanny is buried under the surface. Discuss that motif as a whole: the public and private sides of characters, how it plays into decorum and propriety, and our overall impressions of the characters and the novels. Do you wish Fanny would say the things she thinks? How would the novel change if she did so? I actually understand why Fanny guards her opinions, especially when it comes to desires and needs. Perhaps she doesn’t want to be a burden, and I can completely relate to that. I sometimes feel stressed when people go out of their way to help me, and I even find myself just “going with the flow” instead of speaking up for what I truly want. Can that be annoying? Yes. However, I feel that in Mansfield Park there is a strong contrast between Fanny and the other female characters, who aren’t afraid to speak their mind and who even do so without any discretion.
- In this Volume, Henry Crawford tells his sister that he intends to make Fanny fall in love with him, that he “cannot be satisfied…without making a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart.” Discuss your reaction to this, given not only the story so far, but also Fanny’s age, character, and status (near as the reader can tell, she’s not “out” in society yet, though she does mix with the company of her family, putting her in a strange state of limbo). Up until this point in the novel I hardly had any problems with Henry Crawford. Obviously he’s a flirt and he doesn’t really respect women (in the sense that he’s not concerned with damaging their reputations), yet he is likable and it’s nice to see Fanny receiving some attention, even if it’s not necessarily for the right reasons.
- Further, in Henry’s efforts to make Fanny fall for him, he seems to get caught in his own snare and falls for Fanny. What do you make of this turn of events? Do you believe Henry’s affections for Fanny are real? And what do you make of Mary’s assessment of a relationship between her brother and Fanny:
“The gentleness and gratitude of her disposition would secure her all your own immediately. From my soul I do not think she would marry you without love; that is, if there is a girl in the world capable of being uninfluenced by ambition, I can suppose it her; but ask her to love you, and she will never have the heart to refuse.”
I feel that neither Mary nor her brother understand Fanny whatsoever. They view her as a girl without any mind of her own. The fact that Henry sets out to make Fanny fall in love with him is one thing: he does it out of boredom and to boost his own ego. Yet Mary believing that Fanny will have no objections to falling in love with her brother is pure blindness. Fanny is the essence of reason: she is full of sense and never does anything that goes against propriety and sound judgement. So why on earth would she so easily fall in love with someone whom Mary herself describes as “the most horrible flirt that can be imagined” (Chapter 4)? So Henry falling for Fanny becomes inevitable because his ego does not know how to react to her indifference. Are his feelings real, however? Maybe in some ways, yes. He doesn’t undo all the benevolent work he did in regards to William Price’s advancement in the navy, and I was truly expecting him to react angrily due to rejection (and 1 Corinthians 13 kept going through my mind: “[Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…”). But some of his actions later on reveal less of a lover and more of a stalker.
- Anything else you’d like to discuss from Volume Two? Yes! I have never seen the 1999 version of Mansfield Park, but when I watched the trailer I literally snorted out loud when the narrator called Fanny Price a “spirited heroine”!!! Honestly? Is that adaptation really that far off from the novel?