Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Published July 1814 by Thomas Egerton
Format: e-book; 502 pages
Also From This Author: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion
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My Rating: 4/5
Here is the last group of questions from the Mansfield Park read-along that I have been participating in. I mentioned this in my previous post, but I loved the novel and really connected with Fanny Price (shocking, I know). I completely understand if no one understands my reasoning, but I’m glad I enjoyed it so much; I would hate to dislike an Austen novel.
Mansfield Park Discussion Questions (Chapters 32-48)
- Please, please discuss the entire Henry Crawford fiasco. Anything that you most want to discuss – his falling for Fanny, his proposal and her refusal, the reactions of those around them, etc. Consider also: Fanny in Portsmouth, Henry in Portsmouth, and Fanny’s steadfast refusal, and the return to Mansfield. Lots to discuss with this one! Wow. I felt so awkward and sympathetic for Henry. A big part of me wanted Fanny to give him a chance!! He starts off as a much more interesting character than Edmund, but later on he started getting creepy…especially when he just showed up in Portsmouth. Awk-ward. And also that one scene at Mansfield Park when he keeps badgering Fanny to tell him what she was thinking: I wanted to shout “Back off, man!” Seriously, some men cannot take a hint.
- Perhaps one of the biggest points of contention for readers of Mansfield Park is the Crawfords. Though Fanny may look like a prig beside them, they are the only ones throughout the novel to truly appreciate her and praise her. Do you feel their esteem is genuine? Why do you think no one else appreciates Fanny for most of the story? And do you think the esteem which some characters show her in the end will last? I disagree that the Crawfords are the only ones who appreciate Fanny. I do believe that Edmund appreciates and praises her, too. And you can tell by the end of the novel that her aunt and uncle Bertram have grown to appreciate her as well. That being said, I do not believe the Crawford’s esteem is genuine because it is not reflected in their actions. After Mary moves away she hardly writes Fanny (not that Fanny is upset by that), and this describes an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. Plus, Mary’s motive for spending time with Fanny is usually so that she can talk about or garner information about Edmund. Not exactly genuine. Henry, on the other hand, seems more sincere for the most part. He fails in his lack of humility. He does not let his actions speak for himself. If you compare him with Austen’s other heroes, for example Mr. Darcy, Colonel Brandon, and Captain Wentworth*, we see that they act behind the scenes and it is not until later that the corresponding heroines discover their true and praise-worthy characters. Perhaps if Henry had done something truly selfless and it was revealed to Fanny through a person other than himself, then maybe she would have considered his esteem as genuine (and maybe even considered him as a suitor).
- Mansfield Park as a story wouldn’t exist without the actions and marriages of the original three sisters (now Lady Bertram, Mrs Norris and Mrs Price, respectively); each are very different in character, and each have made very different matches, setting the tone for everything that follows. What do you think of these three women and who they’ve become? Do you see any similarities between them – a free-spirit who marries imprudently, an emotionally-stoic, proper woman who marries very well, and a bitter, interfering curmudgeon who marries well enough – and other Austen characters? How do you imagine these three have changed over the course of their lives? And how did their story play out over the course of this book? I feel that Austen’s usual motifs of sense and reason are portrayed here as well. The only one of these sisters who ends off “well” would be Lady Bertram. Obviously she is not an ideal character; she is lazy and generally naive to what is going on around her. However, she is the only sister who undergoes a change during the course of the novel. By the end she has come to view Fanny as an actual family member, and even more, as her daughter. My optimism is determined to believe that the Bertrams (aside from Maria) all go on to have happy lives.
- One of the things we’ve talked about quite a bit this Austen in August is the idea that Mansfield Park is much less a love story, less a story of romance, than people would generally have you believe. What do you think of this? Do you find it a solid romance, or do you think that’s merely a surface story, with a much deeper shadow story playing underneath? I absolutely agree that it is not a romance. If you are looking for a novel like Pride and Prejudice (which I happened to finish right before reading MP but thankfully I jumped into it already knowing what I was getting into), then you will be sorely and unfortunately disappointed. It is NOT a love story. In fact, the focus of the novel is not intended to be on Fanny and Edmund’s relationship whatsoever. I believe Austen uses this novel more than any other as a critique, and her opinions on life and society can clearly be traced through Fanny’s character development and the strong contrasts between Fanny and the other characters. I read that the psychological “Nature vs. Nurture” debate was active during Austen’s lifetime, and there are many instances in the book that reflect a pro-nurture attitude. There is even one point in the novel where I believe Edmund states that Mary would have turned out better had she been raised differently (“they continued to talk of Miss Crawford alone, and how she had attached him, and how delightful nature had made her, and how excellent she would have been, had she fallen into good hands earlier,” Chapter 47). And even though Fanny comes from a more “savage” gene pool, she is given a proper upbringing where she is denied luxuries and indulgences while her cousins are spoiled and never discouraged in their selfish indulgences. And in the end Fanny is proved to be the better mannered and more valued character while her cousins are ruined and scandalized.
- Now that we’ve read Mansfield Park in its entirety, are there any characters or aspects of the book that are generally disliked, which you’d like to defend? How do you feel about the respective marriages/pairings/endings for everyone? Is there anything you’d change, if you could? I really wish that Julia had not eloped with Mr. Yates. I wish she would have been more sensible in that regard. I would have liked for her to have been redeemed from her original character at the start of the novel. But other than that, I loved the novel and how everything turned out, even Fanny ending up with Edmund. Sometimes love takes years to bloom. Fanny loved Edmund since she practically arrived at Mansfield Park, yet Edmund needed more time than that. This is what makes the novel realistic, because not every relationship is a fairy tale.
- If you’ve read other Austen novels, how do you think Mansfield Park compares or contrasts to the rest of Austen’s work? (class mobility, likeability, class represented, tensions, etc. compatibility of romance, ending, etc.) I believe it is very similar to Austen’s other works, but perhaps it is “more strongly concentrated”. It cuts out the swoon-worthy romance and intensifies the themes and commentaries.
- If you’ve seen any of the movie adaptations, what do you make of them? Mansfield Park adaptations are notorious for making massive changes, especially to the character of Fanny (to make her more “likable,” more feisty, to connect more with a modern audience); do you think this is necessary? Does making Fanny more “feisty” lessen the impact of the story? I have only seen the 2007 adaptation, which I did enjoy despite the changes. I mentioned in my last post how the trailer from the 1999 adaptation describes Fanny as “spirited”. That poor-description has turned me off from even giving that adaptation a chance.
- Is there anything else you’d like to discuss from Volume Three, or the novel as a whole? Yes! A couple of things. Firstly, I appreciated how the ongoing references to the play reminded the reader that many of the characters are acting. Unfortunately for Edmund, Mr. Rushworth, and Maria, they are respectfully deceived by Mary Crawford, Maria, and Henry Crawford. Fanny is cleverly able to see through Henry’s disguise, and she keeps control of her feelings so as not to fall victim to his flirtatious nature. Secondly, I loved how Jane Austen wrote the last chapter from her own point-of-view. It gave me shivers to hear her say “my Fanny”. I felt very connected to Austen during that last chapter, almost as if I was listening to her read the book aloud.
*to clarify, I mean Mr. Darcy’s dealings with Mr. Wickham, Colonel Brandon’s with John Willoughby, and Captain Wentworth’s secretive affections towards Anne (when he asks his sister and brother-in-law to drive her home and also when he has that message delivered to her just after Louisa’s accident. That showed a consideration for her being kept in the loop).
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?
I am currently partaking in an online Jane Austen festival of sorts called “Austen in August” One of the main events is a Read-Along and group discussion of Mansfield Park. The “Austen in August” page featured on my blog will store each of my blog posts related to the event and read-along. Feel free to post your own comments or even to read along with us!
Mansfield Park Discussion Questions (Chapters 1-18)
Quick getting to know you Qs:
- Was Mansfield Park the first Austen book you read? No
- Is this the first time you’ve read Mansfield Park? Yep
- How many other Austen books have you read? I have read, in order, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion
- Will you read more of them/reread them? I am currently on a Jane Austen spree, so I am in the process of reading/re-reading all of them. Northanger Abbey is up next after I finish MP.
- Do you or will you read Austen adaptations? I have not read any adaptations, although I have watched several, but I am totally open to reading some!
Responses to Mansfield Park:
- What were your initial impressions of the story? Not just the characters and their respective situations, but also the style and tone – if you’ve read Austen before, do you find Mansfield Park to be very different in any significant ways? Of the three other Austen novels I have read (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion), I do notice some differences between them and MP, especially concerning the length of the plot summaries and dialogues. The discussions about the clergy between Edmund and Mary Crawford frankly bored me, and I do prefer the shorter and more concise dialogue Austen uses in her other novels.
- Going more into the characters now, Mansfield Park‘s inhabitants are pretty universally considered Austen’s hardest to love. What was your response to them through the first half of this story? Do you feel for any of them? Hate any of them with a vehemence beyond that which you normally reserve for fictional characters? And if you try to look at them objectively, do you have any more sympathy (or disgust) with their actions and behavior? I have never read MP before and up until a little over a week ago the most I knew about it was from watching The Jane Austen Book Club. Since I decided to participate in this read-along, however, I’ve discovered how disliked both MP and Fanny Price are, and while I can understand the reasons for that, I do have to disagree (see next question). Yes, the secondary characters are obnoxiously childish and selfish, but after reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, no character, and I mean NONE, can annoy, anger, or frustrate me more than Dolores Umbridge. And even Lydia Bennet is more ridiculous than Maria and Julia, although perhaps not as mean-spirited as Mrs. Norris.
- Fanny is often considered to be a very milquetoast, frustratingly passive heroine. Do you agree with this perception of her? Do you find yourself making excuses for her or holding things against her? Or do you feel that Fanny is underestimated as a character? Consider the scene in the Rushworth’s park, as Fanny sits for hours, waiting to be noticed again, while everyone around her seeks their own amusement. Maybe it’s because everyone else in the (real) world seems to dislike Fanny, or maybe it’s because I can relate to her/liken myself to her (gosh, I hope not TOO much!), but I really do sympathize with Fanny and even like her the best out of all the other characters. Although, is that really hard to do? I feel that she is a tiny bit misunderstood: she isn’t able to always make her own decisions, but, due to her personality and the constant belittlement from her extended family, she feels she has to please everyone even when her own will suffers.
- “The Play” and preparation for it is one of the most telling and pivotal scenes in Mansfield Park – discuss your reaction to the entire Lover’s Vows storyline: what it brings to light in the characters, what changes and ruptures it causes among them, things that amused or irritated you, etc. Did your feelings about any of the characters change as a result of The Play? How did you feel about Fanny during this whole incident? Would you have liked to see the play – and its aftermath – without the intrusion of the returning Lord Bertram? I found myself reacting in similar ways as Fanny during the play rehearsals: amusing myself in the selfishness and ridiculousness of all the characters involved. Between Julia and Maria not-so-subtly fighting over the affections of Henry Crawford, or Mr. Rushmore’s obsession with his stage time, I believe the rehearsal and preparation for the play is more entertaining than the actual play would have been. Although, right now (I stopped at the end of chapter 18) I find myself worried over Lord Bertram’s reaction, not for the other characters, but mainly for Fanny since she had finally and unwittingly given in to reading lines.
- Many of the relationships we’ve been introduced to so far are very contentious: Maria and Julia, sometimes Tom and Edmund, Mrs Norris and everybody. And in fact, the story starts with a rift in the family. What do you make of the “friendships” and family dynamics in the story, and of the changes wrought by the entrance of the Crawfords? Everyone is selfish, even Edmund and Fanny at times (not wanting to help out with the play–was her motive due to embarassment or values?). At one point Mary and Mrs. Grant are discussing Henry’s relationship with Maria, and instead of being concerned for Maria’s reputation and engagement (they don’t have the slightest problem reprimanding her behind her back, however), they are entirely concerned about Henry’s happiness. This upset me since they both know Henry to be a flirt, and instead of reprimanding his actions they try and spare his feelings or possible broken heart.
- Is there anything else you’d like to talk about from Volume One? Here’s an example of why I sympathize with Fanny: How would any girl feel about having to play audience while her crush and competition confess love for one another, even if it is just rehearsal for a play? We all know that this play is more than just an act…