“Austen in August” and Mansfield Park Part 1

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:

  1. Was Mansfield Park the first Austen book you read? No
  2. Is this the first time you’ve read Mansfield Park? Yep
  3. How many other Austen books have you read? I have read, in order, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion
  4. 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.
  5. 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…