Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

When I think of Jane Austen three books pop into my mind: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. Granted, I haven’t read Emma yet this year, but I’m familiar with the story thanks to movies. Sometimes I remember Northanger Abbey. Two books hardly ever enter my mind: Mansfield Park and Persuasion. During my blogging hiatus I read Mansfield Park and now I’m wondering why more people don’t talk about it.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis:

Taken from the poverty of her parents’ home, Fanny Price is brought up with her rich cousins at Mansfield Park, acutely aware of her humble rank and with only her cousin Edmund as an ally. When Fanny’s uncle is absent in Antigua, Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive in the neighbourhood, bringing with them London glamour and a reckless taste for flirtation. As her female cousins vie for Henry’s attention, and even Edmund falls for Mary’s dazzling charms, only Fanny remains doubtful about the Crawfords’ influence and finds herself more isolated than ever. A subtle examination of social position and moral integrity, Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen’s most profound works.

Now I won’t claim that this novel surpasses Pride and Prejudice. Fanny is no Elizabeth Bennet. However, she is a wonderful character. She’s not flashy, doesn’t have witty comebacks, and is sickly. I think these may be some of the reasons why people in today’s world aren’t drawn to her. But these are the very reasons why I like her. Fanny hasn’t had it easy and yet she manages to stay true to herself and her convictions when the rest of those around her are acting like idiots.

Caroline recently reviewed this book and mentioned that today’s audience is more drawn to Mary Crawford’s character. I found this to be an interesting insight, since I despised Mary from the start. It’s hard to decide which person I hated more Mary Crawford or Fanny’s Aunt Norris. The aunt is always reminding Fanny that she isn’t like them and is constantly putting Fanny in her place. I wanted to tell Mr. Norris to shove it.

But Mary is conceited and tries to influence the man she loves not to pursue a career with the church since she doesn’t want to be the wife of a clergyman. Granted Edmund wouldn’t be a wealthy man, but he’s following his heart. And he’s the second son so he doesn’t have a lot of choices. I think Mary had some feelings for Edmund, but it was hard for me to know for sure. If you love someone, you support them. That’s my opinion.

As you can see, this novel got a raise out of me. If you’re an Austen fan and you haven’t read this book, I urge you to do so. If you haven’t read any Austen yet, I wouldn’t suggest starting with this book. That may not make sense, but I think you need to be familiar with her writing before tackling this one. Start with Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. Then read this one.

My next Austen novel will be Emma. And then I only have Persuasion left. It’ll be sad to finish all of her novels. Luckily her novels are just as wonderful when you reread them.

This is the 82nd book I’ve read from the 1001 list. I’m narrowing in on 100.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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41 Responses to Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

  1. Vishy says:

    Wonderful review, TBM! Nice to know that you enjoyed reading ‘Mansfield Park’. I haven’t read it yet, but have seen the film version of it (it had Frances O’Connor as Fanny) and liked it very much, though the film takes liberties with the story told in the book. I hope to read this book soon. It is sad that Austen wrote only six novels. Wish she had written more. Have you read ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’ by Karen Joy Fowler? It is a love letter to Jane Austen and her works. It is wonderful to know that you have finished 82 books from your 1001 list. Congratulations! Hope you get to 100 books soon.

    • TBM says:

      I have read the Jane Austen Book Club. I enjoyed it more than the movie version. I’m with you, Vishy. Austen died way too young and I wonder how her novels would have evolved if she lived longer. Would she have been more like Dickens?

  2. Alastair says:

    I’m with you on this one. I have read Mansfield Park a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed it. I know it doesn’t get the same attention as the other books, but for me – well, I was engrossed all the way along. I also agree with you about the characters and I think it is a sad thing if, as Caroline says, people these days are more drawn to Mary Crawford. What a sign of the times!

    • TBM says:

      I know adultery is more common these days or at least discussed more in public, but it still doesn’t make it right. Engrossed is the right word for this novel. I was engrossed in it as well. Much different from Pride and Prejudice, but I think it’s a more mature work for her.

  3. Caroline says:

    Thanks for the link TBM. I agree, I don’t understand why not more people talk about it. I liked it better than most of her other novels. I’d say my favourites are Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and this.
    ******Spoiler******
    I think some of the reactions of Mary Crawford are understandable nowadays. Would you want to be married to a clergyman? Or how big a deal is an affair? I’m not saying the first isn’t OK or the latter is but many people have quite differet opinions nowadays. Fanny is a bit of a goody-goody. I liked her because she’s so highly sensitive and because there’s another angle in the book thanls to her. I found the scenes with her family very poignant and can’t remember that Austen ever portrayed poverty like this.

    • TBM says:

      It’s hard for me to judge Mary Crawford from today’s point of view since the novel was written in the 1800s. I can only see it from her time period–maybe it’s the historian in me. Fanny is a goody-goody and I really like that about her. Even when she’s teased, she doesn’t break out of character. In today’s literature the bullying may have caused her to rebel and the book would be about an innocent going to prison or something (a little dramatic, I know).

      I really have to wonder if Austen would have become more concerned with poverty if she didn’t die so young. It was being written about more in her later years and would she have written more realistic depictions of society?

      • You bring up some interesting points about Austen’s depiction of poverty. I think that poverty – or the possibility of poverty – is an underlying theme in much of her writing, especially in terms of the importance of marrying a man with a respectable fortune. If her heroines do not marry, many of them will suffer lower standards of living. As a case in point, Miss Bates in Emma is a spinster, portrayed as an object of pity. I can’t think of any happy spinsters in novels by Jane Austen.

        There is an interesting discussion between Emma and her friend, Harriet, where they talk about spinsterhood and poverty: “Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable, old maid! The proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else. And the distinction is not quite so much against the candour and common sense of the world as appears at first; for a very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper.

        The impoverished old maids (what a condescending, derogatory term that is!) are present in Austen’s novels, not in the foreground but they have a definite underlying presence. As Austen herself wrote in a letter to one of her nieces, “Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony”.

        I agree with Caroline; Austen’s portrayal of poverty in Mansfield Park is sobering and the scenes with Fanny’s family are very different to anything else she has written.

      • TBM says:

        There’s always the threat of poverty in her novels. In Mansfield, her description of a poor family’s home and living situation was a first that I encountered. It was more like Dickens. I haven’t read Emma yet–I’m looking forward to it. And yes, the term old maids isn’t nice. I don’t hear it as much these days, but heard it quite a bit when I was growing up.

        Interesting that she made that comment to her niece in a letter. I read a biography and learned that she was torn about marriage and women having babies. Not that she was against marriage, but having so many babies was dangerous to a woman’s health (many of the woman in her family and immediate circle had complications). I wish I could remember how the biographer put it, but I read it many years ago.

        As she got older, Austen was questioning more and more around her and I think it would have been interesting to see her incorporate her thoughts into her writing. She had such a keen insight and would love to know more of what she thought. She gets dinged today for being a romantic, but she was a product of her time. Soon after her death, writers were becoming more realistic in their writing and I think she would have followed that trend.

  4. vinnieh says:

    Wonderful post, I still have to read this book.

  5. I’ve not read ‘Mansfield Park’ and realize I ought! Great review.

  6. Lucid Gypsy says:

    As you know Emma is my favourite! I think I’ve read Mansfield but its hard to remember if I’ve seen it on TV.

  7. Nice take on Mansfield Park!

  8. FictionFan says:

    I love Mansfield Park, and Fanny in particular. I agree that Austen writes more about genteel poverty than actual poverty most of the time, but then that was the class she lived in. Being a woman, there probably wasn’t as much opportunity for her to see the seamier side of life as Dickens did, so it would have been harder for her to write about it. Apart from Pride and Prejudice, I’ve never really seen her as a particularly romantic writer either – many of the marriages in the other books are ‘sensible’ rather than romantic.

    Emma is the one I like least – I admire the book, but really dislike Emma’s character, which prevents me enjoying it so much. And a ‘secret’ favourite of mine is Northanger Abbey – quite different from the rest, funnier, and I love the heroine’s imagination…

    • TBM says:

      Excellent point about Austen only being exposed to genteel poverty. I think Austen is always associated with Pride and Prejudice and hence is usually associated with being a romantic writer. I agree with you, there’s much more to her writing.

      I’m curious what I’ll think of Emma. I should read that soon. I only have a couple of months to finish that and Persuasion. Yes, Catherine has quite the imagination!

  9. Tried reading this after reading Caroline’s review, but it didn’t grab me like Austen’s other novels. I’ll give it another try soon. You both can’t be wrong! 🙂

  10. paulaacton says:

    I do enjoy Mansfield Park but I think it is probably read as much as the others just not discussed as much and I think in part it could be because there are some rather uncomfortable subjects for discussion in it, obviously the main one is the discussions regarding slavery and the discussions about how acceptable it was considered then, you then move onto the adultery which in today’s terms is nothing but it also raises the questions of marriage as a career akin to prostitution when you consider there were certainly no real feelings on the young ladys side going into it in this case but I think the biggest one is the one that is overlooked at first until it hits home. Fanny Price is the poor relative, you see the word there ‘relative’ the fact she and Edmund are first cousins leaves a rather uncomfortable angle on the love story and one which I do feel leaves people feeling a little uneasy at, while we may accept historically it happened especially in families with wealth to protect it does still nethertheless raise issues many would rather not discuss

    • TBM says:

      I went on an excellent tour in London last year that talked about the slave trade and abolition movement. From school, I knew England was involved, but didn’t know how involved. Slavery in the States is talked about much more with the plantations, literature, and the Civil War. So that’s an interesting point you raise and I hadn’t considered it.

      Yes, it is difficult to read today that first cousins married. I know it happened, especially in wealthier circles and with ruling parties. Have you ever looked at the Hapsburgs–they all have the same nose.

      Excellent points, Paula. All of her novels touch on tricky subjects, but this one may hit the most uncomfortable talking points.

  11. lynnsbooks says:

    I confess I’ve read all of Austen’s novels and enjoyed all of them! I think Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey are great and very much underrated in Austen terms (although not really overall!) and your reasons for enjoying this are spot on.
    Lynn 😀
    P.s. makes me want to go and read it all over again.

    • TBM says:

      Another Austen fan! Even though I didn’t enjoy Northanger as much as her others, it’s still a good novel. Let’s face it, Austen is Austen–she didn’t really have bad days at the writing desk.

  12. Great review – love this book, I studied it for my A Level English Lit and can still remember a few passages by heart!

    • TBM says:

      By heart! that’s impressive. I was horrible at memorizing anything, including the pledge of allegiance–which most school kids know and remember. Not me.

  13. Of all Austen’s stories, I think this is the only one that I haven’t read at least part of (to my recollection anyway). I think that is in large part because while I’ve seen some well-acted adaptations I don’t particularly like the story itself. I should probably give it another chance at some point though, seems only fair.

    • TBM says:

      The story is not her norm. I’ve seen some of the adaptations and I have to say I prefer the book. Yes, the subject is still the same, but handled differently. Not as bold.

      On a side note: Congrats Carl on your daughter’s wedding. I’m so happy for all of you.

      • Thanks! We are very happy for them. It still seems weird though to have our only child married off and no longer living at home. Strange but good.

        I think in my head I have Mansfield Park classified with other (to me) depressing book/films like Howard’s End which I don’t particularly enjoy. I’ve definitely not given the book a fair shake.

      • TBM says:

        I can see the Howard’s End connection. I still haven’t watched that movie or read it and a lot of people love it. I totally get it.

        Good luck adjusting at home. And not to rush anything, but maybe some day grandkids will ran around your home.

  14. Geoff W says:

    Great review! And I LOVE Fanny Price because of her divisiveness! I think that’s why this is one of the better of Austen’s novels because she shows a maturation that wasn’t there in her earlier whimsical novels.

    • TBM says:

      I agree with you completely. This is a much more mature novel. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the earlier works, because I do. Pride and Prejudice is still my fave. But this is a great example of how a writer matures over time and takes new risks. Again I have to say it’s such a shame she didn’t live longer. I would have loved to seen how far she would have gone.

      • Geoff W says:

        I know! And I completely agree with you about the earlier novels, I mean I’ve read P&P twice this year and who knows how many times total. I just love how divisive Fanny is and how she often times makes people hate Austen regardless of her other works.

      • TBM says:

        Twice in one year beats me. I haven’t read P&P in over two years. I’m starting to get the jitters. Need a fix soon!

  15. Pingback: The Classics Club – October Meme | The Oddness of Moving Things

  16. Mabel says:

    I just finished a reread of Sense & Sensibility. I really look forward to Mansfield Park 🙂

  17. Brona says:

    I reread MP for Austen in August and surprised myself by how much I loved it this time around. It definitely improves with a better appreciation of JA’s style and a reread reveals the depth and complexity that is easy to miss in a first outing.
    I’m also an advocate of Fanny. I loved your comment about not being sure who you disliked more – Mary or Aunt Norris! I felt the same.
    However Persuasion is still my favourite JA – I look forward to hearing what you think when you get to it.

    • TBM says:

      I’m not sure I’ve talked to too many Austen fan’s who say Persuasion is their favorite. That’s the last book of hers on my list and I’m looking forward to it. It will be sad to finish them all, but I’ve been enjoying the project this year.

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