Mansfield Park

It’s about a place. In the province *ahemcountryahem* with posh people. Who are bored.

Seriously.

The classics are already difficult enough to read with its antiquated prose and lengthy accounts of so and so’s goings about, but if the story itself is sleep-inducing, then it’s a wonder these texts are still in print. Mansfield Park? Yup, perfect example.

Let’s see. Jane Austen spends half the book just talking about what the Bertrams and their cousin, protagonist Fanny Price, are doing with their new “neighbors” the Crawfords. Everybody is charmed by the Crawfords except for Fanny who thinks that Henry and Mary Crawford are just awful spoiled city people whose education ruined them into having such evil virtues. Having been born and raised in the city, I take great offense at this.

That practically was the whole point of the entire book: that the city life presents nothing but corruption and evil and vanity and that those who live in the city are doomed to live such immoral lives.

Where does Austen get off saying such things? It’s disturbing. Here I was, perfectly content with fantasies about meeting my own Mr. Darcy, and then there she goes ruining it with Mansfield Park and all its stuck up conservative ideals. Bitch got burned bad, and she unleashed it in her writing.

Pardon the language, please. I just still can’t get over it.

Read more after the jump. This is all basically stream of consciousness with very little revising and editing done.

I finished the novel last Saturday morning, just in time for my book club meeting after lunch. We all agreed it was a very tedious novel to read, especially since all we read about is how Fanny gets “distressed” over the smallest things like being invited to dinner by her neighbors or being asked for her opinion. It gets exhausting after a while. I suppose that’s why it took me a month to finish this when I finished Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion in 1-5 days. But I digress. Yes, this was the topic of our book club discussion last Saturday, and yes, this was a tedious novel to read, but it did give me tons to think about.

For example, do provincial people still view city-dwellers as morally corrupt? If I go to my parent’s hometown province, will they see me the way Fanny saw the Crawfords? When we talked about it, it came up that yes, city people do come off very as very liberal and “loose” to those from the more conservative areas of the country, but since I WAS born and raised in the city, I am offended because I know that I am not at all loose or evil as Austen made city people out to be. Am I more tolerant of loose virtues? No, but I am more understanding of people and their situations. I’d like to think I am not as judgmental as Fanny Price is. I’d like to think that unlike Fanny, I am open to the idea that people can change, even if I may be suspicious at first.

Another thought: it’s bad enough that Edmund and Fanny end up together after growing up as brother and sister even though they’re not, but the idea that Edmund “groomed” Fanny to fit his image of the perfect wife was just nauseating. Knightley (from Emma) did the same with the protagonist, but at least he didn’t live with Emma in the same house unlike the couple in THIS novel. Edmund raised his cousin-whom-he-considered-his-sister to be the perfect wife. FOR HIM. Excuse me while I puke.

So here’s a question: why was it so bothersome that Edmund “groomed” Fanny to be his wife? I suppose the grooming thing isn’t really so bothersome as it is the fact that they were practically brother and sister for what, 8 years? Then again, Fanny grew up without her family, and the person who saved her from the wretchedness she felt of being separated from her family and especially her beloved brother just happened to be a relative of hers. We women just looooove being saved, don’t we? So Fanny felt grateful, of course, and the gratitude translated into hero-worship and love when she grew up. (Oh god why am I just realizing this now and not during book club? Well, I think it was understood but just not articulated.)

Edmund becomes a clergyman, although for the life of me I can’t understand what motivated him to be a clergyman. Rich and handsome and genuinely nice, and he chose to be a clergyman. Yes, it’s the Mary Crawford in me speaking. I really don’t understand what drove him to that profession. Was there any indication mentioned in the book that I simply missed because I sped-read through the whole thing? Enlighten me please, for I have no intention of going back to that book in the near future.

Okay, what else?

Mary Crawford was not as vile as Fanny made her out to be. She and Fanny simply viewed things differently, and Fanny simply did not appreciate Mary’s straightforwardness.

This question was raised in the book talk: Is Fanny to be blamed for what drove Henry to go with Maria? I say, “Yes.” Well, at first glance, yes. If Fanny had said yes to Henry, then Henry would have been happy and wouldn’t have sought companionship in another girl who was more than willing to provide the needed distraction. But would they have been happy in the long run? Would quiet, serious, and shy Fanny be a good match for the wily, charming, sociable Henry? Would they have lasted more than a year? a month? a week?

I’d like to think that what Edmund said about them was true–that they complement each other’s differences and therefore would be a good match, but are they too different to ensure such a relationship? Which leads us to the question: if opposites do attract, does that mean a lasting relationship? How much opposite can you be without ending up screaming at each other in frustration?

But the romantic in me believes that Henry and Fanny would’ve been happy together had she given him even half a chance.

Overall the novel was probably the most boring of the bunch save for the part where Henry woos Fanny. That made my heart skip a beat. It made me think: I want that. I want that grand gesture.

And then it made me think: Fanny dumped Henry despite those lovely gestures. I’ve had a mini grand gesture, and while I appreciated it, I still said no, so I can understand that if you really don’t love that person, then no grand gesture will be able to sway you. Love is crazy that way.

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