Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Well-Spoken Wednesday--Mansfield Park by Jane Austen Review

Summary from Goodreads:
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 Crawford's 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. 

Mansfield ParkMansfield Park by Jane Austen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before reading this novel, I had only read one other Jane Austen book--Pride and Prejudice.  I read that book as a teen, and I enjoyed it so much I read it twice.  But I only became a fan of that book after seeing one or two movie versions.  I dearly love it now, and it is one of my favorites.

Perhaps the same thing will happen with this book. This was not a light read, and for the first 100 pages or so, I was only mildly interested.   This book requires great perseverance, but I will tell you one thing. The end result is very much worth it. This book has a lot more meat in it, and Austen throws in some surprises that even I did not see.

The main plot of the story revolves around Fanny Price. (I could not help thinking of 20th century Burlesque star of a similar name--Fanny Brice!)  She comes to live with her aunt and uncle who are quite well off. I think that Austen's theme comes out quite well through the entire book.  Or at least one of the themes. It is not so much about your biological family. After all, we have no control over that. It is more the environment in which we are reared that decides our personality and fate.

I thought that Austen's characterizations were fantastic.  I think something that more modern authors tend to miss sometimes is taking the necessary time to develop characters in intricate detail.

My hat also goes off to Austen for dealing with issues that were rather taboo back then.  Though handed with immense delicacy, issues of infidelity, divorce, and slothful parenting figure strategically into the plot of the story.

If you do choose this book, know that you are going to have to be committed to it.  It is not a quick, romantic  read.  You have to be in it for the long haul.  But I think you will definitely reap the rewards in the end.  I would not have missed the opportunity of reading this book for anything.

View all my reviews

About the Author

While the literary art of Jane Austen is remarkable, the facts of her biography, at first glance, are not. The contrast has long intrigued Austen readers and scholars, and interest in her life is today almost as keen as interest in her works. Dating back to her own time, when Austen's first four novels were published anonymously, sources of information about her life still exist — some of her letters (those her sister Cassandra did not destroy after her death), and A Memoir of Jane Austen, written by her nephew J.E. Austen-Leigh in 1869. These sources reveal that Austen did lead the quiet life of an unmarried clergyman's daughter. She found early encouragement for her art within her family circle, and a starting point for her novels in her personal and family history.
Born in 1775 to George and Cassandra Austen in the English village of Steventon, Jane Austen grew up in a highly literate family. Austen's father was an Oxford-educated clergyman and her mother was a humorous, aristocratic woman. Educated only briefly outside of her home, Austen read freely in her father's library of 500 books, which left her better educated than most young girls of the time. While her family never anticipated she would be a published writer (not considered an appropriate profession for a young lady of her background), within the walls of their household she was encouraged to write. In this lively intellectual household the 15-year-old Austen began writing her own novels; and by age 23 she had completed the original versions of Northanger AbbeySense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice. Her own delight in reading and her ironic mocking of its impact on young girls comes alive in Northanger Abbey.
After Austen's father died in 1805, Jane, her mother, and sister Cassandra lived in a small house provided by her then-wealthy brother Edward in the village of Chawton. When Jane received a proposal from the wealthy brother of a close friend, for whom she felt no affection, she initially accepted him, only to turn him down the next day. This was a painful decision for her, as she understood deeply that marriage was the sole option women had for social mobility. She further understood the vulnerability of single women without family estates who depend on wealthy relatives for a home. This subject is at the heart of Sense and Sensibility.
Austen keenly observed the shifting of social class during her day. Two of her brothers were in the Royal British Navy, and she saw first-hand the rise of naval officers in class-conscious British society. Those who returned from the Napoleonic wars with both wealth and notoriety were able to break through class barriers that were previously impenetrable. She wrote elegantly about this sea change in her last novel, Persuasion.
Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817, at age 41. She never wrote a memoir, sat for an interview, or recorded whether she had herself felt the joys and disappointments of love. The biographical facts may never adequately explain the quick wit, the sharp insight, and the deep emotional intelligence she brought to her novels. Perhaps that is impossible; it is likely that the novels will continue to transcend our understanding of where they came from.

1 comment:

  1. I have never really liked Mansfield Park, but perhaps it is because I have not looked into it deeper. I should re-read it with a different perspective!
    Thanks for the review.


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