Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price, who, as a young girl, goes to live with her wealthy cousins, the Bertrams. At Mansfield Park, Fanny is often taken advantage of—but more often simply ignored. When Henry and Mary Crawford arrive at Mansfield Park, it seems only Fanny can see the trouble that looms large on the horizon when Henry begins to flirt with the already-engaged Maria Bertram. As the flirtatious activities continue and eventually catalyze a crisis within the family, Fanny stands strong as the Bertrams’ ethical compass. Eventually, Fanny’s steady morals and quiet sweetness win her the Bertrams’ acceptance—and the heart of the man she loves.
There are many people (especially in my feminist-laden Jane Austen class) who dislike Fanny for her lack of agency. I will admit that there are a few points in the story at which I just wanted to shake her and say “STAND UP FOR YOURSELF, DAMMIT!”—but part of Fanny’s charm is her underestimation of herself. She is physically weak, but her mind and morals are strong, even though she doesn’t often realize it.
I am unabashedly a “Fanny fan,” as one guy in my class dubbed those of us who appreciate her. Her refusal to take part in anything she deems inappropriate is honorable, and her consistent disdain of the Crawfords is admirable in the face of such seduction. Mansfield Park, unlike Pride and Prejudice, shows us that our first impressions—especially when made by someone as perceptive as Fanny Price—can be correct; and when they are, it is best to stick to your guns and not let yourself be beguiled by a pretty face or sweet words.
The most frustrating part of Mansfield Park for me, and I’m sure for many people, is Mrs. Norris. Her selfishness and unwarranted dislike of Fanny makes me want to punch her in the face just about every time she opens her mouth, especially since it’s Mrs. Norris’s idea in the first place to take Fanny off her mother’s hands. The one thing I could have possibly liked is that she’s good at managing her household and budget, but she’s so unbelievably stingy that it’s impossible to like her. Ugh. What a horribly evil woman. The worst part is that no one quite realizes how horrible she is—or, at least, no one really does anything about it—until the very last pages. And even then Mrs. Norris basically does it to herself, but at least in the end she gets what she deserves.
Mansfield Park, though not one of my favorites of Austen’s, is absolutely worth a read, as all of her novels are. It’s rather dense and can be long-winded at times (it’s the longest of her novels, at 322 pages in the Dover Thrift Edition), but if you like Jane Austen, you’ll like Mansfield Park.