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Old 09-10-2012, 03:35 PM   #39
fantasyfan
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Speaking generally, I found that I enjoyed the novel this time far more than the last time I read it. The first two volumes are very well written and most of the Portsmouth section is quite successful in the portrayal of the family into which Fanny was born. Interestingly, Fanny, after re-experiencing her roots, finds she can no longer consider Portsmouth as “home”; it is Mansfield Park which is her true home.

On the other hand, I share some of Issybird’s difficulties with the resolution. I’ll just outline some of my feelings about the problem.

First, Julia’s elopement has not been given a solid foundation in the plot. It seems too much as if Austen decides to add an extra scandal so as to get both the sisters. However, this is relatively minor.

Much more of a problem is the way she deals with the Crawfords. It does seem that Mary is essentially a likable if brash person. She show undoubted kindness to Fanny and certainly appreciates the latter’s fine character. Further, Mary seems ready to embrace a life with Edmund--whom she genuinely admires. Which brings us to Henry Crawford.

Yes, he is certainly “a bounder”. He belongs to a class of characters which appear in her other novels such as Willoughby, Wickham, Churchill, and Mr Elliot. They are all charming on the surface but, in differing degrees, have serious moral weaknesses. Wickham and Elliot are the worst of that quartet. I think Crawford is most like Churchill in Emma. He is redeemable. In fact, he very nearly is redeemed by Fanny for he seems to have actually fallen deeply and sincerely in love with her.

My opinion--and that’s all it is and we all have one--is that Jane Austen discovered that in the heat of inspiration she had created two “villains” who were indeed very pleasant and had the potential to be very positive figures. They just didn’t quite fit into the overall philosophy of the novel. It would be irrational to assume that Henry Crawford would do a moral flip-flop over night but it would not be irrational to believe that a sincere love of Fanny--which would include her values--would result in a deepening and bettering of his character in time {as happened with Churchill}. Certainly Mary Crawford thinks so. Further, I think it is worth remembering that the Crawfords have been influenced by the dark--almost malign--figure of their admiral uncle. One would hope that Fanny and Edmund would form effective moral counterweights and create a redemptive focus in the book. But complexities of this sort weren’t what Jane Austen had in mind when she conceived this novel.

Thus, I think that Austen started writing a certain kind of novel and it turned into a quite different thing altogether. Which brings us to Issybird’s criticism of the manner of its ending.

I think she is right.

I always get the feeling that the conclusion is rushed through with an almost indecent haste to make certain that the original moral objectives with which Austen started are satisfied. A set of letters and conversations does the trick and winds everything up. While I feel that is much to treasure and admire in this book, the ending weakens what is otherwise a masterpiece, and aside from that ending, a masterpiece I most certainly think it is.

I think that the Edmund/Fanny relationship is OK. It seems that Austen didn’t mind Autumn/May relationships. But really, Edmund wouldn’t be all that much older than Fanny--certainly not as old as Knightly in Emma. I think the problem lies in the fact that the Crawfords just provide more interesting partners for both of them--and Edmund’s sudden shift from a sibling love to a romantic relationship with Fanny just doesn’t seem convincing.

Again--this is my opinion. If you want a resounding and effective defence of the novel as a complete masterpiece, read Tanner’s quite profound essay.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 09-10-2012 at 03:59 PM.
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