Originally Posted by Bookworm_Girl
...Maybe I should explore more of Jane Austen's books. I certainly like it better than Pride and Prejudice...
My thought exactly. I went into this excited but a bit leery because the only other Austen I've read was Pride and Prejudice and I didn't like it so much even though it seems to usually be regarded as her most famous/best book. But to me Mansfield Park, with all its problems, was much superior.
I could see quickly that this wasn't going to be quite as "formulaic" as Pride and Prejudice, and the story actually kept me guessing. Reading this thread about the Crawfords being the "villains" makes me chuckle, only because I never viewed them as that despite what Austen may have intended.
After finishing and then reading all of your impressions on what Austen was trying to accomplish regarding the Crawfords is fascinating because I wouldn't have guessed. Reading, I was of course rooting for the Crawfords, and what kept me guessing is that I couldn't tell if Fanny would end up with Henry or Edmund. I was even convinced for a part before the conclusion that it'd be Henry.
What I see, having read your theory that Austen let her characters get away from her and still had to make the ending she wanted happen, is that there was a better story trying to get out of her but she, in the end, wouldn't let it happen. I actually came away with the impression that the book is somewhat unwittingly pessimistic regarding human nature and the ability to change. Of course this is only because Austen had to make her initial plan come to fruition, but it was at a huge expense in my view. Mary and especially Henry seem like the most complex characters of the book, and were not able to choose the influence of where they grew up. So in my optimism I was hoping the book was about their redemption and ability to change and grow with a good influence such as Fanny and Edmund. But Austen sacrificed any notion of that to get her ending and left the impression that if you are ruined by your upbringing then despite any efforts to change you will in the end stay ruined. In a more complex work I could even see how such a pessimistic view could work, but in this instance I found it regrettable.
And as many of you've mentioned, the Crawfords' "bad parts" comes off to a modern reader such as myself as almost virtuous, except of course Henry's at first wanting to play with Fanny and at end giving up all redemption to run off with Maria. I also agree that it makes no sense that he would run off with Maria in the end. And during reading I too couldn't help but think that Fanny and Edmund at times came off in an unflattering light of being too proper, conservative and severe in the their views.
Of course the real villain was Mrs. Norris and to a lesser extent Maria and Julia, none of whom seemed to have any redeeming qualities. But especially Mrs. Norris who acted as the tormenter. But even her ending I find questionable. I'm not sure I really think she'd give up her cozy life at Mansfield Park to support her fallen niece in exile. But even to a modern reader such as myself, she's painted so wickedly that even though I didn't find the ending believable, I was glad that something bad happened to punish her.
One other qualm I have is that Thomas Bertram would take so long to understand how badly Fanny is being treated by Mrs. Norris, and especially that it would take him so long to see Mrs. Norris' real character in general. And Austen lets the lazy Lady Bertram get away scot free from her moral punishments even though Lady Bertram witnessed Fanny being abused by Mrs. Norris all the time. Because we can blame Mrs. Norris all we want but Fanny's guardians let it happen right under their nose.
I was very disappointed in the quick wrap-up because it confirmed my worst suspicions about the direction of the novel, where she went back to her Pride and Prejudice style of wrapping everything up with a perfect bow at the end, having all the characters get what "they deserve" basically all at once. And I'll take it one step further, since many of you complain about the quick conclusion, and say that I wouldn't have minded it nearly as much if it'd quickly concluded in a better way. And I'd still dislike the ending just as much even if it took longer if it still ended up at the same final resting spot.
The only good I can think of regarding the way it ended is that, looking at it from a view of their times, it took the slightly subversive position of making Fanny's inclinations about Henry more correct than Thomas Bertram's. I imagine at that time girls were taught to trust their parents' views and this book basically would tell a girl to trust her own instincts more. But of course even then I'm sure there were other works that had much more shocking plots and themes, but still it's interesting that conservative Austen included that little subversive part.
One final thought perusing the more recent posts -
fantasyfan, you say that Edmund and Fanny were an Autumn/May type romance?!? I was under the impression they were almost the same age, with Edmund only a few years older...