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Old 09-02-2012, 10:10 AM   #31
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I think this is one of the problems of MP. The characters who are meant to be representative of false values are really very likable.
I must admit I see it quite the other way round: I think this is the big strength of the book that almost all persons are likeable in some way. Even for Mrs. Norris Jane Austen finds apologizing words or situations where her character shines. It is not a black and white book but the persons are described in all colors between - just like life really is.

I always thought that a modern reader can't understand MP properly because the moral values have changed so much over the time. Many times we are dependent on the opinion of Edmund or Funny to judge a situation. But otherwise I've found somewhere (unfortunately I don't know where anymore, I'm sorry) an overview what the relatives/aquaintances of JA thought about the book. There was much sympathy for the "bad antagonist" Mary and Henry Crawford too.

So or Jane Austen didn't manage to pronounce her moral values that the reader can follow her and dislike the "bad people" (which is very freely put what you said, fantasyfan) or the book was not meant to be a "moral tutorial" and finds understanding for human nature and its failures (what I like to think).
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Old 09-02-2012, 07:01 PM   #32
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I think you must be a very kind person to find anything sympathetic in Mrs Norris, Billi! I have to say I found her totally unpleasant: bullying and unkind to Fanny, encouraging the vanity of the Bertram girls, and forever justifying anything and everything she did. See for a wonderful example her telling Sir Thomas about all her self-sacrificing behaviour when he protested to her about allowing the play to be rehearsed - it's masterly!

Of course anyone who needs to justify themselves as much as she did actually does have feelings of inferiority, but she's so unpleasant I find it impossible to feel sorry for her. I think she and Maria deserved each other.
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Old 09-02-2012, 10:26 PM   #33
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Fanny must actually be pretty resilient to survive under the merciless bullying of Mrs Norris. Just one example, when she was about to go to dinner (for the very first time) at the parsonage, her aunt said to her "Remember, wherever you are, you must be the lowest and last." She was only saved by the kindness of Edmund and Sir Thomas, but even so she thought she was worth very little.
Austen exposed the worth of a young girl without prospects, without any bitterness. Fanny accepted her place and we saw Mansfield Park through her best when she went "home". We may think she was badly treated by her relatives at Mansfield Park, but it was still a kindness to take her in, and a step up from her origins.


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I would agree about Fanny's resilience. In fact, I am in the process of revising my earlier dislike of her--I used to consider her the least effective of Austen's heroines. I'm beginning to think that I judged her too simplistically.
I still disliked her. I chafed at her attitude and primness and insufferable obedience. That probably says more about me than Fanny.
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Old 09-03-2012, 07:26 PM   #34
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I certainly didn't dislike Fanny. I think she was a totally believable character in that situation at that time. She was a shy introvert who would have needed much more kindness and encouragement than she received (except from Edmund) in order to become more self-confident and assertive.

It's no wonder she adored Edmund - he was the only one who believed in her abilities, paid attention to her, and encouraged her.

But having said that, I think my favourite Austen heroines are still Anne Elliott and Elizabeth Bennett.
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Old 09-07-2012, 02:05 PM   #35
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I still disliked her. I chafed at her attitude and primness and insufferable obedience.
Mind you, she isn't always that obedient! This shows up particularly well during the theatrical fiasco. The others accept the idiotic Yates as their theatre manager and the quite inappropriate play "Lovers' Vows" as their drama. Only Edmund and Fanny refuse to be part of the situation. Edmund succumbs--probably because there is a danger that outsiders will be invited in {and possibly because hormones come into play}--but Fanny holds fast despite considerable unrelenting pressure--including some horrible bullying by Mrs Norris:

' "You must excuse me, indeed you must excuse me," cried Fanny, growing more and more red from excessive agitation, and looking distressfully at Edmund, who was kindly observing her; but unwilling to exasperate his brother by interference, gave her only an encouraging smile. Her entreaty had no effect on Tom: he only said again what he had said before; and it was not merely Tom, for the requisition was now backed by Maria, and Mr. Crawford, and Mr. Yates, with an urgency which differed from his but in being more gentle or more ceremonious, and which altogether was quite overpowering to Fanny; and before she could breathe after it, Mrs. Norris completed the whole by thus addressing her in a whisper at once angry and audible--"What a piece of work here is about nothing: I am quite ashamed of you, Fanny, to make such a difficulty of obliging your cousins in a trifle of this sort--so kind as they are to you! Take the part with a good grace, and let us hear no more of the matter, I entreat."

' "Do not urge her, madam," said Edmund. "It is not fair to urge her in this manner. You see she does not like to act. Let her chuse for herself, as well as the rest of us. Her judgment may be quite as safely trusted. Do not urge her any more."

' "I am not going to urge her," replied Mrs. Norris sharply; "but I shall think her a very obstinate, ungrateful girl, if she does not do what her aunt and cousins wish her-- very ungrateful, indeed, considering who and what she is." '

I'm coming to the conclusion that all this shows a considerable strength of character and steadfast sense of rightness in Fanny.

Much later in the novel--when she receives the proposal she shows again that she will not simply be obedient if being so will offend her moral sense. In Portsmouth-we see the same steadfast strength--when it would be far easier to simply obey. Particularly when accepting Crawford, who honestly seems to love her, would indubitably establish her social position--and be of benefit to her family.

Fanny, IMO, is certainly a precursor to Anne Elliot, though she is neither as complex nor as sympathetic as the latter.

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Old 09-07-2012, 06:49 PM   #36
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Yes, I agree with you in all this. It is actually very difficult to hold out against a group of people who all want to do something that one individual doesn't want to do, or disagrees with. We are programmed to comply with the group.

I once had the very unpleasant experience of being on a jury in a rape case, where the man's defence was that it was consensual sex. When the jury was being selected, the defence barrister challenged out all the people who would have experience of "reading" people, body language etc - Personnel people, a nurse, teachers - but missed me (also Personnel) as I was already retired at the time. It meant I was the only one of the 12 who could read body language for instance and I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that she was telling the truth and he was lying. But for the others, because there wasn't "proof" such as his telling someone he had raped her, it was not proved. I stood out against them and tried to explain why. After a couple of days, which included anger, bullying and general unpleasantness, the judge accepted what was called a majority verdict of 11 to 1 and the guy got off.

It would have been so much easier to go along with the rest of them and get it over with but I just couldn't do that.
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Old 09-08-2012, 09:50 AM   #37
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That's very interesting and drives home your point with great effect. Thanks for sharing the experience.

Additionally,I think it underlines the fact that though Austen was writing in the early 19th century, her ground of characterisation--human nature--hasn't changed much at all. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it is extraordinary to read Mansfield Park and find the characters leaping into such vivid life. We see their equivalents all around us all the time.

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Old 09-09-2012, 08:08 PM   #38
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I think the nuanced characterizations and the layered situations (the card game at the parsonage is another instance where the action informs on the plot as a whole) are perversely what causes my ultimate deep disappointment in the structure and resolution of the novel.

We shift from seeing the action as it happens, so to speak, to hearing it at second hand in letters. And worse, in wrapping it up, Austen resorts to huge doses of "tell, not show" and I don't always buy it. For example, while I can understand Henry Crawford's seduction of Maria Rushworth out of boredom, spleen and wounded vanity, I don't think he would have gone so far as to run off with her. What care he if she were ruined in her home setting? I would have loved to have seen the seduction and I could have been convinced, but not I didn't see it happen, but was only presented with the fait accompli. The Henry Crawford in my head, while a bounder (because it's rotten to make women love you for the fun of abandoning them), wouldn't have been so stupid.

Similarly, while Julia's elopement with Yates was universally deplored, only to get the bandaid of his having more money and fewer debts than supposed and rendered acceptable, I could only think that Julia had done a smart thing. Once Maria's shame got out, her prospects were ruined.

The epistolary sections seem lazy to me and the end is rushed, almost as if a college student had hit her required number of words and just wanted to end it. I admit I'm playing devil's advocate here to an extent, but in reading it, I knocked a star off my mental rating once I got to the endgame. I think Emma and Persuasion have fewer flaws.

And speaking of Emma, I get a creepy vibe from the Edmund/Fanny relationship, akin to that from the Mr. Knightley/Emma one. A man brings up an impressionable young girl to suit his exacting tastes, and then he marries her. Ugh. I think Mary Crawford (whom I find quite likeable, and far more interesting than Fanny) may have made a lucky escape.
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Old 09-10-2012, 03:35 PM   #39
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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.

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Old 09-10-2012, 04:18 PM   #40
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Yes, this describes more or less my thoughts about Mansfield Park in much better way than I could have done myself. When I wrote my last post I haven't read the final chapter and like you, Issybird and fantasyfan, pointed out - it is a big break in an otherwise great book.

What I don't share with you, fantasyfan, is the opinion about Henry Crawford. I don't believe that he loved Fanny sincerely. He is the typical hunter and his "love" is proportionate to the resistance he experiences. If Fanny really had consented to marry him his love would vanish quite quickly, I am sure. But that's of course only my impression, I am well aware that one can see him in another light.

Who improved with me while reading this book for the second time is Mary Crawford. This time I liked her much better than when reading the book for the first time a few years ago.
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Old 09-10-2012, 05:40 PM   #41
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I think, Billi and fantasyfan, you're both right about Henry Crawford. I agree that if Fanny had accepted his attentions early, he would have dumped her, but also that he was sincerely in love with her and that she would have been the means to his redemption, if absence and boredom and vanity hadn't let to his seduction of Maria Rushworth.

Really, I can't forgive Austen for what she did to Henry. He had all sorts of bad traits, but he wasn't stupid. To repeat myself but expand a bit, I can believe he seduced Maria, but I refuse to believe he would have run away with her. The seduction would have been the point for him, and after that, I imagine he quite callously would have told Maria that he had no feelings for her and that if she were wise, in the words of Don Draper, "It will shock you how much this never happened." And while Maria was quite swept away by Henry, I suspect that cold logic and a lack of alternatives would have ruled the day. Much sadder and much wiser, she'd have remained in her marriage. Once she'd licked her wounds, she'd probably have started looking around to see what the other possibilities might present themself while remaining the dutiful Mrs. Rushworth.

As far as Fanny's concerned, a private knowledge, via Julia and Sir Thomas, perhaps, would have been quite sufficient to break off any connection with Henry. But that novel would have been twice as long. I know I'd have loved to have seen Austen give the same treatment to the various actions of the characters in London, as she did during the play rehearsals.
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Old 09-11-2012, 04:32 AM   #42
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Yes, it's almost as though Henry had to run away with Maria in order to emphasise how right Fanny was and how wrong everyone else was when they were trying to push her into marrying him. See, I KNEW I was right to refuse!

Go on, issy, forgive Jane! Difficult for her to invent villains of the piece who turn out to be more interesting than the supposed hero and heroine, but of course she couldn't have them winning out. That would never do.
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Old 09-11-2012, 05:50 AM   #43
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Hah! And of course the elopement was the occasion for Mary's proving she was lacking in finer feelings and proper morality, so Edmund felt fully justified in dumping her.

I think this all ties back to your earlier point about the shadow of the Evangelical Revival, the Crawfords as the embodiment of the excesses of the Regency and Fanny and Edmund as the vanguard of the new morality.
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Old 09-11-2012, 06:23 AM   #44
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Really, I can't forgive Austen for what she did to Henry. He had all sorts of bad traits, but he wasn't stupid.
I think that Austen's opinion of Henry shows clearest in how he behaves as the owner of his estate. She characterises her "dream man" like Darcy or Knightley as consumate landowners who care a great deal for the people there and the land. But on this account Henry fails thouroughly. He makes some lame tries when he courts Fanny but normally he neither doesn't spend a lot of time there nor doesn't care a lot what's happening there.
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Old 09-11-2012, 07:23 AM   #45
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Good point Billi - I hadn't thought of that, but you are quite right. Henry's estate is really just there (in his view) to support his lifestyle, not as something he sees as his responsibility to care for.

Yes issy, it looks as if there is something in the Evangelical Revival thing versus the bad behaviour of the Regency. And JA seems to have got it out of her system with this book - with "Emma" she has returned to a sunnier place.

I have enjoyed this revisiting of "Mansfield Park" in the company of the Literary Book Club so much. I must go back and reread the rest of Austen's books, as I haven't done so for a long time. The real problem is where to find the time!
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