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Old 09-15-2012, 05:20 AM   #46
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As a little coda to this novel it's worth pointing out that in that otherwise unfortunate final wind-up chapter Austen still does something quite interesting. She actually gives the reader an alternate ending! I suspect that by the end of the book she had herself become aware that Henry Crawford had been so created as to reveal a possibly redeemable character.

Here is her outline of the way the novel ends in an alternate universe:

"Henry Crawford, ruined by early independence and bad domestic example, indulged in the freaks of a cold-blooded vanity a little too long. Once it had, by an opening undesigned and unmerited, led him into the way of happiness. Could he have been satisfied with the conquest of one amiable woman’s affections, could he have found sufficient exultation in overcoming the reluctance, in working himself into the esteem and tenderness of Fanny Price, there would have been every probability of success and felicity for him. His affection had already done something. Her influence over him had already given him some influence over her. Would he have deserved more, there can be no doubt that more would have been obtained, especially when that marriage had taken place, which would have given him the assistance of her conscience in subduing her first inclination, and brought them very often together. Would he have persevered, and uprightly, Fanny must have been his reward, and a reward very voluntarily bestowed, within a reasonable period from Edmund’s marrying Mary.

Had he done as he intended, and as he knew he ought, by going down to Everingham after his return from Portsmouth, he might have been deciding his own happy destiny."

All those implied 'what ifs" tease the reader and make us wonder if both Fanny and Edmund would have been happier with partners who complemented rather reflected them.

And thanks to all who contributed to the thread.

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Old 09-17-2012, 02:41 PM   #47
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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.
It's funny that Fanny/Edmund are the "modern" people and the Crawfords the "old fashioned" ones in this case.

I sometimes have the strange feeling that many of the Austen villains are in some way the modern people, who - unintentionally - stand for a change in the society/way of life, for breaking the conventions (little symbols like Mr. Elliot and travelling on Sundays, Mary Crawford in her critics of the church service, even Lydia Bennet in running away with the man she loves...).
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Old 09-17-2012, 02:45 PM   #48
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As a little coda to this novel it's worth pointing out that in that otherwise unfortunate final wind-up chapter Austen still does something quite interesting. She actually gives the reader an alternate ending!
Wow, thanks, that's very interesting. I haven't seen it this way!

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And thanks to all who contributed to the thread.
A big thank you from me too to all who shared their thoughts and opinions and links here. It was my first time that I participated in such a book discussion here.
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Old 09-17-2012, 05:55 PM   #49
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It's funny that Fanny/Edmund are the "modern" people and the Crawfords the "old fashioned" ones in this case.

I sometimes have the strange feeling that many of the Austen villains are in some way the modern people, who - unintentionally - stand for a change in the society/way of life, for breaking the conventions (little symbols like Mr. Elliot and travelling on Sundays, Mary Crawford in her critics of the church service, even Lydia Bennet in running away with the man she loves...).
You've hit on the reason, I think, why Emma is my favorite of all the novels. It's the one where social upheaval is most manifest, I think, from the assembly room that is no longer used (because there aren't enough "good" families in the neighborhood) to Robert Martin as an up-and-comer. There's more going on in Austen in terms of social commentary than either the naysayers or the ones reading only for the romance realize.
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Old 09-18-2012, 09:11 PM   #50
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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.
I just read past this part and the dance. I find Mrs. Norris to be the most irritating character so far. I have the same impression that she overly compensates for her inferior social rank and thus her bullying of Fanny and her replacement of her sister in certain tasks (like assisting the nieces in their coming out and making good marriage matches) helps to make her feel superior (rather than being a completely unselfish, benevolent act of kindness).

I am enjoying this book. Maybe I should explore more of Jane Austen's books. I certainly like it better than Pride and Prejudice but less than Persuasion.
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Old 09-18-2012, 11:02 PM   #51
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I just read past this part and the dance. I find Mrs. Norris to be the most irritating character so far. I have the same impression that she overly compensates for her inferior social rank and thus her bullying of Fanny and her replacement of her sister in certain tasks (like assisting the nieces in their coming out and making good marriage matches) helps to make her feel superior (rather than being a completely unselfish, benevolent act of kindness).

I am enjoying this book. Maybe I should explore more of Jane Austen's books. I certainly like it better than Pride and Prejudice but less than Persuasion.
Then by all means try Emma, which belongs to Austen's "mature" period along with MP and Persuasion.
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Old 09-18-2012, 11:49 PM   #52
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Then by all means try Emma, which belongs to Austen's "mature" period along with MP and Persuasion.
Thanks for the recommendation! I'll have to try that one next.
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Old 09-19-2012, 08:43 AM   #53
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Then by all means try Emma, which belongs to Austen's "mature" period along with MP and Persuasion.

Emma and Persuasion are indubitable masterpieces! In both cases Austen knew precisely where she was going and how to get there. Even though Tanner leads us to wonderful treasures in Mansfield Park in his brilliant essay, even he can't get past that last chapter.

I have a feeling Sanditon would have turned into something special if only Jane had lived longer.

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Old 09-19-2012, 09:48 AM   #54
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...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...
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Old 09-19-2012, 01:00 PM   #55
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That's a really great post, Sunsurfer. You make a load of fine points. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Regarding your concluding comment perhaps this will clarify it:

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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...
Perhaps I inadvertently gave that impression, but I did not intend to do so. I was actually responding to Issybird's comment about the age differential between Knightly and Emma in that novel. In the same book we see it in the Westons. The Autumn-May thing is also in Sense and Sensibility. But while I mentioned the point, I wasn't referring to Fanny and Edmund. Here's what I actually said in that post:

"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."

Crawford, too. wouldn't be much older than Fanny--he was Mrs Grant's brother and an eldest son. So there isn't any Autumn-May relationship in this novel--though there may be an age difference with the Grants.

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Old 09-19-2012, 07:06 PM   #56
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I'm really enjoying these continuing discussions too.

I do agree with you, sunsurfer, about Sir Thomas' lack of consciousness of what was going on in terms of the awful Mrs Norris and Fanny. But then I think he was busy with his life and really quite remote from the day to day goings on. I certainly had the impression that he didn't have much to do with the children at all (but then, parents of that class didn't in those times I suppose) and Fanny was rather afraid of him and would have kept out of his way.

Lady Bertram was oblivious to everything that wasn't to do with her and her comfort and certainly just let things happen because she couldn't be bothered. But she did seem to be kind to Fanny in a vague way, and Fanny loved her.

At the same time, if you took Mrs Norris out of the story completely, you would lose the irritation that, as it were, makes the pearl - Fanny is strengthened by having to cope with her. It would all be rather wishy-washy I think.
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Old 09-19-2012, 07:54 PM   #57
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And Mrs. Norris provides as many laughs as everyone else put together! Yes, I know she's dreadful as a person, but she also is flat-out hilarious as a characterization. She won me over to Mansfield Park from the beginning, between waiting to see what awfulness she would perpetrate next and Austen's masterful indirect skewering of her.
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Old 09-19-2012, 11:59 PM   #58
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Yes, she's a quite delicious monster. I think my favourite comment about her is where Fanny was "practising her steps about the drawing-room as long as she could be safe from the notice of her Aunt Norris, who was entirely taken up in fresh arranging and injuring the noble fire which the butler had prepared."

You can imagine Jane Austen at various social gatherings sitting and observing people, making mental notes for future use! Because Mrs Norris is a fully rounded, believable character, and not in any way a caricature, I think.
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Old 09-23-2012, 07:44 PM   #59
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That's a really great post, Sunsurfer. You make a load of fine points. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Regarding your concluding comment perhaps this will clarify it:



Perhaps I inadvertently gave that impression, but I did not intend to do so. I was actually responding to Issybird's comment about the age differential between Knightly and Emma in that novel. In the same book we see it in the Westons. The Autumn-May thing is also in Sense and Sensibility. But while I mentioned the point, I wasn't referring to Fanny and Edmund. Here's what I actually said in that post:

"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."

Crawford, too. wouldn't be much older than Fanny--he was Mrs Grant's brother and an eldest son. So there isn't any Autumn-May relationship in this novel--though there may be an age difference with the Grants.
Ah, my mistake!

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I'm really enjoying these continuing discussions too.

I do agree with you, sunsurfer, about Sir Thomas' lack of consciousness of what was going on in terms of the awful Mrs Norris and Fanny. But then I think he was busy with his life and really quite remote from the day to day goings on. I certainly had the impression that he didn't have much to do with the children at all (but then, parents of that class didn't in those times I suppose) and Fanny was rather afraid of him and would have kept out of his way.

Lady Bertram was oblivious to everything that wasn't to do with her and her comfort and certainly just let things happen because she couldn't be bothered. But she did seem to be kind to Fanny in a vague way, and Fanny loved her.

At the same time, if you took Mrs Norris out of the story completely, you would lose the irritation that, as it were, makes the pearl - Fanny is strengthened by having to cope with her. It would all be rather wishy-washy I think.
You make good points about Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, but I still can't help feeling it came off as their being a bit too oblivious, a bit forced to open the avenue for Mrs Norris' torments.

And oh, I never meant Mrs Norris should be out of the story! Responding to you and issybird, I like the character as well! She's a great villain, and her actions made me laugh quite a few times, and even though I thought she was in danger of caricature at some points, Austen does have a talent for creating characters on the verge of one-dimensional and then subtly rounding them out here and there, which she did with Mrs Norris. In my former post, I was only saying about Miss Norris that I was happy for her getting a bad ending for herself even though I thought it didn't quite fit that she would voluntarily take such a bad ending for herself.
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Old 09-24-2012, 08:41 AM   #60
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Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Melbourne, Australia
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Sorry - I didn't mean to imply you wanted to take Mrs Norris out of the story. I was just musing about her role and realising how important she was to the plot, as well as being wonderfully entertaining for the reader.
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