Well, another Jane Austen finished. I’ve written about four of her books on this blog, though not about the one I know the best, Pride and Prejudice. Though this one doesn’t displace Emma or Pride and Prejudice in my greatest esteem, it is right up there.
It is a bit complicated and has more characters than her usual. When she was 10 years old, Fanny, the main character, goes to live with the family of her much more affluent aunt at the behest of her other aunt, an unpleasant busybody. Though she is ignored and disrespected by everyone in the household except by her cousin Edmund, she grows up to be quite a sensible and highly moral character. The household includes the parents, Sir Thomas Bertram and Lady Bertram, sons Thomas and Edmund, and daughters Maria and Julia. The complications begin when a wealthy and worldly-wise brother and sister, Henry and Mary Crawford, come to stay with the clergyman nearby. At that time Maria was slated to marry the dull, but rich Mr. Rushworth, though she was attracted to Henry. Mary was interested in Edmund, but wouldn’t marry a clergyman. Fanny is steadfast in her love for Edmund, while Henry takes up an interest in Fanny. The dramatic discovery later of impropriety between the married Maria and Henry changes everything!
If you have read any Jane Austen, much is familiar territory. Mrs. Norris, the busybody aunt adds that unpleasant note reminiscent of Sir Walter and his daughter Elizabeth in Persuasion and Miss Bates in Emma (though Miss Bates is a kindly character). Fanny is the familiar thoroughly good, intelligent, long-suffering, and attractive character like Anne Elliot in Persuasion and Elinor in Sense and Sensibility. While Emma adds willfulness to the mix and Elizabeth Bennet is irreverent, they too have those Fanny qualities.
Everyone wants Fanny to marry Henry because he appears to truly care for her and has a ton of money. Though Edmund acknowledges she was right to hesitate to marry him if she didn’t love him, he thought she would be the “perfect model of a woman” if she accepted him. He makes the case for Henry being a worthy husband for her. Fanny defends herself by saying that a man having many good qualities does not mean a woman who does not care for him should accept him. Liking a particular woman himself does not require her to reciprocate those feelings.
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Penguin Classics, 2011, originally published 1814, 480 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.