Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (re-read)

Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price who, at the age of ten, goes to live with her uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. For Fanny, who has spent her early years in Portsmouth as part of a large working-class family, the Bertrams’ estate, Mansfield Park, is like a different world. While Fanny is grateful for the new opportunities she’s been given, she is made to feel inferior and insignificant by her cousins, Maria and Julia, and another aunt, Mrs Norris (surely one of the nastiest characters in any Austen novel). Only her cousin Edmund offers her any real kindness and friendship, and as the years go by Fanny begins to fall in love with him, although she doesn’t admit it and everyone, including Edmund, is unaware of it. And when Mary Crawford and her brother Henry come to stay at the nearby parsonage, Fanny’s peaceful life at Mansfield Park is suddenly thrown into turmoil.

I first attempted to read Mansfield Park when I was fifteen, immediately after finishing Pride and Prejudice, which I had loved. Compared to Pride and Prejudice I found this one very dry and boring, and gave up after a couple of chapters. Returning to it ten years later, I managed to read it through to the end but still didn’t like it very much. My recent re-read has been an entirely different experience and this time I found that I really enjoyed it!

Fanny Price is a shy, quiet person and seems to be Jane Austen’s least popular heroine, but I’ve never really had a problem with her personality. Not everyone can be witty and lively after all, and since arriving at Mansfield Park Fanny has constantly been reminded that she will never be equal to her cousins and treated almost like a servant, so it’s not surprising that she doesn’t have the confidence of some of the other Austen heroines. I would agree that she’s maybe not the most interesting of characters to read about, and I suppose I can understand why other readers might prefer Mary Crawford, but I personally don’t mind Fanny. I do think she has an inner strength and complexity which wasn’t really apparent to me the first time I read the book but which I could appreciate more this time – one of the reasons I think re-reads are so worthwhile!

I still didn’t like Edmund though, apart from at the beginning when he seems to be the only person who genuinely cares about Fanny. Without him her early days at Mansfield Park would have been a lot more miserable, but later in the book, particularly after the arrival of the Crawfords, he starts to really annoy me.

While Mansfield Park is never going to be my favourite Jane Austen novel, I’m glad I’ve given it another chance. If you’re new to Austen, though, I don’t think I would recommend starting with this one.

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20 thoughts on “Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (re-read)

  1. Elena says:

    It is funny, my reaction was completely different to “Compared to Pride and Prejudice I found this one very dry and boring”: I first read Pride and Prejudice and didn’t like it at all, but then I gave Mansfield Park a try and I was surprised at how much I liked it. The book was cozy, warm, a great summer read that inspires you to go out for a walk and read the whole evening before going out for dinner with your family. However, Jane Austen is not my favourite writer, but I must admit I do not dislike her as much as did before reading Mansfield Park.

    Have you seen the BBC adaptation?

    • Helen says:

      It’s interesting that we had such different reactions, Elena! I loved Pride and Prejudice and was so disappointed in Mansfield Park the first time I tried to read it.

      I remember watching the adaptation with Billie Piper as Fanny but didn’t like it much – was that the BBC one?

      • Elena says:

        Yes, that was the one I was talking about. I got to know Piper as a call girl in the TV show call girl so… seeing her as Fanny now is pretty shocking! I don’t think I could enjoy the Mansfield Park adaptation, but to tell you the truth, I haven’t given it a try yet. Thanks for answering! I find it really helpful to share my (troubled) views on Austen with y’all 🙂

  2. Jo says:

    This is one book I want to read this year, mainly because I only used it as reference in my dissertation years ago because of the references to Portsmouth and the Navy which was my subject. And because Portsmouth is my home city it seems apt to read it.

    Having never read P&P and only seen tv and film adaptations I can only compare it to the other Austen novel I read last year which was Persuasion which I loved.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you get a chance to read it this year – I’d be interested to see what you think of it. There are only a few chapters set in Portsmouth but they are some of the best scenes in the book, in my opinion.

  3. Lisa says:

    Every time I read Mansfield Park, I find more depth and more to like. The scenes where Fanny is banished home to Portsmouth are almost painful to read – and surely some of the most realistic fiction Austen wrote. I’m not fond of Edmund either, and I think Fanny is in for a lifetime of lectures and husbandly correction. She would have been a lot happier with a reformed Henry Crawford!

  4. jessicabookworm says:

    I’m slowly working my way through Austen’s work, I have read Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Persuasion. I currently have Pride and Prejudice on my tbr pile, and I am looking forward to it. I do eventually want to read this but I always find myself drawn to other books of hers first.

  5. FleurFisher says:

    Mansfield Park does seem to be the Austen novel that gains most from a re-reading. I’d love to work my way through all of Jane Austen’s work again, but at the moment 20th century novels are calling a little louder that anything earlier.

    • Helen says:

      Mansfield Park is the only one that I’ve actually re-read – all of the others I’ve only read once. I do want to re-read Emma soon, because that’s the only Austen novel I didn’t enjoy and I’m hoping it might improve on a second read.

  6. urooba says:

    well! i suppose Mansfield Park is quite interesting, in usual Jane Austen style. Fany may be some reserve kind of person, irritatingly shy but perhaps this is why Crawford siblings were able to create a story. Edmund is hero otherwise any one would dislike him: indifferent lover.

  7. Caroline says:

    I’m not an Austen fan but after reading Mansfield Park I saw the subtleties so absent in Pride and Prejudice (which tends to be stereotyped). Fanny may be boring, but she’s admirable. Think of her as the quiet friend you tend to moan to when you’re stressed out, who doesn’t say much but analyses things deeply. I’ve known at least one Fannylike person so I can sympathise with the character.

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