Mansfield Park is the only major novel of Jane Austen I hadn’t read yet. I have seen a couple of adaptations of it so I knew the story.
In a reply comment in the Austen in August post, Roof Beam Reader commented that many people seem to leave Mansfield Park last or that it ends up being their ‘last’ of the Austen books. I think there are couple of reasons for this.
First, Mansfield Park is known as the most serious of Austen’s works. It has the most social commentary, and it has a slightly darker tone about socio-economics in Austen’s times. While Austen has social commentary in all her books, MP has the one which involves a greater inequality between the characters both financially and morally. While this doesn’t necessarily dissuade readers, it is probably the most realistic of Austen’s novels. It is definitely the most somber.
Secondly, Fanny Price seems to have a reputation among the Austen heroines. In the Austen choose your own adventure book Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell, there is one alternative ending which the reader is trapped forever with Fanny in an attic (the horror!). That was amusing, but not surprising to me. I have touched my toe in the waters of Austen fandom online and Fanny doesn’t seem to be many people’s favourite Austen heroine (Austeroine?). While Lizzie has wit, Elinor has sense, Emma has schemes, Anne has maturity, and Catherine has curiosity, Fanny has…? She has relatively less to recommend her. In fact, some find her “insipid” including Austen’s own mother.
I wrote the above even before starting the book. I went in to the book with an open mind and tried not to find Fanny Price annoying. A lot of Fanny’s personality is due in part to her upbringing. She is neglected and made to feel low by all her relations except Edmund. She is shy to begin with but her snobby relations don’t treat her like a person, more like a charity case or property. Only Edmund seems to care about her so I understand how Fanny would be someone without much bravery or self-esteem. Actually without Edmund to protect her, Fanny is abused like a slave girl to her aunts. She takes it all because she is brought up to take it all. Another reason is that her personality type is probably not something in which modern readers can appreciate since her primary traits are frailty, passivity, and morality. Being a forthright female was not something conventional in Austen’s time.