Tuesday, 06 April 2010

Mansfield Park

A good long time ago, before I read Northanger Abbey, this was my least favourite Jane Austen. It has since grown on me, such that it's one of my favourites. Austen's novels are, for me, divided into three categories: favourites (Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park), enjoyed (Pride and Prejudice, Emma) and disliked (Northanger Abbey). I imagine every Austenite has their own division of the novels, but I imagine to the non-initiated, the fact that Pride and Prejudice is not the automatic favourite of every lover of Austen may be surprising.

Anyway, I was recently watching MP1 and was struck by how much better it is than I remember it. It really brings out some aspects of the novel that I think are frequently missed. For a start, Fanny's strength. Fanny Price is generally considered the most insipid of Austen's heroines. She is not outspoken, she is not brave. She is timid and religious in a way that is grating to modern sensibilities. However, what most people don't realise is that she has a strength of character that is overlooked by readers as much as her family. She knows what is right and wrong and she is not prepared to compromise her principles, no matter how you may beg her. She knows that Henry Crawford was inappropriate in his behaviour to the Miss Bertrams and she will not be prevailed on to think otherwise. Unlike Edmund, her eyes are not blinded to the faults of the Crawfords or her own relations because of this strength of character. Fanny is overlooked and unappreciated, yet she does not use that as an excuse to change her behaviour and her attitude to the prevailing one around her. She sticks to her principles and it is this that has endeared her to me over the years. Hers is a quiet strength that requires much observation to be seen.

If you've read Mansfield Park and disliked Fanny, read it again with this in mind. She's still annoyingly timid and preachy, but she's nowhere near as insipid as she appears.

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