This week's contender: Mansfield Park.
I've written about Mansfield Park on the blog here. It was also the topic of my senior thesis for my undergrad English degree, in which I wrote about how Fanny was a model of femininity to be embraced, not ignored. One of these days I'll upload it to the Internets and share it.
My favorite movie version is the 1999 one.
So, let's talk about Fanny and Co.
Full disclosure: I've always liked Fanny. The very first time I read the book, I liked her immediately. In the margins of my Oxford World Classic's copy, I noted that she was like Cinderella to her family, or, in more contemporary terms, a Matilda. No one really appreciates her or notices she's there, except for Edmund, and he's pretty thick. (I like him, but he is so thick. It drives me crazy when he's mooning about Mary to Fanny when Fanny clearly in in love with him!) Lionel Trilling famously noted that no one could like Fanny, but I've found his view disproved by people I've met. It's actually Emma I have a hard time liking, which jives with Jane's assertion that she'd created a heroine that "no one but myself will much like."
Part of the problem with MP, I think, is that it comes right after Pride and Prejudice. But I don't think that was accidental. Jane noted that she found P&P "too light and bright and sparkling" in parts, and MP definitely isn't those things. It's still classic Jane--it has brilliant moments and it's an excellent story--but there isn't the witty repartee of Elizabeth and Darcy, or the humor of the Bennet parents. MP deals much more closely with larger ideas of morality, family ties, what we owe other people, and growing up.
So tell me what you think of Fanny in the comments. I'm really intrigued to know how you view her!
I don't think Mary Crawford is evil. I think she has a lot of problems, which we might be able to say are because of the way she grew up, but I think Mary and Henry didn't learn to respect people, to see them as people, with their own dignity. They see them as things to use, as means to an end. Mary "loves" Edmund because he seems pliable, and might come into a fortune. Henry "loves" Fanny because she's a mystery to him. But neither of them really understand love, truthfully. They use people for their own entertainment (this is easily seen in Henry's interactions with Maria and Julia).
More than any other novel of Jane's, Mansfield Park illustrates how virtue leads to happiness. Fanny, who will never be a "Miss Bertram", has a moral compass and deep-seated sense of goodness that her cousins (who can name all the principle rivers of Europe!) lack. It might be calibrated in Julia, but Maria has lost her chance for redemption at the end of the novel--in the 19th century, she's disgraced permanently. Julia is a lot like Kitty in P&P, in that once the bad influence of her sister is removed, she can be influenced for the better.
Fanny's ability to remain true to herself, to what is really important--her self-respect, as opposed to her social and financial standing--is one of my favorite parts of the novel. When she returns to Portsmouth after refusing Henry's offer of marriage, Fanny sees how dire her family's poverty is. She realizes that she probably couldn't live like this, not after having lived at Mansfield and knowing that sort of life (and remember, Fanny doesn't even have the Mansfield experience of her cousins. She doesn't have the maids and the dresses and the fancy education and social whirl. But just living in that house, having enough food and being in a clean, neat environment, is more than she'll ever have with her parents.). But still, she manages to stick to her beliefs. No matter how much Henry may appear to have changed, she still can't make herself agree to marry him. She is not so simple as Henry believes she is.
Not only do the Crawfords underestimate Fanny, but so does Edmund, who is, for most of the novel, her champion. Edmund never quite sees her as a mature woman in her own right, not until the end of the novel when he sees who Mary Crawford really is. Only once "the charm is broken" does he realize who Mary and Fanny really are, and the stark differences between them.
what do you think of Mansfield Park? What characters resonate with you? Which characters repel you? And would you ever be in "Lover's Vows"? (I totally would love to do it.)