Since I’ve not yet read Northanger Abbey I can’t quite say for sure, but I think that this is probably Austen’s best novel. I had strange expectations for Mansfield Park. These expectations made the book extremely difficult to read. But, now that I’ve finished I’m dying to go back and read the book for what it actually is, rather than what I was expecting it to be.
Firstly, I’ve never heard Fanny Price talked of in a positive light. So, while I was excited to finally meet her, I wasn’t expecting such a charming heroine. Secondly, as with Austen’s other novels, I was expecting a love story. While there is a ‘love story’ component to this novel, it is not as strong as say, the story of growing love between Elizabeth and Darcy or Elinor and Edward, which leads me to believe that while Austen always intended Fanny to win the love of Edmund, it wasn’t quite the point of the story.
‘Mansfield Park’, in its set up, is typical Austen. We have our heroine, our hero, and our cast of secondary characters who can not escape satirical scrutiny. Yet, it’s completely different than any other novel. For one, as discussed in the Jane Austen Book Club, Fanny Price doesn’t change at all throughout the novel – a statement in itself. It has been said that Mansfield is her most socially, sexually and politically aware novel. I agree.
Still, I didn’t pick up on the genius of her purpose until the very end. There is no letter or grand speech from Edmund to Fanny as there is in Austen’s other novels from hero to heroine. Instead, Austen tells us of Edmund’s finally realizing his love for Fanny in a couple of paragraphs. A little disappointing – yes. But an obvious choice. While Fanny’s steadfastness and love for Edmund is the center of the novel, it is what is happening around them that is important.
I would really like to re-read Mansfield someday soon to come at it from this perspective. I wonder how different it will be to me, from beginning to end.