I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this re-read of Jane Austen’s third published novel. I’d only read it once before and didn’t remember anything about the story, so it was like reading the book for the first time.
The novel follows the complexities of social life focused on Mansfield Park, a manor house in Northamptonshire. Our protagonist is Fanny Price, modest but likeable, who is taken from her relatively poor household in Portsmouth and brought up by her uncle. The first few chapters are not very interesting, as they describe the background to all of this, but once the story properly gets going, it’s engrossing. Fanny is generally ignored by the family, except for her cousin Edmund, who is about to join the clergy. As she grows up, she begins to have romantic feelings for him, but these are never expressed. She has to watch him fall in love with Mary Crawford, a relative of their neighbour, who along with her flirty brother Henry, works her way into the household. There are several twists and turns in the story, one of them very shocking indeed for Austen’s time. I noted that the cast of characters and range of themes are unusually varied for an Austen novel.
I found the last chapter a real anti-climax. Instead of a tense, dialogue-heavy scene in which Edmund proposes, there’s a rather passionless description of how he realises he loves his cousin more than in a brotherly way and that she’s happy about it. It was a missed opportunity. Imagine eating your main course while anticipating a satisfying dessert and then when the dessert arrives, it’s in the form of a pill. You’ve completed the meal but you remain unsatisfied.
First published in 1814. This edition is by Oxford World’s Classics (2008 reissue), edited by James Kinsley, with introduction and notes by Jane Stabler.