Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Mansfield Park

on December 30, 2010

I listened to an audio version of Mansfield Park so that I could continue with the challenge during my Christmas preparations and finished it in the car en route to my sister’s house today!  The recording I listened to was an unabridged one from Audible, read by Flo Gibson.  I was very impressed with her reading and the expression in her voice, and the different voices she uses for the characters, especially the English accents as her own is American.  I was surprised by this at first as it wasn’t what I was expecting but it didn’t make any difference, excepting one or two variations in pronunciation, and actually emphasised the difference between speech and narrative which was useful.

I make no secret of the fact that I have never liked Mansfield Park and the reason I chose to download this, as opposed to Persuasion, is to make myself go through it again and in the hope that I might enjoy it more if it was being read by someone else.  I certainly enjoyed it more, but I still found it very difficult to like.  For one thing, I don’t think any of the characters is particularly likeable.  Some, such as Mrs Norris, Maria and Julia Bertram, Lady Bertram and Mrs Price, are Austen’s usual cariacatures, but rather than exaggerating their characteristics to parody them and those like them, on this occasion Austen seems to have succeeded in making them unlikeable.  Mrs Norris is the obvious example: Sir Thomas hopes that she is well-intentioned and misguided, but even he has to acknowledge by the end of the book (although not in so many words) that she is a vindictive and selfish old witch.  To me, this goes beyond parody and prevents any enjoyment being taken in the character.

Fanny herself, as the heroine, displays few likeable characteristics: although she is polite and meek she is so much so that she makes herself a doormat, and at the times when she ought to speak out she feels she cannot, although in my opinion she should.  On this “reading” I did notice that reasons are given most of the time for why she feels unable to say something, which lessened my annoyance, but although she had reasons and I might have done the same in her situation, I would have to acknowledge afterwards that any problems which arose were entirely of my own making.  I also find her hypocritical in silently criticising Edmund for ignoring Mary Crawford’s faults in the blindness of love, when she is doing exactly the same herself with regard to him.

A friend, who likes the novel far more than I do, admits that the characters are pretty much without redeeming features but suggests that Edmund has some admirable qualities; I, however, cannot agree.  He is completely blinded by his love for Mary into believing not only her quite perfect, but her brother an amiable and respectable young gentleman.  Everyone, barring Sir Thomas, sees Henry’s behaviour with Maria and nobody chooses to censure it in any way.  Ironically, the two who are least disposed to be shocked about it – Mary Crawford and Mrs Grant – are the only ones who plan to take action if things go any further, by removing him from Mansfield and hoping things die down.  Edmund, on the other hand, sees exactly what Fanny sees, and yet chooses to dispute the impropriety of their behaviour when Fanny raises it later, to explain why she cannot accept Henry’s proposal.  I also feel that the way he falls in love with Fanny once he has got over Mary (not because she refused him, but because he suddenly saw her for what she really was) is rather pathetic and to be honest, if I were Fanny I wouldn’t be able to help wondering how much he loved me and how much I was just conveniently “there”.

Henry Crawford, although a complete mess of a man, is probably to me the most likeable character in the novel.  He is not entirely consistent – I prefer my cads thoroughly bad and incapable of falling properly in love! – but I suppose his falling in love with Fanny, when he had set out to make her fall for him, is a more realistic occurrence and certainly serves as a fitting punishment.  I do enjoy the way Austen takes time to sum up each character’s end and the way in which they were punished or rewarded by life for their deeds.  They certainly all seem to get what they deserve, pretty much, but in a way that makes me glad that none of them is very likeable or I might regret to see one of them having to spend his/her future with one of the others!

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