I recently read Mansfield Park by Jane Austen as a buddy read with my good friend Amy @ Read Dream Live, and I have to admit, it wasn’t what I expected. I’ve read Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility, and never have I encountered such a dull Austen heroine! Nor have I actually ever encountered an Austen side character quite so dull as Fanny.
The first book of this Mansfield Park was very low-energy for me, even for an Austen book, where most of the drama and interest does happen later on. It took a while for the story to get started, and then when it did get started, a whole host of characters got introduced, and it took me a couple of chapters to get myself back into the story and figure out who everyone was! Probably my favourite part of the first book was the quite frankly bizarre play rehearsals that takes place. It was definitely not what I expected, which was sort of the beauty of it.
From the start of the second book, the pacing started to pick up and, along with it, the classic Austen romantic drama. Mansfield Park also features a character who is, I suppose, the equivalent of the 19th century f*ckboy. From the start of the second book, I hated him, and he manages to only make worse and worse decisions as the novel goes on. The only character I truly liked was Edmund, who was not only an interesting character, but was also consistently kind and considerate to Fanny, which few other members of her extended family were.
The relationship drama towards the end of the novel was pretty much everything you could hope for from an Austen book. In fact, I would actually argue that it was more than I hoped for, dealing with some different themes surrounding marriage when compared to Austen’s other work. Of course, there is something of a resolution at the end, though I did feel as though the ending was a little abrupt.
The final chapter was pretty interesting to me, because the narration style completely changed. Instead of the fairly standard omniscient third person narrator that was present throughout the rest of the book, the narration becomes aware of its own status as narration, and acknowledges the audience. It definitely meant that the final chapter came across as more of an epilogue than a part of the main narrative, and I’m not really sure how I feel about that. It feels very fitting with the rest of the book, and with the realist style in general, but it also feels like a very tidy and convenient way to end a book.
As I said earlier, Fanny was a very dull protagonist to read about, which did let the book down a bit. I expected her to develop a bit more of a character as the book progressed, but aside from her dogged refusal to marry Henry, she didn’t have that feisty streak that Austen protagonists tend to. I felt mostly as though her refusal came from a place of feeling unworthy, rather than an actual disdain towards Henry (though I do think disdain towards him played a role, particularly as he continued to persevere with his proposals). In the first part of the book particularly, she didn’t seem to even have many thoughts or opinions. As the book progressed, the narrator did dive a bit deeper into her feelings and I felt like I had a bit more of a sense of her as a character, but I still never felt as connected to her as I do other Austen heroines.
Both Amy and I have agreed that, while we enjoyed the read, this wasn’t our favourite Austen (though we do disagree a bit on rankings…). For me, it is actually my least favourite Austen out of the ones I’ve read (all her completed novels except Northanger Abbey). I also found it less accessible than her other novels, so I probably wouldn’t recommend it to any Austen newbies! I would, however, recommend it to anyone interested in the realism movement, as it definitely does stand out from other Austen novels in some interesting ways.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever read Mansfield Park and what you thought of it! Or, if you’ve read any other Austen books — what did you think? Later this month, I’m visiting her old house in Chawton, so keep an eye out towards the end of this month for more Austen content relating to that. Thank you for reading!