So I’ve finally started my reading for the Mansfield Park read along, but better late than never, eh? I just finished “Volume 1”, and here are my answers to Misty’s first set of discussion questions.
Was Mansfield Park the first Austen book you read?
No, I’ve read all of her other finished novels.
Is this the first time you’ve read Mansfield Park?
Yes, and I’m hesitant and excited at the same time. I know this book is the least favorite of a lot of Austen readers.
How many other Austen books have you read?
As I said above, I’ve read all of her other finished novels, so that’s 5 (listed starting from my most favorite and going down.): Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Emma.
Will you read more of them/reread them?
I do plan to read her unfinished and shorter works, as well as re-read at least Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice, my favorites.
Do you or will you read Austen adaptations?
I’m not really interested in them. I have read one, though, and that was For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund. I liked that it was so far removed from the original, being a YA SF dystopian novel. So I do like some books that are loosely based on classics. I don’t like novels that straight on take the character of e.g. Elizabeth or Darcy in the same setting and continue/retell the story, but I don’t think I would be against reading a modern day retelling or somesuch (if you have a good one to recommend, go ahead!).
Responses to Mansfield Park
What were your initial impressions of the story? Not just the characters and their respective situations, but also the style and tone – if you’ve read Austen before, do you find Mansfield Park to be very different in any significant ways?
I actually don’t find it that different. In the beginning she starts by describing the families and their houses and grounds, like she often does. I also find her language very easy to read – I was so behind on this read along when I started, but I finished Volume 1 quickly. Her language just flows for me, and I find myself reading a lot more in one sitting than I had planned – that also owes thanks to my Kindle, which shows how many minutes I have left in a chapter. “4 minutes? Well, of course I can sit here and read on for only 4 minutes…” – then repeat with the next chapter. I do find that the narrative seems to focus less on any one character, which makes it a bit more alienating a read.
Going more into the characters now, Mansfield Park’s inhabitants are pretty universally considered Austen’s hardest to love. What was your response to them through the first half of this story? Do you feel for any of them? Hate any of them with a vehemence beyond that which you normally reserve for fictional characters? And if you try to look at them objectively, do you have any more sympathy (or disgust) with their actions and behavior?
I laugh now, because at first I was like “Why does everyone give Mrs Norris such a bad rep? Here she is suggesting they take Fanny in and care for her.” And then of course she backs out of any responsibility. She is also so very judgemental towards everyone. There are a lot of characters who seem conceited or small-minded (actually, almost all of them), but I don’t yet vehemently hate any of them. I don’t particularly like any of them, either… A lot of the characters seem like caricatures, at least more of them than in her other novels (there’s always a few, and they’re usually very astute).
Fanny is often considered to be a very milquetoast, frustratingly passive heroine. Do you agree with this perception of her? Do you find yourself making excuses for her or holding things against her? Or do you feel that Fanny is underestimated as a character? Consider the scene in the Rushworth’s park, as Fanny sits for hours, waiting to be noticed again, while everyone around her seeks their own amusement.
I’m pretty surprised about the lack of focus on Fanny. I mean, I knew she was supposed to be the main character, but seriously about 20% of the book had passed before we focused on her at all. She was only mentioned in passing – a lot of people were more in focus and/or in more scenes than her! After that she sort of gradually climbed to the forefront. She actually doesn’t annoy me that much, because I’m a quiet and shy person myself, but on some occasions she does take timidness a bit too far. Like the aforementioned park scene, or when she is asked directly about her horse and she is just sort of like “No thanks, I don’t need it, I didn’t feel like riding anyway” when she clearly does. Ugh. I mean, I understand how she got this way, what with how she is treated within the family, but it can be hard to read sometimes. I still like her more than Emma so far.
“The Play” and preparation for it is one of the most telling and pivotal scenes in Mansfield Park – discuss your reaction to the entire Lover’s Vows storyline: what it brings to light in the characters, what changes and ruptures it causes among them, things that amused or irritated you, etc. Did your feelings about any of the characters change as a result of The Play? How did you feel about Fanny during this whole incident? Would you have liked to see the play – and its aftermath – without the intrusion of the returning Lord Bertram?
Am I to take from this that the show is definitely cancelled? I haven’t read further on. I have to say that I would have been curious to see the train wreck of a play go forth. The rehearsals for the play definitely showed that Edmund is willing to let a lot pass when it comes to Mary. I was very surprised when he decided to take part in the play, although I understand his reasons. To bring in a stranger to an obviously questionable play about “Lover’s Vows” wouldn’t have been the right move… I like that Fanny sticks to her guns and won’t take part in the play even when she’s coaxed by the others and Mrs Norris is so horrible to her (although in the end it’s left to question whether she would have in the end be taken in what with the absence of Mrs Grant and all). Edmund doesn’t do half as well as Fanny, here.