Final Thoughts, Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park: Final Thoughts

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This has been my first reading of Mansfield Park, and, though I hate to say it, it is my least favorite Austen novel so far. It certainly had some redeeming moments, and I appreciate Austen’s sharp wit and keen social analysis as ever, but I found many of the characters infuriating, the story progression extremely slow, and the plot almost nonexistent.

I think that the character of Fanny Price is a highly accurate depiction of a young woman in her situation, but the tremendous anxiety that surrounds her from the necessity of walking on eggshells around the Bertrams and wasting away over the seemingly unobtainable Edmund had my stomach in knots with little resolution for satisfaction. Of course, the suffering of others, even fictional, need not be entertaining to be worth pondering, but the problem boils down to this: Fanny Price is boring, and most of the people who surround her are tedious.

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Almost all of the major changes to the story were in regards to setting, and usually it was simply a matter of switching rooms and people. Everything ticked along for the first two-thirds of the novel from room to room, and then suddenly there was an avalanche of closure. Most of the loose ends were neatly tied up without ever being fully undone. I have loved Austen for so long that I find it difficult to insult her. Nonetheless, I much prefer the other novels of hers that I have read, (which are, for the sake of full disclosure, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and a few pages of Northanger Abbey).

I think that it would be fair to describe Mansfield Park as the “Mumblecore” of Austen novels. If you are unfamiliar with this film genre, it has quite a slow progression and is highly conversational with less emphasis on structure and plot development. Much of the focus falls onto the characterization, resulting in a more lifelike depiction that is not overly dramatized like most traditional cinema. That sounds like Mansfield Park to a T, am I right?

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Although I must admit that I prefer the film application of these techniques, I am sure that I am somewhat blinded by my presentism. Perhaps the subtleties of human interaction, which are largely subjective to the constructs and conventions of your era, are more difficult to connect with out of the context of personal experience. Instead, the huge, overarching themes that are so unique to humanity and yet universal–love, fear, hope, family and so on–we can relate to no matter the year because they have, in some way, touched all of our lives throughout history for better or for worse.

Even though it wasn’t the most thrilling experience, I am glad that I shared Fanny Price’s journey. It has helped me to better understand the social aspects of Austen’s world and her other novels.

But I probably won’t be going back for seconds.

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fanfic, Mansfield Park, Original, Susan

Susan

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Susan stared.

Susan stared blankly through the cold, cracked panes in the flaking, whitewashed windowframe, situated at the end of an occasionally quiet corridor, in a small, tucked-away nook, behind a small, worn table that held a small, porcelain vase. So much of Susan’s universe could be identified by its smallness. Ever so often, when the rest of the household was preoccupied and could not possibly miss her absence, Susan could slip away so she might free the caged, racing thoughts that crowded her mind and were muffled by a sea of domestic wailing. She stared with the intense hope to see another world, half believing it possible. She stared to break away.

Susan stared, stared, stared.

Susan dared.

Dared for just a moment to block out the noise that swept through the entire house and reduce it to a humming buzz so that she might experience the closest feeling she could manage to solitude, before it was absolutely necessary for her to rejoin the family. Then, she would dare to be loudest of all. If she could not escape the ruckus, at least she could master it–overtake it and bend it to her will. If her mother had ever given her anything, it was a set of pipes, and oh, could she howl.

Susan dared simply to be. She dared only to know the sensation of her own humanity, to exist for some purpose other than utilitarian. Even the loathsome housemaid, Rebecca, was given a small, pittance of affirmation. She received payment for her labor, and, if she performed poorly, a complaint or sneer was in the very least a form of acknowledgement. But Susan remained unnoticed, answering only to the endless, disgruntled shrieks for assistance.

Susan dared, dared, dared.

Susan cared.

She cared with an energy that radiated throughout her. She cared deeply for the elder brother and sister that obtained the freedom and independence she so desperately craved. Cared with a fullness of heart intensified by the love waiting and wanting to be given, and—oh! So much loneliness was she rewarded in turn. She cared for careless younger brothers and a temperamental younger sister in the flagrant absence of parental guidance. She cared to obtain the polished refinements of admired young ladies who inherited something other than the responsibility of running a disheveled household. Girls with marriage prospects from fine, courtly gentlemen, and whose suppleness of skin had not been scrubbed away into the sudsy waves of countless basins.

Susan cared, cared, cared.

And yet, despite her caring, daring, and staring, she was on the verge of being swallowed by the repetitive monotony that surrounded her. She suddenly became aware of a feeling of suffocation. She closed her eyes and prepared to take a deep breath, when she abruptly heard a loud shrill in the distance, “Susan! Why haven’t you taken care of the fire?”

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Coming-out, Court, Debutante, Mansfield Park

I’m Coming Out–Part 1 (So You Better Get This Extravagant Ball Started)

“Oh! Then the point is clear. Miss Price is not out.”

-Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

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So you’re ready to be out. You’ve awaited joining your sisters, cousins, and friends in the vibrant, bustling social community with anxious anticipation. Now your time of waiting is over. You have reached the season of your maturity. In short, you are officially marriage material.

To prepare you for this momentous occasion, I have compiled a list of all the ins-and-coming-outs for planning your big evening. I doubt that the Lord Chamberlain himself could disapprove of such a guide.

1. Do your best to present yourself with an air of maturity. Most young ladies come out at seventeen or eighteen, but, in the end, the decision belongs to your parents. Although it is optimum for you to have completed your education, some girls are considered sophisticated enough to be out as early as twelve!

2. I hope you’ve been working very hard on your accomplishments. If you plan to come-out at court, (more about that later) you’ll essentially be competing against myriad young women who have been cultivating their talents for years.

According to R.S. Fleming, young ladies that have been considered accomplished, “spoke several languages, played piano and sang, painted in watercolours and oils, did needlepoint, memorized every member of the monarchy, peerage, and gentry, including family background, and learned classical history and geography…[when married they were expected] to be an elegant hostess, poised, and beautiful, while giving birth to as many children as possible.” Your accomplishments will prepare you for the many adventures ahead!

3. Now it is time to determine the ball at which you will be presented. If you plan to come-out at court–meaning you are a member of an aristocratic family and have a lady of status who is already out and can present you–you may have your coming-out ceremony with all the other desirable young debutantes at St. James Palace* where you will be given the high honour of being presented to the Prince Regent. There are also many debutante balls at aristocratic homes around the country.

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To Be Continued…

Be sure to check back for the next three tips in the second Debutante post during the Northanger Abbey responses.

 

*Modern day Buckingham Palace

Sources:

katetattersall.com

z9.invisionfree.com/thelondonlife

edwardianpromenade.com/etiquette/the-court-presentation

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