Monday, May 24, 2010

Mansfield Park, Chapters 17-37

A lot has happened since we last checked in with our friends the Bertrams -- let’s do a quick recap of what’s happened in these last chapters. Plans for staging Lover's Vows progress and Edmund and Mary practice a scene in which they declare their love for each other. Fanny, forced to watch, is quite upset by this. Luckily for her, just as the dress rehearsal is about to begin, Sir Thomas returns home and shuts things down: he sends Yates away, chastises Mrs. Norris for allowing the play, and makes Mansfield Park a quieter place.

He's also not impressed with Rushworth and tells Maria that he will end the engagement for her, but Maria, upset that Henry Crawford has left Mansfield Park, decides to go ahead with it. She marries and takes Julia with her and Rushworth to Brighton. This leaves Fanny as the only girl at Mansfield Park, and she becomes friends with Mary Crawford. It's awkward, since Mary likes to talk about Edmund; things aren't too great between them, as Mary regularly mocks Edmund’s career path.

Things take an odd -- and almost unbelievable -- turn when Henry tells Mary that he is in love with Fanny, mostly because she is disinterested in him. He starts paying her more attention, sitting next to her while playing cards. William arrives for a visit, slowing Henry’s plans for courtship, but he’s a nice addition to the party at Mansfield Park.

While at dinner one night, Henry suggests changes that Edmund could make at Thornton Lacey (his soon to be parsonage) and wants to rent it. Edmund refuses, saying that he will soon occupy it himself. As William’s visit winds down, Sir Thomas decides to throw a ball for Fanny and William. Fanny wants to wear a cross that William gave her but has no chain. Mary gives her one, but as Fanny returns home with it, Edmund presents her with another chain, one she likes much better. Edmund tells Fanny to wear Mary’s chain and is excited that they both had the same idea. But at the ball, Mary is rude again. Otherwise, it’s fun, and William leaves the next day with Henry, who is taking him to meet his uncle, an admiral. Then Edmund leaves to take orders. When Henry returns he tells Mary that he is planning to propose to Fanny, which Mary thinks will help her chances with Edmund. Henry tells Fanny that he secured William a position of lieutenant thanks to his uncle and Fanny is thrilled. But when he proposes, Fanny shoots him down.

Henry asks Sir Thomas for help, who doesn’t understand why Fanny rejected him. Fanny won’t tell him about Henry’s flirtations with Maria and Julia, but Sir Thomas interprets that Fanny is in love with Edmund. Lady Bertram and Edmund tell Fanny she made a mistake, and everyone lets Henry hang around and woo Fanny. Finally the Crawfords are about to leave Mansfield Park, but before they leave Mary tells Fanny she erred and that the necklace she gave Fanny was actually a present from Henry. William comes back to visit, and everyone decides that he and Fanny should go visit their family. Sir Thomas thinks this visit will make her reconsider her refusal of Henry, but before she leaves Edmund tells her that he plans to propose to Mary.

So that’s where we leave the gang from Mansfield Park -- everyone is off on their travels, with under 100 pages left to wrap things up. I find this novel compelling because everyone is so unlikable -- Fanny is timid and awkward, Mary is shallow, Henry is a flirt, Edmund is in love with Mary for no reason, Mrs. Norris is a busybody, Lady Bertram is a hypochondriac, Sir Thomas is involved in the slave trade, etc. They’re not an admirable bunch, but Austen has crafted a compelling plot around them.

For starters, it’s racier than either Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice, and the un-staged play gave them a chance to start working through their feelings. Would Edmund and Mary be engaged right now if they had been able to declare their love for each other onstage? Ditto Henry and Maria? Perhaps.

We got a taste of the importance of marrying for love in Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins, but we haven’t seen such emphatic support for the idea until Fanny. Everyone tells her she’s making a mistake by not settling for Henry, and she’s told repeatedly that this is likely her one shot at marriage. But Fanny, recognizing that she would be incredibly unhappy, says no. She may be timid, but she deserves some credit here.

Austen gives us another hint about what Sir Thomas is up to in Antigua when Fanny asks him about the slave trade. Since there’s a debate over when the book takes place -- meaning this question could refer to either when Britain was still trading slaves or after. Though this means we don’t really know the exact context, I like how Mansfield Park acknowledges what else was going on in the world.

There’s more to discuss, but we can save it for the wrap-up post next week. Next week also kicks off reading Emma, which is going to be interesting for me -- it’s the only Austen novel I had read prior to this challenge. It was over 7 years ago, so I’m sure I’ll have some different thoughts on that.

Till next time, when you should have wrapped up Mansfield Park, what do you think of the novel and Fanny as a heroine?


  1. Just finished Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered The World, written by Claire Harman. Follows Austen's slow ascent to recognition. Her work was eclipsed for many years after her death--almost two generations.

    Discouraging? Hopeful?

  2. It's hard to believe/understand when someone so famous in the present day doesn't get the recognition she deserved in her own time. Is the book worth reading?

  3. Actually, I have a personal reason for finding that extremely easy to believe!

    Amy, maybe read the first half of the book, skim the second half. It did bring into focus for me the literariness of her family and her interest in publishing.