Monday, May 11, 2015

Review of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (with spoilers)

Fanny Price is one of the most boring heroines in literature.  She is always good, always correct, and it seems that her only faults lie in being too timid and being too easily fatigued. 

Edmund Bertram is one of the least interesting heroes in literature.  He is sincere, intentional, and sober.  His primary shortcoming seems to be thinking the best of people and making the most of bad circumstances. 

But isn’t real life and real goodness more like this duo?  Do they not refute our human tendency to buy into bright personalities, to follow confidence, to love foolishly?  Isn’t it hard to draw the line between dying to self and giving in to the pressures of those less wise?

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, does seem to be busy pressing these truths.  The most charming characters are the ones who oppose the good.  Mr. Henry Crawford and his sister Mary may not set out to be wicked, but they don’t try to be good.  They try to seem good.  They may even wish they were good.  What good could be done with them if good people took them under wing, befriended them, taught, influenced, married them? 

How are good people to resist the allure of reforming their lovers?  How are good people to judge accurately? 

While simultaneously facing these dilemmas and illustrating them, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram move through the excitement of new connections in the small neighborhood that has been their comfortable home.  Over and over again you see the heroine and hero making mistakes because of the things that influence their perspectives.  They doubt themselves.  They deceive themselves.  They reproach themselves.  They deny themselves. 

And all through the plot, following paths merely tangential to each other, they’re getting a chance to discover the value of each other’s steady, reverential characters.  So when the events conspire to divide them from all the temptation of flattery, charm, and attraction, little wonder they proceed to fall in love with unsatisfactory brevity and with a felicity the envy of all their foolish relations. 

To God be all glory.