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The International Writers Magazine: Reviews

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Publisher: Headline Review; New Edition (2006)
ISBN: 0-7553-3147-8

Madeleine Collis


Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice stood the test of time, it had a revival recently with its major film remake in 2005 starring Keira Knightly. Austen’s other novels don’t seem to grab the attention of current generations in the same way though.

Mansfield Park is a different sort of Austen novel with a very different female heroine, and Fanny Price perhaps just doesn’t seem to match up to female contempories of our times.

Today we have Bridget Jones, a heroine in love and yet a heroine in charge, at least most of the time. We have Knightly’s feisty re-enactment of Austen’s Elizabeth in the Pride and Prejudice remake. We have countless television dramas centred on outrageous female characters that say and do things that most of us wouldn’t dream of in polite company. Yet Mansfield Park takes the feminine ideal in a direction so far north of any modern reality it’s almost unfathomable to believe in such a world.

In a time where woman are defined by their ability to multitask, to keep up and outrace the men in business and private life, Austen’s Fanny Price seems to clash harshly against everything we look for in a female heroine. The endless pages of society in the novel, the endless talk of fitting into the mold with good and moral behaviour just doesn’t fit anymore. We have new models, a variety of them for people to fit into nowadays, and one of the least popular would be a wimpish heroine.

We like someone who stands up for their and whilst we’re reading, our cause. In this regard Fanny Price is a most frustrating leading female in any book. She dithers throughout, keeping quiet as a mouse. Her holier-than-thou moral attitude may have been easier to swallow if it had been accompanied by a girl that could speak out about the beliefs she shares with the reader. It’s hard to read Mansfield’s Park without raising an eyebrow at the meekness the books moral standpoint seems to be based on. Fanny Price is offended by the way her cousins act, she is shocked at the Crawford’s modern ways of communicating and what she feels is an undignified way of communicating. Yet she fails every single time to voice her opinions to anyone.

Austen was writing for an era, her personal one and we look back and try to envisage it. Perhaps then it was all about class and eligibility and good morals and manners, but when picking a book today, you don’t want to be stuck with the first fifty pages on society and the next four hundred with a main character that doesn’t speak.

We want human, we want Bridget Jones messing up loudly and proudly, obsessed with her looks and weight and things we connect with. Mansfield Park’s main downfall seems to be that the things its main character holds most important, meekness, fitting in with society and manners aren’t what we hold most important in our lives today. Such clichés as following your heart, standing up for your beliefs, even being rebellious is an important part of maturing in our society.

The difficulties Fanny Price faces, as the poor relative grudgingly allowed to join her wealthy relatives goes some way to explain her blank character. Yet you would expect her to express some evidence of her true nature when talking privately to her cousin Edmund. Surely even in the society in which Mansfield Park is set women experienced the need to attempt to express their feelings and hopes.

This is a novel that was written and embedded in a society and culture very different to the world we live in now. However other novels of the time manage to capture our interest and affection. Pride and Prejudice, by the same author has characters and plot that demands our attention and with which the modern reader can identify. I beleive Mansfield Park simply doesn’t have characters that are of enough interest to engage the modern reader.

© Madeleine Collis November 2007
psychomadsat btinternet.com

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