International Writers Magazine: Reviews
Park by Jane Austen
Publisher: Headline Review; New Edition (2006)
Pride and Prejudice stood the test of time, it had a revival
recently with its major film remake in 2005 starring Keira Knightly.
Austens other novels dont 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 doesnt 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 Knightlys feisty re-enactment
of Austens 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 wouldnt dream of in polite
company. Yet Mansfield Park takes the feminine ideal in a direction
so far north of any modern reality its 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, Austens 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 doesnt
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 were 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.
Its hard to read Mansfields 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 Crawfords
modern ways of communicating and what she feels is an undignified way
of communicating. Yet she fails every single time to voice her opinions
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 dont
want to be stuck with the first fifty pages on society and the next four
hundred with a main character that doesnt 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 Parks
main downfall seems to be that the things its main character holds
most important, meekness, fitting in with society and manners arent
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 doesnt have characters that are of enough interest
to engage the modern reader.
© Madeleine Collis November 2007
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