Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is a wonderful study of human folly and caprice set amidst the studious manners and social hierarchy of early 19th century small town English gentry. If a novel that was written almost two hundred years ago sounds and feels like a foreign place (and believe me, it does, I mean how did they keep those castles heated for god’s sake) Austen’s keen eye for the flaws that make us human are very familiar.
Enter Fanny Price, a young beautiful morally steadfast and virtuous girl who is taken in by her wealthy uncle and his family so she can be afforded greater opportunity in life. Uncle Tom’s family, of course, by virtue of possessing both wealth and beauty, are by the measure of the time, morally and socially superior to the steadfast Fanny Price.
The Bertram daughters are cossetted and spoiled by their Aunt Norris who obsequiously panders to their every whim and folly. When (not surprisingly) the young ladies grow up to be of dubious moral fibre and bring shame on the Bertram name through their romantic misadventures and shenanigans, it becomes obvious to the outsider that wealth and beauty alone cannot sustain the moral order.
You could probably write a masters thesis (no doubt somebody has ) on the innumerable transactions that take place within the cast of characters in Mansfield Park that are designed to illuminate the slippery slope of moral turpitude. The great thing about Jane Austen’s world, is that if you make the right choices, your rightful place in love and society is assured.
Fanny for example, consistently resists the offer of marriage by Henry Crawford. She witnesses first hand his careless flirtations with the Bertram sisters and sees this as irrefutable evidence of a deeply flawed character. Regardless of his money and station in life, she can never marry him, even if it means she can attain a station in life far above anything she could ever have hoped for.
Henry, on the other hand, through this single flaw, will never find the real happiness he seeks. He can love Fanny and know that she is the best he can ever have but his vanity lead him to his ultimate downfall. He may have wealth and position, but he will never have love.
Edmund, on the other hand, who is Fanny’s cousin (and son of the wealthy uncle) doesn’t seek wealth and seeks only love. Even though he is misguided in his search for love when he falls for the charming but flighty Mary Crawford (sister to the morally bankrupt Henry) he ultimately finds redemption and real love with Fanny.
This book isn’t going to be for everyone, especially not Dave or readers of his ilk, but I thought this was a fun and interesting read. It took me some time to get used to the ornate use of language but I got used to it quite quickly and found that it gave me something even more to think about which is the changing nature of language.
My next book is contemporary but then I think I’ll take a dive into Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities.