Tag Archives: Mansfield Park

The Books You Fight With

Jane Austen’s been in the news a lot lately, due to her death happening two hundred years ago. As with most occasions Austen is mentioned, discussion turns to ranking her books. Pride and Prejudice is apparently preferred by the popular vote, while Emma is lauded by the critical vote. And I have no argument with this—I’d put one or the other of those at the top myself, except—what book do I find myself meditating on the most? Which one do I wrestle with, and spend hours studying thematically and artistically? It’s not my favourite book, but it has the power to haunt my thoughts more than all the others combined. It’s Mansfield Park.

Does this mean it’s the best one?

Some books you’d never choose as your favourite, but they’re the ones with the power to haunt your thoughts. And a book with that kind of power is perhaps more genius than we want to give it credit for. So maybe we should recognize some of the books we fight with more than we do.

This is not to say these books are perfect. Often it’s some of their very flaws that cause us to wrestle with them so deeply. I, for one, will never forgive Mansfield Park for ending with the very same scandal as Pride and Prejudice (though Jane Austen is really not to be blamed—how many exciting societal events did she really have to work with for the climaxes of her novels?) Flaws are part of the reason, but not the whole reason. For instance, I fight with the protagonist’s (Fanny’s) passivity every time I read it. But I can’t shake the feeling her passiveness means something. I can’t shake the feeling this novel displays something more fundamental about Austen’s worldview than all the others. In which case, it might be some of her most important work.

And I get this feeling when I read That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis as well.

Just like with Mansfield Park, among the people that know such a book exists, opinions are divided between those who highly dislike the novel, and those who love it. It was while discovering my brain was stuck in a loop pondering the message of this book, actually, that I realized the books we fight with might have more power over our thoughts than the ones we love.

Because we love easy-to-understand. We love comforting concepts. But the ideas we may need to grapple with are not always easy or comforting.

For example, I need to consider whether passivity and helplessness, as Fanny shows in Mansfield Park, does have value. Despite my modern context screaming at me about the value of assertiveness and standing up for yourself, I need to not despise Fanny for not being ‘modern’ in this way.

When it comes to That Hideous Strength, I need to accept it’s not going to feed me comforting ideas that I really like, as the first book in the trilogy did (Out of the Silent Planet). Sure, I may have issues with some of the plot, and the time spent with unlikable characters, and the possibly ludicrous events that happen. But what I may be avoiding thinking about by doing this is how much some of these unlikable characters resemble me. Or worse—how I’d like some of the unlikable protagonists to be squashed like a bug because they remind me of unlikable people I personally know—but the novel shows them grace. So I should maybe do so too.

I’d go into the plot more but this book is so obscure for a C.S. Lewis book that I don’t know how many of you will have heard of it. I’ll just say check it out if you like his work. My brain thinks about it more than all my other favourite parts of the Space Trilogy.

So start appreciating those books you fight with. They’re at least as powerful as your favourites.

Drop me a line below about which books these are for you!

 

 

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In Jane Austen, Nice Guys Finish First

Girls go for the bad guys, they say, and nice guys finish last. If so, then Jane Austen has achieved an amazing feat of literature by creating nice guys you want to cheer for. Nice guys many females claim they’d like to date. Nice guys who aren’t boring, but actually readable.

I realized this while reading several people online insist Frank Churchill and Henry Crawford are far more interesting than their romantic rivals (the nice guys who actually get the girl, in other words) – George Knightley and Edmund Bertram.

This is craziness, of course. You’d have to be pretty committed to living a lifetime of misery to choose Frank Churchill or Henry Crawford over George Knightley or Edmund Bertram. Let’s see why:

George Knightley:

Okay, let’s look at George Knightley first. He’s too demanding, his detractors claim. He tells Emma what to do, and yells at her when she doesn’t do something right. He’s stuck to some kind of outdated set of morals, and wants Emma to follow them too.

In contrast, Frank Churchill – well, he’s fun. (According to the anti-Knightley people, anyway). He and Emma joke around, enjoy themselves, don’t take things too seriously. Wouldn’t a marriage between them just be great fun?

Sure… until you remember Frank and Emma’s ‘fun’ is at other people’s expense, and this is exactly what Knightley was being a ‘stick-in-the-mud’ about. Emma could’ve hitched herself to a guy who was rather callous about other people’s feelings – teasing people who maybe can’t take it at the moment, flirting to make his fiancée jealous, using his charm to get away with things. At heart he’s not a villain, but his charm doesn’t make up for all his faults.

And when it comes to Knightley – you know, it’s totally okay for a guy to call a girl out on something if she’s actually wrong about it – it’s not a symbol of patriarchy or an outdated moral code. It’s merely reasonable, and I hope whoever I’d get engaged to would do the same to me. Emma was a rather frightening person for anyone in the novel to call out on her behaviour anyway, and Mr. Knightley is the only one who does it – you could say he was of equal or superior social standing so that helped make him brave enough, but then you’d be forgetting one thing. You’d be forgetting he was in love with her – who wants to risk criticizing the person you’re crazy about? He doesn’t want to lecture her. He’d rather not open her eyes to how thoughtless and cruel she’s being to others around her (at Frank’s instigation). It’s a sign of the strength of Mr. Knightley’s moral fibre that he does anyway.

And as for fun – he and Emma have lovely debates that do not descend into bickering. Being able to disagree well, and able to debate well, is one thing I think of as fun. Maybe I’m alone here…

Anyway, he’s a ‘nice guy.’ And he gets the girl. Austen writes Emma as a girl who realizes exactly what the worth of Mr. Knightley is, and doesn’t despise him for being less charming than Frank Churchill.

Edmund Bertram:

Okay, now Edmund Bertram. I have to admit, Edmund Bertram is dreadfully boring – the worst of Jane Austen’s heroes. (Jane Austen fans – if Edmund Bertram is your favourite, stick up your hand now – I’ve never met one of you yet.) He hurts Fanny over and over – completely clueless because he doesn’t know she’s desperately in love with him, but still, he hurts her. And he dithers the whole novel over this other girl who’s just charm and a pretty face (according to Austen, at least).

And Henry Crawford – he comes closest of any of Austen’s villains to being reformed.

But really, Edmund Bertram is a nice guy. He loves Fanny as a sister, not a potential wife, and that’s not really his fault since they grew up together. He doesn’t even know how much it hurts Fanny to see him with this other girl, since he actually thinks Fanny likes this girl.

Whereas Henry Crawford just starts flirting with Fanny to see if he can get her to fall for him. Sure, he claims his feelings grow deeper as time goes on, but it says something about him when you know where it started. Would he really have ‘reformed’ for her? How often do people change themselves for the better for another, and how long does that kind of change stick? He doesn’t start as a nice guy, and after all the events of the novel, he doesn’t end as one either (leaving Fanny’s cousin Maria with her reputation in tatters, and abandoning her to her fate.)

Reformed bad boys may be exciting, but in Jane Austen the nice guys finish first. (Edmund wises up to Fanny’s charms in the end…)

I’ve ranted about Mansfield Park before, if you want to read it it’s here.

Austen’s other novels:

I don’t think I have to do too much convincing to argue Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon are far nicer guys than Willoughby, or that Henry Tilney (how I love this character’s snark!) is nicer than John Thorpe – and especially the General and Frederick Tilney.

And now we come to Mr. Darcy…

Mr. Darcy:

Aha, someone is arguing now. What about the most famous of them all – Mr. Darcy? Isn’t he emphatically a stuck-up prig in Pride and Prejudice, and doesn’t that show girls only want arrogant dudes who look down on them?

No, think of Mr. Darcy as that awkward dude at the party, who doesn’t quite know how to talk to anyone. When he does talk, he just makes people look at him strange. Completely socially awkward, especially in comparison with smooth talkers like Wickham. Haven’t you met people like that? Maybe ignored people like that?

You’d be right if you insisted Darcy is a bit too condescending and superior at first (awkwardly superior), but he does learn, and more importantly, Elizabeth doesn’t fall for him until AFTER he learns. (Contrary to how she is often portrayed by people, she DOESN’T feel any hidden, burning attraction to him at the beginning of the novel at all. No slap-slap/kiss-kiss, in other words.) He has to be a nice guy first.

Compare this to several Bronte heroes. Now, I’ve never been able to get into their books, and I really should give them another chance because I have reread books before and liked them so much more the second time. BUT I confess to a complete inability to see how Heathcliff, or even Rochester, is romantic at all. If you want to be treated horribly, sure, by all means fall in love with them. Let one lie to you, and the other be all moody and violent. Ugh, so romantic.

In Conclusion:

Authors can write their ‘nice guys’ as Mary Sues (or Gary Stus or whatever you want to call the male version) – far too easily. I’ve read many novels where the romantic hero is very, very boring. He’s supposed to be the epitome of good, and he is, to the point of dullness. The solution to this, it is said, is to add faults.

But add too many faults, and you just end up reinforcing the trope, “All Girls Want Bad Boys.”

It takes a genius like Jane Austen to make the nice-guy heroes be exactly the kind of person real-life women would fall in love with.

What do you think? Girls, who’s your favourite Austen character? Guys, are you ever offended by which Austen men get the girl in the end?

Also – I just released my sixth short ebook this weekend – it’s a romantic short story about one girl’s confidence or lack thereof towards one guy, and it’s called Lookin’ Good. Check it out and drop me a line or review telling me what you think!

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Why ‘Write What You Love’ Means All Fiction is Fanfiction

Fanfiction gets a bad rap. Some of it is deserved, of course, but what else do you expect from amateur writers scribbling basically for their own amusement?

Of course you’re going to get purple prose, authors inserting themselves into stories as Mary Sues, and unrealistic and uncomfortable situations. But maybe the difference between ‘original fiction’ and ‘fanfiction’ is not that one is sadly ripping off other people’s characters, while the other is actually coming up with new stuff.

Maybe the difference is – ‘original fiction’ is just much, much better at hiding what it’s inspired by.

I started thinking about this issue lately because I’m currently working on two very non-serious bits of writing: one about the characters from The Iliad making havoc in the modern world, and the other re-imagining what Mansfield Park would look like if it was set today. (I have many more ‘serious’ projects that I’m procrastinating on, of course – don’t we all?)

Anyway, I started wondering – am I writing fanfiction? Or are they different enough from the original to be ‘original fiction’? After all, several authors have published books reimagining both The Iliad and Mansfield Park. Both The Iliad and Mansfield Park are in the public domain, of course, so that makes it easier for authors. No one’s going to sue them if their work is ‘not original’ enough. But don’t tell me that’s seriously the only difference between fanfiction and original fiction – that fanfiction is fiction about characters that are not in the public domain.

The next thought is obviously – everything is ‘inspired by’ something else. Authors love to talk about their influences on their writing. If you, as an author, want to see more of one type of story, you start writing them yourself. If you do this, you are a fan of something, and you are writing about it because you are a fan. Stretched to its broadest definition, this is what fanfiction is.

So at what point are these inspirations and influences far enough in the background that the world can acknowledge these authors as ‘real writers’? You can even tell, in some works, when an author models their character on another well-known character. And published authors are definitely guilty of inserting themselves into their own stories – both Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer have been accused of inserting themselves as Mary Sues into their plots. And in terms of plot – Shakespeare basically just re-wrote famous stories in his plays, and he is considered a master of literature. And many authors have made a career re-writing fairytales. Is this ‘original fiction or ‘fanfiction’?

Basically, I think my conclusion is, that like with anything else, the line between the two are not black and white. Fanfiction tends to be found on internet websites, tends to be of amateur quality, and deals with copyrighted characters. But that’s not always true – many fanfictions contain very high quality writing, and there are definitely writers who work with public domain characters. Also, ‘original fiction’ tends to be published by publishing houses, and contain original characters. But sometimes these original characters are clearly influenced by other characters. And sometimes published books could easily be described as fanfiction if they’d happened to be published online on a website instead.

Which brings us to that age-old question – what is originality? Does it even exist, or is everything just a recombination of old things that always existed?

In other words, it is possible that there really is “nothing new under the sun.” And if everything is just a recombination, maybe some writing is just a better and more interesting recombination than others. Which could lead to my radical title up there at the top – we could legitimately call all fiction writing fanfiction.

Provocative thought, no? Agree or disagree?

Note: check out my previous posts on The Iliad and Mansfield Park, if you’d like to know why I’d be enough of a fan of these works to write about them 🙂

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Ranking Jane Austen – Is It Possible?

Emma
Mansfield Park
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility
Northanger Abbey
Persuasion

 Is this a sensible way to rank Jane Austen’s books? As far as I can discern, this is how Adelle Waldman ranks them, in “I Read Everything Jane Austen Wrote, Several Times: Here Are Some of the Many Things I Learned.” Fans of Jane Austen, of course, can argue for hours about which of her novels are best, and non-fans are probably just surprised she wrote more than Pride and Prejudice. But this particular ranking is unique enough that I feel compelled to comment on it.

 In general, most of these choices are justifiable, and while I would rank Pride and Prejudice just a little higher than Emma, they are both of such good quality that they could both be at the top of any list. I did not think Emma was well-plotted the first time I read it, because it was so long and it felt like the action dragged out forever. But it is well-plotted, if you know many of the little details will add up to something in the end, and reveal how blind Emma was at certain point, or how blind you as the reader were about what was really going on.

 Uniquely, Waldman looks down on Persuasion. I have often been confused as to why so many critics think it is one of Austen’s best works, though I would not be as hard on the novel as Waldman is. It is not as funny and sparkling, true, but there is something sweet about it. I have the most amount of sympathy for Anne Elliot, because I know what it’s like to be overlooked.  Depending upon which novel I am reading, I would probably rate Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey all pretty close to each other, and so I’m not going to quibble about which one should be rated higher than the others. I just have to stick up for Persuasion when it is stuck dead last.

 But she puts Mansfield Park far too high up the list. While the complexity of the characters do make the novel a more mature work, I cannot forgive the deficiencies of its plot. It does not leave the reader with any feeling or satisfaction, or ending in the right spot, even though it ends with the expected happy ending. (I ranted more about Mansfield Park here).

 However, I can’t help but thank Waldman for the observation that Austen is not merely about romance and marriage, but primarily about people and how they should behave. Romance and marriage tends to act as a reward for the right sort of behaviour, which is why Austen’s work often comes off as intensely moralistic. But it is also why Austen’s works have endured so well. We all know vain and pompous fools (Sir Walter Elliot), scoundrels who lead women on (Wickham), jealous and competitive women (Caroline Bingley), and foolish and vindicative women (Mrs. Elton). We want to see people like that learn a lesson – though Austen realistically never forces a vile character to change as a result of the lessons a reader can glean from the action. As Waldman states, “She gives us a cast of characters and then zeroes in, showing us who and what is admirable, who is flawed but forgivable, who is risible and who is truly vile… Austen wrote stories that show us how we think.”

Yes to that.

As a postscript, my personal ranking goes like this:

 Pride and Prejudice (as the best paced and best plotted one of the bunch, with highly entertaining characters who go through believable character development)

Emma (almost as good as Pride and Prejudice, upon second reading, but a little too long to be thoroughly enjoyed on first reading – as I discovered here)

Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion (both entirely serviceable and charming novels, and I’m not sure which one rates above the other)

Northanger Abbey (which is enjoyable but somewhat flawed – understandable considering it was one of the first she wrote, as well as one she later revised, though it was published posthumously and therefore it’s hard to say it she would’ve been satisfied with its finish published form)

If you include Lady Susan as one of Austen’s novels, though it is more of a novella, I would stick it last on the list. If it had been longer, I would’ve liked it more (more of my thoughts on Lady Susan here).

And then… I can’t decide where Mansfield Park fits in. I think that novel will annoy me for the rest of my life. Is that a mark of great literature?

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Secret Admirers Don’t Exist

“I have a secret secret admirer. Not only is her identity a secret—but so is the fact that she admires me.”

Jarod Kintz, This Book Title is Invisible

It’s a bit of an awkward admission to make, but every once in a while, I need to give up on a guy more quickly. I think most girls have a tendency to do this – hang onto hope that the guy might actually have an interest in you, even if he’s given you zero sign of it. At some point, you just have to face the central premise of He’s Just Not That Into You. That is, that far too many fairytales, romance novels and chick flicks have trained us to think that maybe, just maybe, the guy has a secret flame for you. Even though he doesn’t show it.

(I don’t recommend that movie, by the way. It’s just barely okay, not to mention the fact it completely subverts the message it pretends to be sending, by ending the way it does.)

But really, does anything show better how rarely romantic fiction matches up with reality? (I wrote about this before). Worse yet, if we don’t realize it’s not reality, we’ll trick ourselves into thinking in unhealthy ways. Sometimes, in fiction, ridiculous situations are necessary because they make a good plot. But you can’t let them raise expectations – and I don’t just mean expectations that a tall, dark and handsome stranger will drop out of the sky and declare he is in love with you.

So, take the Hunger Games. I had no idea this book was so focused on romance, given the fact it appears to be about kids forced to act as gladiators and kill each other, but it is. Apparently, for eleven years Peeta was in love with Katniss and never said anything to her. This makes a very good plot! Katniss finds out she’s in the ring, ready to kill a guy who is apparently devoted to her, and she actually figures out a way to play this angle to her advantage. Then the author makes the tried-and-true move of adding in another guy waiting for her back home, and makes the situation a genuine love triangle. Very good plot! Bear any resemblance to reality? Not really. If Peeta didn’t have the guts to say anything to Katniss before, how did he suddenly get the nerve to say something in front of millions of people on national television?

Okay, so Hunger Games fans might jump on me here and say it makes perfect sense. But my point is, people read that and start to hope that guy they’ve never talked to might secretly have a crush on them back! You know, they were just to shy to say so! In this case, I’d like to present the character of Romeo as a counter-example. Strange, but I’m going to use Romeo and Juliet as an example of more-realistic fiction for once. Romeo starts off the play as a secret admirer of Rosalie, but can’t work up the nerve to talk to her. He just can’t. All he can do is moon from afar. And then he meets Juliet, forgets about Rosalie completely, and never does talk to her in the end. Yes, I’m saying I think it’s far more likely the guy will meet someone else he actually can talk to, before devoting himself to secret admiration for years on end.

To pick another work of literature as an example, let me bring up Mansfield Park again. In Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford makes the mistake of trying to make Fanny Price fall in love with him, and instead falls in love with her! Oh, the drama! Don’t we all wish that jerk who’s been breaking all the hearts of the women around us would fall in love with us, just so we have the chance to teach them a lesson? Fanny is, of course, far too modest to realize Henry Crawford has fallen for her, which is the only reason she doesn’t notice he has, because everyone else around her does. She is completely blindsided when he tells her how her feels (and he is completely blindsided that she doesn’t feel the same way – their relationship is an interesting subversion of the Pride-and-Prejudice-plot). But really, unless you are far more modest than Fanny, you’d probably catch on faster than her. But if you think that jerk really doesn’t like you, you’re probably right. Don’t hope he’s trying to disguise a mad attraction.

What? Am I being a spoilsport here? Am I ignoring the fact that guys sometimes do need time to work up the nerve to say something? No, let me clarify. I mean if he’s never given you any sign of interest, you just gotta face reality, no matter what fiction might try to tell you. He might need time to work up his nerve, but if he takes eleven years, he’s not working up his nerve. He’s probably not even thinking of working up his nerve.

Therefore: secret admirers might exist, but not for long. They either say something or move along. 🙂

There you have it – another reason why fiction and real life differ. Agree or disagree?

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Reactions to an Engagement – ‘Mansfield Park’ fanfiction

No, ‘Jane Austen fanfiction’ is not my new replacement for Why Polly?, but it is for this week. I wrote this quite a while ago, but I held off on posting it so it wouldn’t interrupt Why Polly?. This is a short fanfiction of Mansfield Park, from Mary Crawford’s point-of-view (remember – the girl who Edmund was in love with but was so wrong for him?) Mansfield Park is one of the lesser-read novels of Jane Austen, so it’s not a huge surprise if you haven’t read it, though I recommend all of Austen’s novels. If you’ve read it, I also spewed out my thoughts on the book previously, in Rant About Mansfield Park.

Reactions to an Engagement

It is a terrible plague to mean to be rich, yet to have fallen for a man who is not.

Why couldn’t Edmund have been rich? Why couldn’t he have at least been the eldest? Or possessed some yearning to increase his income, or to go into some profession that was guaranteed to raise his prominence and expand his style of living?

I looked out the window, down at the rainy streets of London below. A dull day. Nobody about, nothing going on. There was nothing to do but sit here with my own thoughts, and some of my thoughts were rather too painful.

No, better yet, I ought not to have fallen in love with Edmund in the first place. He was so unlike the usual sort of man that attracted me! So invulnerable to all my teasing, so steady and calm, so contented with the country and the lack of stylish amusements it afforded. Insensitive to my teasing he might’ve been, but he had not been insensitive to my charm. Indeed – the months I had spent at the Parsonage had been some of the happiest of my life. To see his gaze soften with admiration as I played that favourite air of his on my harp… But while I had enjoyed his company, I would’ve been better off not to have fallen in love with him. Why had I?

I truly hadn’t intended for such a thing to happen. Usually I select my conquests with care, and judge whether I will succumb to their charms after much contemplation. Edmund was extraordinary to work his way into my affections before I had half-realized it.

Yet for several briefs moments this past year, I had thought maybe I was more tired of the amusements of the city than I realized. That perhaps wealth and consequence, though I had never had either, were not as engrossingly important as I had always imagined. For several moments I had thought so – thought perhaps I could adjust to Edmund’s quiet country-parson’s way of life. Until I stepped back into the bustle of London, and I knew I could never give such amusements up.

There is nothing more terrible than to love and yet know you yourself are the reason the love must be given up.

Not that I had had such a choice. Edmund had turned away from me with a hard heart and hardened eyes, and nothing I could do could make him change his mind. Perhaps it was best to know that now – to know if I had married him I could never have convinced him to spend some months in London, or drive a more stylish carriage, or to seek more fashionable acquaintances. Still, it stung me to my very soul that he had made the decision to break off the potential of anything between us, not I. I might not care so very much if I had felt I had taken control in the deciding.

Oh, I am a failure even at attempting to fool myself. There is no way I could have convinced myself to give such a man as Edmund up, no matter how miserable I should be.

So could I convince myself things were better this way?

Last that I had heard, Edmund was courting his cousin, Fanny Price. Fanny Price! If nothing else had illustrated the impassable gulf that existed between him and me, this did – the fact that he could be consoled after giving me up by a girl such as Fanny. That insipid, shy, retiring shadow of a girl, whose acquaintance I had persistently pursued for so long because I knew how important she was to Edmund! Long had I pursued the acquaintance, without feeling I knew the girl a whit better than before the acquaintance had begun. Such a quiet girl! Yet one who might speak her opinion on moral matters quite decidedly if pressed, and stick to it to a surprisingly degree – a degree no one would have predicted, from her otherwise obliging temperament. Fanny Price’s fastidiousness had ruined everything for my brother – and perhaps now she would ruin everything for me.

What? Was I still clinging to a shred of hope? It did not matter if Edmund married or did not marry Fanny Price. He’d made it clear he would never come back to me.

It was time for me to fling myself into society again, to distract myself with admirers, to appear light-hearted and charming to all who laid eyes on me. And I had been doing so until this day, and until this moment of dullness and silence I had convinced myself I had forgotten everything that had passed in Mansfield Park. But I knew now that none of the unattached society men would hold a candle to Edmund’s steadiness, his earnest ability to convey to a lady how very much he felt for her by a mere glance of his eyes. There was something in making a man such as him admire you! Fanny Price should know how much she had gained!

Yes, she likely did. I could not accuse her of presumption, but she must’ve at least been in love with Edmund for some time.

I was a fool, but as long as he was single, I did have hope.

At that very moment, my brother, Henry, entered the room.

“It is over, Mary,” he said.

Not his flirtations, that was for certain. He had thrown himself into his usual pattern of behaviour with a vengeance, and without seeming much more contented as a result of it. A certain class of respectable women avoided him, of course, but there were enough willing to associate with him to distract him. Except it looked as if he was as difficult to distract as I was.

He handed me a society paper. “Edmund Bertram has announced his engagement to Fanny Price.”

I lifted my eyes to his face. “She has got him at last, then.”

It was only the anguished look on my brother’s face that convinced me it was true.

“I still love her, Mary,” he said. His hand found the arm of the chair behind him, and he sunk himself down into it. “I didn’t think it was possible – I still love her.”

I had never thought it possible either, that my brother could ever lose at the game he played so well. That there’d every be a soul among all the ladies he juggled that would make him regret he could not convince himself to drop the others. Lost? Oh yes, my brother had lost. He is not the sort to love often, perhaps never more than once. And he knows reforming, even were he able to attempt it, would do nothing to win the heart of Fanny Price, nor raise his character in her eyes.

Oh why, oh why had the Crawfords ever gone in among the Bertrams and the Prices? They exposed the folly we could not stop clinging to. And neither of us were the better for having met them.

My heart twisted inside my chest. Edmund was to be married. Henry and I had both played and lost. Life made it clear we could not have everything we wanted, and we’d learned our priorities well.

If only such priorities did not look so dreary and monotonous on their own.

 

 

If you enjoyed Reactions to an Engagment, I also previously wrote a short piece on Emma – called Not Emma.

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Rant About Jane Austen’s ‘Mansfield Park’

(public domain)

So, I don’t usually do book reviews on this blog, but Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is so frustrating, I just have to vent about it somewhere. If you haven’t read it or what to avoid spoilers, don’t worry, you can skip this post.

Mansfield Park is a book that has had love and hate poured out on it over the years (probably more hate than love). I didn’t know this when I first read it, I just picked it up because it said ‘Jane Austen’ on the front. And anything by Jane Austen is highly superior, if only because of her adept writing style. But Mansfield Park is, well, frustrating – the first time I read it I thought it was because I didn’t like how it ends (the climax – spoiler! – is exactly the same as in Pride and Prejudice, but with slightly different results), but now I think it’s just frustrating the whole way through.

Pride and Prejudice – Corrupted?

To me, Mansfield Park is like a corrupted version of Pride and Prejudice. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy change for the better because they met each other, but in Mansfield Park it’s like Jane Austen decided to warn all those impressionable young girls out there that people rarely do change. Nobody fundamentally changes in this novel. The main character, Fanny Price, remains steadfastly quiet and shy the whole time, and she is vindicated in the end when her unfavourable opinion of Mr. Crawford turns out to be right (instead of, say, a prejudice like Elizabeth’s opinion was). It’s like Jane Austen’s saying – girls, don’t believe what I said before about men changing because of love for you. They don’t change. And if you think a man is a cad, you’re probably right. Don’t let him convince you otherwise. Which might be perfectly true in reality, and probably is a good lesson for all romance readers out there. But in a novel, where character arcs are important, it requires that what appears to be a character arc for Henry Crawford (and Mary Crawford too), to be chopped off and revealed to be a non-arc. It also requires for there to be no character arc for Fanny, and none for Edmund either.

Also, in Pride and Prejudice, the two central couples are matched up happily. In Mansfield Park, only one couple is, leaving the two leftover spares to misery. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy steps up when Lydia runs away with Wickham, and saves the Bennet family from shame. In Mansfield Park, no one saves the Bertram family from shame, though the result is that Edmund is free to marry Fanny.

So, corrupted version of Pride and Prejudice? It seems so to me – even Mary Crawford is like an exaggerated version of what Lizzy would be like if she were a little bit too free with her tongue. (And had more corrupted morals).

And What a Self-Assertive Main Character!

Most of the hate for this book centres around Fanny, and I have to admit, she is a problematic main character. Any time you make a shy, passive person the main character of the novel, you risk making the reader annoyed because they don’t do anything. But while I realize it limits the novel, I don’t absolutely hate Fanny, because I share enough similarities with her. I am a shy introvert myself, who really should take initiative more often, but just don’t have the guts. I will sit back in a room full of noisy people and watch them, and notice all the little ways they are hurting and irritating each other, when they themselves don’t even realize it. I guess I have strong moral principles too, and while I don’t understand her objections to acting in a play, I do understand her objections to accepting the attention of a man she knows plays with women’s hearts. In fact, I really would like to love Fanny. I like it when introverts get their due. Which just leads to frustration when her passivity gets in the way of advancing the plot.

The Honourable Romantic Hero

And another reason the book frustrates me is Edmund. I know he is honourable, upright, and all the rest of it, but he is also bland and boring. More than any of Jane Austen’s other heroes, his good qualities appear to be more informed attributes. She never really makes it clear why Fanny is so in love with him, other than the fact they grew up together and he is the only one who notices her once in a while. Anyway, it is difficult to cheer for a romantic hero who spends ninety-nine percent of the book chasing after another woman who is all wrong for him. And perpetually forgetting Fanny because of it, though Fanny is apparently too used to being taken for granted to care. But the reader notices!

Sorry, No Hope Here

But my biggest frustration is that I have: that there is no hope for Henry Crawford and Mary. This is the way the book has to end, and after re-reading it several times, I see redeeming them would completely ruin the main point of the story. But it is so sad for them! They are likeable people, Jane Austen makes sure of that. They are not like Mrs. Elton in Emma, whom you would love to see being taken down a notch or two. But Henry Crawford abuses women’s affections abominably, and to let Fanny fall in love with him would make it seem like that fault doesn’t really matter. Also, she would probably never make him happy because she doesn’t possess the nerve to stand up to him. If he trotted off to flirt with other women after they got married, she would hardly have the ability to protest that it makes her miserable. So I can’t see the book ending in any other way, but I wish for the Crawfords’ sake that they could somehow learn from their mistakes. That they wouldn’t just let their blindness, bad morals and folly ruin their lives. This leave me with a frustrating, unfinished feeling when I reach the end of the book – and if there has to be more to the story that will tie up these loose ends. As if a sequel is begging to be written.

So there you have it – all my thoughts on this book out on paper. A quick search of Jane Austen sites on the net will show there are many, many more people frustrated with this book, for a variety of reasons. But I will say, I don’t regret reading it, or re-reading it again and again, because it is of Jane-Austen-quality. Her worst book (and I don’t know if this is her worst) is better than many authors’ best. I also really, really want to like Mansfield Park. And large chunks of it are very enjoyable. That, of course, just makes it more frustrating.

What about you? Have you read Mansfield Park, and what did you think of it?

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