defending mansfield park: a series of rebuttals

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I recently reread Mansfield Park for the first time since 2016 and found that many of my thoughts about the novel had changed.  I’ve always liked it more than most other Austenites do (not trying to sound prideful or anything – it’s just the way my tastes go) but I found myself enjoying it even more this time around.  I feel as though I’ve matured into it; it’s become a novel that speaks to me even more than it entertains. 

I wanted to write a post defending Mansfield Park from some of its usual criticisms, while sharing why I love it as much as I do.  It was hard to figure out a format though because Mansfield Park is such a dense read – there’s so much to discuss!  I ended up deciding to list several of the most common complaints leveled against the book and its characters and provide my own rebuttals and defenses. 

So let’s go!

Criticism #1 – “Fanny is too weak and boring!”

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Fanny is not weak.

Physically, yes, she isn’t strong.  But in terms of character and morals, convictions and common sense, she is the strongest character in Mansfield Park

She was an introverted child of ten when she arrived at Mansfield.  Everyone either ignored her, frightened her, or disdained her except Edmund (and he was away at school more often than not).  Nothing really changed as she grew (at least for a while) and so Fanny created her own little place of solace in a room full of books and art.  Really, that sounds like what ninety percent of us introverts would do if placed in similar circumstances.

I actually related so much to Fanny on this read-through of the book.  While our personalities aren’t very similar (she’s too good and quiet to be me, y’know) I did get where she was coming from a number of times.  I know what it’s like to be almost terrified of what certain people will say, how the tone of their voice will sound, even how they’ll look at you when you’re in their presence. (That comes from being in a toxic environment, as Mansfield was to Fanny for some time.  It happened to me too and I’m happy to say that I’m no longer in that place.  And neither is Fanny.)

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Additionally, I was surprised to discover how true and strong Fanny’s faith is.  Hers isn’t a plain, common sense morality like Anne Elliot’s or Elinor Dashwood’s.  Her Christian beliefs are an active part of her life – she isn’t a Christian in name only.  I really admired that part of Fanny’s character and it helped me better understand why she is so opposed to the play/the Crawfords.  She didn’t disapprove such things just to be priggish or prudish – she has an active conscience and is following both it and her God.

Fanny Price is a courageous, kind, gentle, and perceptive young woman.  She is definitely almost too quiet and timid at the beginning of the book, but she has actual character growth and development over the course of it.  Which I think is awesome.

Criticism #2 – “The story is too boring and full of moralizing!”

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Okay, so, I get that a story’s boringness is totally a matter of personal opinion.  But if you believe that Mansfield Park is dry and dull, I would beg you to try rereading it.  Yes, there are some more philisophical discussions on love and duty, the clergy, improvements, and other things.  But this is Jane Austen we’re talking about!  There’s still plenty of witty dialogue, hilarious observations on human character, and interesting scenes/characters.

 

Criticism #3 – “Edmund and Fanny should have married the Crawford siblings!”

Um.

No.

While we, as a modern audience, might find it hard to see exactly what Fanny dislikes in Mary and Henry Crawford (to a point, anyway), there are several reasons why they would have been totally unsuited as spouses to Edmund and Fanny, respectively.

To begin with Edmund and Mary…Edmund is a pastor (is that the proper term for an English preacher during Regency times?).  Mary is, to put it lightly, devoid of a moral compass.  If Edmund were in any other line of work, I might have understood more why a lot of people ship them.  But, as a pastor, seriously and faithfully doing a pastor’s work, it would make absolutely no sense for Edmund to marry Mary.  He says as much himself.  And, overall, there’s such a great gap between Edmund and Mary’s tastes and morals that, yeah, it just wouldn’t have worked.

Fanny and Henry Crawford are an arguably worse match.  He might seem as though he loves her (he probably did, in his own way).  But the fact that he ran off with Maria so soon after Fanny kinda rebuffed him in Portsmouth…UGH.  And he doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer!  It’s time for us all to realize that Henry is just like Mr. Collins after Mr. Collins proposed to Lizzy.  Henry pretends that Fanny’s ‘no’ really means ‘not yet’ and worries/distresses her so much in the process.

*is greatly annoyed*

Criticism #4 – “Edmund and Fanny are cousins and it’s gross that they got married!”

I-

…do not have a rebuttal for this complaint, lol.  It’s perfectly legitimate.  They are cousins and it is weird and a little gross (even if it was perfectly normal in Regency England).  I will say that I do enjoy Edmund and Fanny as a couple (minus the whole cousins thing).  I even ship them.  I get where people come from when they dislike Edmund but, come on, he was infatuated with a slightly darker version of Elisabeth Bennet.  Love and infatuation drives people to do supremely stupid things and Edmund is only, like, twenty-four.  Old enough to know better, I know!  But young enough to do dumb things.

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Have you read Mansfield Park?  Do you love it, hate it, or are you somewhere in the middle?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments! ❤

Eva

17 thoughts on “defending mansfield park: a series of rebuttals

  1. Gayle Chenevert

    I’ve often struggled to articulate why I love Mansfield Park the most, but it is always the book I reach for when I need comfort and diversion. I too admire Fanny, it’s hard to find a character who follows her own light no matter what. But again, she’s not perfect and has her moments too, which keeps her human. I’m always rooting for her! I adore Mary. I’m sad because I, like Edmund, believe if only she had better people around her, she would not be a lost soul. I hadn’t kenned on to Fanny’s Christian faith so much, you make a great point there. I read that Jane Austen once said the book was about ordination. Fanny herself could easily be an ordained minister today. Her goodness just is. She rose above her upbringing with her central core intact. Who wouldn’t admire that?

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    1. I return to this book for comfort as well! Fanny is so great and I definitely pity Mary. Have you read the Jane Austen fanfiction/spin-off called Old Friends and New Fancies? In it, Mary gets a redemptive story line and it’s very well done. I love it. ❤

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  2. I realized it was my favourite when I noticed that of all of Austen’s novels, I re-read Mansfield Park the most. The subtle wit, the delicate touches, the way Austen describes the heart of a young girl who is secretly in love, the amazing prose. It’s a great novel.

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  3. Olivia

    I haven’t read Mansfield Park yet (only watched the movies), but I’ve been hearing so much buzz about it lately that it’s on my radar even more than usual. I definitely want to read it, hopefully sometime in the not too distant future. But I also want to make sure that I have the ability to take my time with it and savor/digest it, you know what I mean? 😉

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    1. It is definitely a novel that needs to be read slowly and with some thought so I get where you’re coming from with picking a good time to read it. I hope you do enjoy it when you read it though. 🙂

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  4. This is a wonderful post. ❤ ❤ ❤

    I hadn't thought about Fanny's faith in that way before you mentioned it, but you're 100% correct; she is the most sincerely religious of all Austen's heroines. I admire that in her.

    Also, random historical aside here: I remember one time I read an annotated copy of <Mansfield Park and they were explaining about the play the Crawfords and Bertrams were gonna perform, “Lovers’ Vows” (which was a real thing, Austen didn’t make it up), and they were like, “contrary to what we modern readers might expect, “Lovers’ Vows” WAS kinda raunchy and sensual and that’s the way a lot of 18th century plays were; which is one reason why acting wasn’t considered a respectable profession at that time.” Modern audiences tend to assume Fanny was objecting to something super tame and PG rated, but, in fact, she wasn’t.

    Completely agree with you about the Crawford siblings–Mary is amoral and proud of it, whilst Henry is FAR. TOO. PUSHY. Pushy and entitled and a creeper with no self-restraint. No, thank you. *shudders*

    Edmund . . . *sighs* See, I don’t mind that he fell for Mary (although I think it was dumb, lol), but I do mind all the pressure he put on Fanny to accept Henry’s proposals. He even says at one point “Henry loves you, so as a woman you have a DUTY to respond to his love out of gratitude,” which . . . NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

    But me disliking Edmund definitely doesn’t mean I ship Fanny with Henry instead; Henry is FAR WORSE.

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      1. I remember little 19yrold me or whatever being so shocked when I read the annotations that explained the plot–I was like “I didn’t know 18th century people watched plays like THAT!!!” o.O

        They sure did, my son . . . they sure did.

        😉

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  5. i ADORE this book. It has been my favorite Austen novel ever since I first read it. I deeply admire Fanny’s quiet resistance to the shallow, pleasure-driven Crawfords, and the “love triangle” (if you can call it that) between Edmund–Fanny–Mary is one of the few love triangles I can actually stand (probably because it’s not a typical one, haha).

    It always makes me a little angry when people diss Mansfield Park. A lot of times, I believe they’re just expecting a protagonist like Elizabeth Bennet and aren’t willing to engage with a quieter heroine–but I imagine the Christian overtones make some people uncomfortable as well. I’m also forever disappointed that there apparently isn’t a film/TV adaptation that does it justice. I did see the old BBC version–but it was sooooooooooo sloooooooooooooow. I couldn’t get through it. On the other hand, I’m more than willing to see the new version; I’m just skeptical about Billie Piper playing Fanny. Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford, though–EXCELLENT casting, in my opinion.

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    1. Yay, Maribeth! I’m so glad you love MP too. ❤ I don't mind the love triangle either – and usually I haaaate the trope.

      I rewatched the Billie Piper film a few days ago. PLEASE DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME. Hayley Atwell is the only good thing about that movie (she *is* perfection as Mary Crawford). The script dashes along at a headlong pace – it's like the Cliffnotes version of Mansfield Park. And Billie Piper, while a great actress, is frightfully miscast. 😛 It's kind of an entertaining movie if you can get past all the inaccuracies, but I really wouldn't recommend it as a good (or even 'okay') adaption.

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