Mansfield Park

October 6, 2010

I have a question for the Jane Austen readers among you:  is the pacing way off on Mansfield Park, or did I miss something?  It’s like endless commentary on everyone’s moral fiber, to an extent that’s almost preachy and not really reminiscent of other Austen, then, in the second to last chapter, OMG THE BIGGEST MOST HORRIBLE SCANDAL IN A JANE AUSTEN BOOK EVER SERIOUSLY, but at least it means everybody gets what they deserve, the end.  I can’t say I ever once rooted for the heroine (though I certainly felt sorry for her and wished everyone would leave her alone), because it was just too clearly laid out that she was the only sensible one and of course she would get what she wanted.

One of the things I love about my favorite Austen book, Persuasion, is that the climactic moment is drawn out (Anne sees him writing the letter, the letter is delivered, she reads it slowly. . .), the suspense heightens, and you finally realize that yes, things really are going to work out between Anne and Frederick even though it seemed impossible.

Mansfield Park, on the other hand, felt like a lecture with an ending tacked on.  My least favorite Austen.  Anyone else feel this way or is it just me?

Now, I just have Emma to go and I’ll have read them all. . .

15 Responses to “Mansfield Park”

  1. Kathryn Says:

    Mansfield Park is the only Jane Austen book I can stand, mostly because all the other ones are so slow and the scandals seems so trivial.

    Hate me, disagree with me, pity me for “not understanding,” but that’s how I feel.

  2. spiderorchid Says:

    I have only read “Emma” and “Sense and Sensibility” which I liked very much, but if the pacing in “Mansfield Park” is even slower I would call that too slow too. I read the synopsis of the book and it sounded rather cliché…
    Not really an answer to your question, so I’ll just recommend “Emma” which is really funny. ^_^

  3. carriev Says:

    The scandals in the other books may seem trivial, because they’re very much dependent on the mores of the time. You have to look at them in the context of that society.

    And that’s what shocked me about the scandal in Mansfield Park — we’d consider that a pretty big scandal _now_. Seeing it in an Austen novel, I thought “holy crap, really!?!” I had to read the page a couple of times.

  4. carriev Says:

    (PS) I’m not judging, just trying to start a conversation…

  5. Kim Power Says:

    I’m with you on this one, Carrie. Got bored out of my brain and I usually love Austen.

  6. Jaws Says:

    Jane Austen is to novel-writing as basic analytic chemistry lab (inorganic or organic) is to chemical engineering: There are experiments done there that you have to understand in order to get to the real world — and some of them can be elegant and worth pondering further in isolation — but they’re not worth emulating in the real world.

    For one thing, the real world (that part of Britain outside the particular towns depicted, let alone outside of Britain) never intrudes into Austen novels, except (in a couple of instances) as passing subjects of conversation. For example, was anyone disturbed at all that the nation’s obessions with Napoleon never worked their way into more than a name-dropped casual reference? It’s very similar to the polite-chemists-don’t-discuss-impure-reagents problem.

    For another, the pacing of all of Austen’s novels seems “off” to me; that’s simply not one of the subjects of the experiments, and nobody should be reading Austen for pacing. The basic experiment of extracting and purifying the caffeine from Lipton instant tea — a classic experiment, often the first one done in an organic chemistry lab — more than amply refutes every chemical extraction depicted on CSI (or any other forensics drama), because it emphasizes that doing the work safely takes much more time than can be depicted in fiction: It gives a new meaning to “hurry up and wait.” That makes it no less valuable an experiment to actually perform… even if a chemical engineer will never attempt to emulate it.

  7. carriev Says:

    Maybe I should clarify. When I say “the pacing is off” I wasn’t really thinking in terms of “compared to novels in general” but compared to Austen’s other work.

    Mansfield Park seems uncharacteristic of Austen based on what else I’ve read of hers. Not being anything like Austen scholar, I wondered if there was an official take on this.

    I can read Persuasion in one sitting. Mansfield Park is a slog.

  8. Jaws Says:

    I’m not sure how much difference it makes; I think the pacing off in all of Austen’s novels, so then we’re just arguing over which is worst among the bad… a rather silly argument, even after a year of seminars at [name of Austen-worshipping UK school deleted for my own protection].

  9. HR Says:

    Hi Carrie:

    You might be interested to know that Mansfield Park (MP) is often considered the “problem novel” of Austen’s canon, having the dubious distinction of being disliked by more Austen’s fans than any of her other novels (the latter part I’m paraphrasing from an Austen fan site🙂 ). MP is distinguished from Austen’s other works by its omniscient narrative, moral didactic-ism, and shy/lackluster heroine. As Sarah Emsley, an Austen critic, puts it, MP is not quite what anyone expects it to be (certainly compared to Austen’s other works).

    Beyond the moral didactic tone, I feel the novel is truly rich and quite ambitious in the many themes that it explores, so much so that critics have a hard time pinning the novel down. Is this a novel about ordination? Is it an allegory on Regency England? Is it about slavery/colonialism? (this is a favorite topic, esp. since Edward Said’s famous “Jane Austen and Empire” analysis). Is it about the education of children? Is it about the difference between appearances and reality? Is it about the results of breaking with society’s morés? Or all of the above?🙂

    Another interesting fact is that MP was the first of Austen’s novels which was not a revision of an earlier work. It was written by a more mature Jane (I think she was in her late 30s when she wrote MP; it was written between 1811 and 1813 and published in 1814).

    Anyway, sorry for the long post! I just took a grad. course on Austen and couldn’t resist responding to your post. If you’d like to take a glance at some critical articles on MP, I can e-mail you references/links.

    Cheers,

    Hallie (from Taos Toolbox)

  10. carriev Says:

    Hi Hallie! That was exactly what I was looking for! Some validation that I wasn’t crazy for thinking that!

    MP seems almost more Victorian. Proto-Victorian? It does present a rather damning critique of this family that by all appearances is charming and perfect but has all these seething problems under the surface.

    I was aware of the Said analysis but haven’t read it, though if I recall there was a movie version about 10 years ago that incorporated some of those issues.


  11. Martin Amis once wrote that Mansfield Park is the price that we (and Jane Austen) must pay for having enjoyed Pride & Prejudice so much.

  12. Nonny Says:

    Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice run neck and neck as my favorites. JA rewrote the ending of Persuasion on her death bed, and raised it from excellent to truly, truly wonderful.

  13. Elena. Says:

    According to one of my many Austen biographies (the only one I found some information about MP so quickly: Wolfang Martynkewicz’s “Jane Austen”, pp. 110f, 114ff): She worked on MP for 2.5 years, much longer as for any other of her novels. She gathered a lot of information in advance. Also she had to interrupt her work several times, which lead to changes in subject, place, and style. Also, according to the bio, Vladimir Nabokov said, this shows, that Austen was tired of the novel. Hope that helps.

    So… I think quite the same about MP as you, Carrie.
    I really dislike the ending. Though I felt sorry for Fanny at the beginning, she soon began to annoy me beyond everything. And Edmund! That *%$?*!! For me it seems that when Mary was finally gone he was looking around him, seeing Fanny, and thinking “Well, I’ll take her then.” So, as much as Fanny annoys me, Edmund doesn’t deserve her.

  14. carriev Says:

    Yes — it didn’t have at all the sense of two likable, like-minded souls finding each other in spite of the strictures of Regency society, like Anne and Frederick and Elizabeth and Darcy do.

  15. Matthew Says:

    MP has been my favorite of Austen’s since the first time I read it (and I love her other novels, too). I got an aticle published just the other day on MP and scandal which might be of interest.

    http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ap1601/1601Taylor.htm

    I’m not claiming expertise here; I’m just an ordinary Austen lover in the pro-MP camp. But my theory is that the scandal of MP happens on many levels, and to some extent Austen is playing with our minds . . .


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