My Struggle with Mansfield Park

So I’m working on rewriting Mansfield Park.

And I’m struggling.

A lot.

At the risk of upsetting fellow Austenites who have a different opinion, there is something about Fanny Price that I find less than…attractive (I’m trying to be nice). At least in the first part of the novel.

Perhaps it is her insecurity and shyness. Or maybe it is the way she takes on the role of caretaker for everyone except herself.

But then she changes.

And I start to like her. At least a little.

When she stands up to her uncle and refuses to marry Crawford, I find myself cheering for her. It’s about time, I want to yell through the pages of the book.

Standing up for yourself is not the easiest thing to do. Fanny’s banishment away from Mansfield Park (and back to her parents’ home!) seems like a very extreme punishment, especially given Mr. Bennet’s very different reaction when Elizabeth refuses Mr. Collins. By sending Fanny back to her parents, Sir Thomas ensures that Fanny sees firsthand the living conditions of her youth. It’s a not so subtle reminder of how she would have grown up had the Bertrams not taken care of her.

Ironically, while Sir Thomas may have thought Fanny lacked the ability to change in the beginning of the novel, he certainly realizes that she has when she accepts the punishment with not even one complaint.

Her determination to refuse Henry’s offer of marriage is admirable.

It’s quite a different Fanny Price who stands up to Sir Thomas. I don’t believe that any of the Bertrams, including Edmund, expected that from her. After all, all of her life she has been basically pushed around and bullied by so many in the family. For the most part, she makes the conscious choice to avoid confrontation. But when Sir Thomas insists on her marriage, Fanny basically says “No more bullying!”

How often do we stand up for ourselves, butting heads with others who disagree or have a different perspective on a situation? What begins as a personal stance for our individual rights or beliefs becomes an impossible situation from which to retreat. Sometimes we have to humble ourselves and accept what feels like a humiliating defeat, admitting wrong doing when we feel that we are right. I think Jane Austen says it best: “Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”

But there are other times when we have to become Fanny Price and draw a line in the sand. And it’s not a popular stance.

Of course, in Fanny’s situation, the fact that she stood up for herself is the catalyst for Henry’s fall, Rushmore’s liberation, and Edmund’s revelation. Why, exactly, did it take him so long to finally see Mary Crawford’s true colors and FINALLY realize that Fanny is the woman he loves? Funny how that worked out…but I’ll save my opinion on Edmund for another blog post.

16 Responses to My Struggle with Mansfield Park

  1. I just found this blog and after I read it I HAD to re-read MP. You hit the nail on the head when you said Fanny Price was hard to explain. Just look at the failure of the movie adaptations in their attempts to portray her.

    At her childhood home, there were too many children coming too quickly and she and William being the oldest were the care givers for the younger babies. As an older sister…I can relate to her predicament in caring for younger siblings. My youngest brother thinks of me as a second mom. She was her mother’s right hand and a strong influence with the other children. Logic says that having grown up in a home with a drunken father…survival skills would have been learned early. She knew to not draw his notice, to keep the babies quiet, and when he had a hangover…to keep down noise and to stay out of his way.

    The best way to describe her life at MP is Benign Neglect. From the moment she was in the carriage with Mrs. Norris she was made aware of her standing in the Bertram household. Mrs. Norris hammered the idea that she should feel gratitude and an obligation to them for having taken her in. To her older female cousins, she was ignorant and beneath their notice. To Lady Bertram, she was as useful as a maid. To Sir Thomas, she was a charity case and therefore beneath his children and his attention. He didn’t even know she worked in a room with no fire. To Mrs. Norris, she was a scapegoat to everything wrong in her life and someone to scold, chide and manipulate. To Tom, she wasn’t a horse or a deck of cards so she didn’t exist.

    In the last chapter of MP it says of Edmund and Fanny…“Loving, guiding, protecting her, as he had been doing ever since her being ten years old, her mind in so great a degree formed by his care, and her comfort depending on his kindness—“

    As a younger son, Edmund knew he was for the church and had been preparing for it his whole life. Fanny grew up in that shadow…she in a sense trained with him as she watched him, talked and had lengthy discussions with him on matters of faith. In chapter XXX, Crawford considered and listed her qualities as a wife…lastly considering her being well principled and religious.

    The center of Fanny’s universe was her religious beliefs, honor, integrity and her love of Edmund. Everything else fell under that umbrella. Everything that happened was examined and filtered under the light of her faith. If it did not set well with her faith and principles…it was wrong. The actions of both Mr. and Miss Crawford, and their influence within the Bertram family, were wrong and nothing would make Fanny consider him. She could not respect him as a person, let alone as a husband, and at the core of her soul, she would not, could not accept such a person.

    I look forward to future blogs on this subject. I didn’t mean to run off. I’m really glad someone is tackling MP. It has sat silent for too long.

  2. This story is sort of a gloomy one for me and I do think I admire Fanny for turning down Crawford. I always felt that I just couldn’t grasp the novel the way it might have been intended for the reader. I do think that Edmund understood Fanny more than anyone else. However, right from the beginning she was never treated well unless they needed her for whatever use they could get out of her.Well, needless to say it is not my favorite novel at all! It seemed that love lacked throughout the novel!

  3. I’m with you. Mansfield Park isn’t my favorite, but Fanny isn’t my biggest problem. I really don’t like Edmund, and I struggle to relate to the whole problem of the play. So many of the characters have likeability issues.

    • A lot of people seem not to like Edmund, but I don’t really understand why. He had the same poor upbringing as his siblings and yet he is a far nicer and more compassionate person than any of them, and he is a lot more compassionate than Fanny for that matter. He is the only person who was kind to Fanny when she came to live with them (and considering that he was a teenager, who are often self-absorbed, makes that all the more striking). He values all her good qualities, which nobody else does until the Crawfords come along. Yes, he gets his head turned by Miss Crawford, but he’s never met anybody like her before. I can freely forgive Elizabeth Bennet being attracted to somebody charming who is lacking in moral fibre and if I can forgive her I can freely forgive Edmund too. I don’t like that Edmund forgot Fanny’s horse riding, as he is concentrating on Miss C, but it wasn’t done out of malice, and him advising her to marry Crawford makes sense by the values of the day but is a little disappointing. However, I don’t expect perfection, and his shortcoming in this latter case really gives Fanny’s strength of character a chance to shine.

      I know some people feel that he ‘settled’ for Fanny but I don’t read it like that at all. When the Crawfords came into their lives he still viewed Fanny as a child, and Crawford’s interest in her made Edmund look at her in a new light, but at the time Edmund had feelings for Miss Crawford. After his disappointment with Miss Crawford he turns back to Fanny for friendship, which gradually develops further. It’s not the most romantic tale, but I don’t think that Austen intended the story primarily as a romance. I wish that she had expanded in their courtship a little more though, as I feel that more people might have a higher estimation of Edmund.

  4. I nicknamed Mansfield Park “the problem novel” when I was in college. Fanny Price is really vanilla for most of the novel and she gets a slap in the face at the end of the novel when Edmund resigns himself to marrying her, but he doesn’t love her like she loves him. Granted, she doesn’t seem to realize this, but still it is cringe worthy as an avid Austen reader.

  5. Well, look at it this way…maybe it’ll help. She CANNOT be any worse than Fanny in Sense & Sensibility! :/ You don’t have to like her a lot – just write about her as she is. We all have our good and bad sides…our strengths and our weaknesses. 😛 You can do this, gf!!

  6. I have to admit that I never warmed up to Mansfield Park or any of its characters. I think this is mainly because of Fanny Price, because she never touched me as a heroine. I was interested to read your struggles in rewriting. Kudos for tackling it!

  7. Oh, haha, when I saw the title I thought this was going to be different. I struggle with Mansfield Park reimaginings, but usually because of issues modernizing the other elements – slavery, priesthood hero, ridiculous number of side characters – I like Fanny. She’s not the most beloved character, but I like how much she’s in her head. Although I probably would have said yes to Crawford. I’m a sucker for bad decisions. :p

  8. Fanny Price is the heroine many people love to hate. Almost all the movies show her as an entirely different person from Austen’s creation. People say “I love Austen ” and then go on to say that they disagree with the people Austen pairs up. I think Elizabeth and Darcy and Anne and Wentworth are the only couples wholly approved of by readers and critics. Fanny has been despised as a prig , & as a creep mouse. It is odd but while she is despised for effacing herself, Emma is hated for being her opposite. In the end many critics and readers just wanted Austen to recreate Elizabeth Bennet in all of her books.
    In the beginning of the book Fanny is ten years old , sent away from her family where she was of some use and where she had a place as the oldest daughter, to a place where she was no one. No one told her why she was being sent away. No one except Edmund welcomed her or was kind to her. Her female cousins looked down on her because her education wasn’t as thorough as theirs had been. Fanny had to develop inner resources and inner strength because she had nothing and no one to protect her. Edmund was away at school for most of the year and when home could only spend a little time with her. Fanny felt abandoned. She became accustomed to the life. She effaced herself while making herself useful. She knew that she could be tossed out at any time. When it finally happened she accepted it because she had always known it could happen.
    I have always had the greatest sympathy for Fanny and think it a wonder that she was able to develop a strong sense of right and wrong, and the strength to withstand the pressure placed on her by Sir Thomas. of course, we do not know what Sir Thomas would say if he knew how Crawford had treated his daughters.

  9. I struggled with liking Fanny Price too. I think for me it wasn’t that she was so downtrodden, but I found her judgemental. It took her meeting her sister Susan to realise that your environment shapes your character, but even having learned that she never applies that to the Crawfords whose moral outlooks are both shaped by their upbringing.

    I was proud of her for refusing to marry Crawford, though. For a girl in her situation this would have been an extremely fortunate offer, but unless he had changed his morals fundamentally she could have ended up being miserable.

    • Oooo! I love that word: DOWNTRODDEN! Yes! That sums it up, Ceri!!!! Your upbringing comment is interesting. Environment does shape people’s framework for decision making. Yet, Maria made such bad choices and Edmund ALMOST did, too. And let’s not discuss the older brother. He’s just a disaster. They lived in the same environment, yet she was not treated well. So maybe it’s a combination of both…environment and experiences.

Your thoughts are precious!