Last August I took part in RoofBeamReader’s Austen in August event and i was keen to participate again this summer; having read all six of Austen’s novels I was always going to be going for a reread, but the big question was which one? I’m not sure why I chose Mansfield Park, for a while I was trying to convince myself it was the novel I read the furtherest ago (if that makes sense?) but it isn’t, that honour goes to Sense and Sensibility. But whatever my reasons this was the book I took with me to Devon to enjoy on my week away.
At the age of nine, Fanny Price is sent away from her ever growing family in Portsmouth to live with her wealthy Aunt Bertram and her four cousins at Mansfield Park. At first she is scared, timid and unbelievably shy, believing that she is a burden to the family and that they few her as inferior. Whilst this is true for the majority of the family, her cousin Edmund encourages and welcomes her and she starts to feel more at home as the years go by. When Fanny is eighteen the society she lives in welcomes brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford and so the troubles begin, with illicit love affairs, unrequited proposals and family shame thrown in to the mix.
As I was reading Mansfield Park I glanced over the suggested book group questions at the back of my edition and became intrigued by one question in particular; how different is Fanny Price to other Austen heroines? The more I read the more I began to ponder this question, especially as my interest in the narrative wavered from time to time, something which rarely happens during an Austen novel. Usually I am swept away in the trials and tribulations of the feisty and animated heroine, but this was not the case and so I returned to the book club question. Yes, Fanny is incredibly different to the likes of Elizabeth Bennett, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse. It is true that she is virtuous, loyal and moral, everything a woman in the early nineteenth century was supposed to be, but she has no fight. When she believes Henry Crawford’s behaviour towards her engaged cousin is immoral, she says nothing. When she is scared her much loved cousin may marry the wrong woman, she says nothing. When she is abandoned for too long visiting relatives in Portsmouth, she says nothing. Admittedly she gets the life she hopes and dreams for at the end of the novel and she does deserve this, but she is a tad insipid for an Austen heroine in my humble opinion.
I was going to read Sense and Sensibility next and follow that up with Joh Mullan’s What Matters in Jane Austen? But I think I might make Northanger Abbey my next Austen read as it is a story I don’t really remember. Hopefully I’ll get round to it before the end of August, but I have started on an Agatha Christie marathon (more of which next week) so who knows.