So first round of questions from Misty's blog The Book Rat for her Austen in August are:
- What were your initial impressions of the story? Not just the characters and their respective situations, but also the style and tone - if you've read Austen before, do you find Mansfield Park to be very different in any significant ways?
My initial impression? Long, boring. I have not identified with any of the characters other than Mary. This is very different from her usual tone and style. We are usually rallying around the heroine by now and her love interest. But the only one I'm rooting for is Mary!
- Going more into the characters now, Mansfield Park's inhabitants are pretty universally considered Austen's hardest to love. What was your response to them through the first half of this story? Do you feel for any of them? Hate any of them with a vehemence beyond that which you normally reserve for fictional characters? And if you try to look at them objectively, do you have any more sympathy (or disgust) with their actions and behavior?
I have no great love for any of the characters. Poor Fanny Price is just a pawn. She has no power. She's less than a servant because she is dependent upon her aunt and uncle. She's thus been raised to have no voice. Yes, that does change as time goes on but not much.
Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram are really terrible as is Henry Crawford. Hate is a strong word but vehemently dislike is what I'd describe for these characters.
I do sympathize for many of them. The way society has set up their respective roles is stifling and horrifying. Mrs. Norris is also dependent but acts as if she isn't. Lady Bertram does nothing and has no cares and therefore no passion or desires and ways to cultivate empathy. She does nothing and therefore cares for nothing.
The men have their own roles that box them in. The eldest Tom has no desire to be the responsible one; it's too much pressure so he's the spoiled son and destroys his inheritance and that of his younger brother Edmund. Sir Thomas must keep up appearances and keep his estates going. Always away from his family leaves him unimportant in his family's eyes.
- Fanny is often considered to be a very milquetoast, frustratingly passive heroine. Do you agree with this perception of her? Do you find yourself making excuses for her or holding things against her? Or do you feel that Fanny is underestimated as a character? Consider the scene in the Rushworth's park, as Fanny sits for hours, waiting to be noticed again, while everyone around her seeks their own amusement.
She is morally superior to all of the characters. But that doesn't mean much. She's a bit self-righteous but circumstances force her to be more humble about it than Edmund. Is it environment? Being a 'beggar' in the Bertram family, does that force her to be more contrite and to see the world differently? She has her convictions and she shows them later on. But in this volume she's jealous and self-righteous.
- "The Play" and preparation for it is one of the most telling and pivotal scenes in Mansfield Park - discuss your reaction to the entire Lover's Vows storyline: what it brings to light in the characters, what changes and ruptures it causes among them, things that amused or irritated you, etc. Did your feelings about any of the characters change as a result of The Play? How did you feel about Fanny during this whole incident? Would you have liked to see the play - and its aftermath - without the intrusion of the returning Lord Bertram?
The play. It seems so amusing from a modern-day perspective but it's so telling. Poor Rushworth who the bumbling idiot and no one likes him or takes him seriously. The back and forth between Edmund and Mary about playing the lovers. The shaming of poor Fanny who refuses to participate. The excuses Edmund makes to alleviate his conscience is quite telling. Who loves whom comes out and who is playing who. We start to see the true colors of Henry as well.
Yes, I would have loved to see the play play out. Too bad Lord Bertram comes home to such chaos.
Fanny begins standing up for herself here. This a good thing. She's having to separate herself from what Edmund can do for her and see where her own convictions and values lie.
- Many of the relationships we've been introduced to so far are very contentious: Maria and Julia, sometimes Tom and Edmund, Mrs Norris and everybody. And in fact, the story starts with a rift in the family. What do you make of the "friendships" and family dynamics in the story, and of the changes wrought by the entrance of the Crawfords?
Everyone seems to be competing against each other. Who loves me best? Why do others hate me or annoy me so much? I'd say there are no real friendships in this story, just pretend ones. Mrs. Norris loves no one and therefore no one loves her back. She's a nuisance and a busy-body who forces her way into everything to feel important. Maria and Julia must fight for love and affection from others. That's how they have been taught. It's not all about family; it's about how society views you. Who's on top and who's on bottom. Competition for the best mate. Edmund is a self-righteous arse. Tom is lazy and hates the societal and familial pressure of being the first born male. Of course, they are going to not get along.
The Crawfords add an interesting dynamic. Love interests for all!
- Is there anything else you'd like to talk about from Volume One?
Volume One was tough. This is a hard book. It's taking me a lot longer than I ever imagined to work my way through it.