Monday, December 31, 2007

Mansfield Park- Almost Perfect

I would have gone into raptures over Mansfield Park, but for the fact that marriage between cousins reminds me of the ancient Egyptian custom where siblings in royal families married each other so that the blood of the offspring remained pure, unpolluted by external influences. In every other way, Mansfield Park is a lovely picture of English society and the disparities that plagued it in the nineteenth century.

Fanny Price is removed from poverty and brought up in comfort among her cousins, but she remains grounded. She remembers the beloved brother of her childhood, and is thrilled when offered a chance, after years of separation, to visit her family in Portsmouth. She takes this opportunity to wield a good influence on her less fortunate siblings, taking care not to offend her parents in the process. She resists the advances of the irrepressible Mr. Crawford after witnessing his flirtatious behaviour towards her cousins Maria and Julia. Fanny’s heart almost breaks when her kindest, most sensible cousin Edmund falls prey to Mary Crawford’s charms, Mary being one of those women who can never really prefer nobility of character to wealth. In every aspect, Fanny is the ideal young woman- never doing anything wrong, sticking to her principles and standing her ground even when everybody around her tries to push her into a financially favourable relationship. Perfect Fanny Price. The only part of Mansfield Park that doesn’t appeal to me, as I mentioned in the beginning, is the marriage of Fanny to Edmund, who were initially brought up as sister and brother.

I enjoyed Mansfield Park because of the variety of characters and scenes. It is not restricted to middle class or affluent society, like Pride and Prejudice, and doesn’t have endless conversations as Emma does. It is an extremely interesting mixture of the different sort of people and circumstances that society is made up of. Austen conjures up some memorable characters: Mrs. Norris, the regular shrew, who leads the girls of the Bertram family astray with her misplaced concern and detests Fanny for her poverty; selfish, indolent Lady Bertram, to whom appearance and propriety matter more than affection; the sisters Maria and Julia Bertram, who are only interested in being wooed, and turn against each other in their quest for the same man.

Mansfield Park also seems to me less sedate and prim than the other Austen novels. Perhaps because it tells the story of a girl who comes from a humble background and has no pretence in her manner, it comes out warm and pleasant. As of now, it is my favourite Austen novel- a rung above Sense and Sensibility.

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