Jane Austen Book Club: Mansfield Park

Tuesday, 17 September 2013
Mansfield Park (1814) was Quintessentially English's Jane Austen Book Club's novel for August. In previous months I have finished Jane Austen's novels long before month-end but with Mansfield Park I really struggled. I found it really hard to get interested in the story and once I put the book down, I would forget about it. Fanny Price might have been the paradigm of wholesome values in the 1800s, but for my modern perspective she is a timid goody-two-shoes!

Unlike Austen's previous heroines, I found it incredibly difficult to sympathise with Fanny, there is not one ounce of her character that I could take in a modern light. The most obvious example of her "goodness" is when she refuses to take part in the play as she believes the content is inappropriate (it contains adultery) and that her uncle, Sir Thomas, would not approve. Even her cousin, Edmund, who dreams of being a vicar agrees to take a role in play. True he only agrees after he finds out that Mary Crawford would play his love interest, but still, come on Fanny!

Billie Piper as Fanny Price in ITV's Mansfield Park (2007)
Billie Piper as Fanny Price in ITV's Mansfield Park (2007)

Besides the fact that Mansfield Park has an annoying heroine, Jane Austen's third novel is also her most controversial. Like Jane Austen's early works, Mansfield Park is a social commentary on the gentry-class but what makes this novel controversial is it's illusion to slavery.

Sir Thomas Bertram, the wealthy owner of Mansfield Park, is also the owner of a sugar plantation in Antigua. Although not expressly mentioned in the novel, it is clear to readers that the estate of Mansfield Park was made possible through slave labour. When Sir Thomas leaves for a year to deal with the problems at the estate in Antigua, the rest of the characters seem perfectly oblivious to the situation. You would think considering their entire livelihoods rely on how things go in Antigua they would care a bit more.

To be truthful my favourite part of Mansfield Park was finally reading about the namesake of Harry Potter's Mrs. Norris. J.K. Rowling said she named Argus Filch's cat after Mansfield Park's Mrs. Norris because the cat "is similarly odious and is hanging around in the background a lot."[1]

Mrs Norris with her owner, Argus Filch
Mrs. Norris with her owner, Argus Filch

With Mansfield Park done and dusted, it's time to move on to Jane Austen's fourth book and fourth month in Quintessentially English's Jane Austen Book Club - Emma. I started reading it last night, three chapters in and I already prefer it to Mansfield Park!

Q: What did you think about Mansfield Park?

Erin x

Quintessentially English's Jane Austen Book Club


  1. I am the same - found this way more difficult to read than her other books! I am looking forward to the less heavy Emma!! I had no idea that Mrs Norris was named after Mrs Norris (duh!). I also adore the bloke who plays Emma's love interest in the film Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow - I will be watching a lot as 'research'!

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