This is the fourth in my series of posts wherein I get weird and write reviews for classic books in the form of letters to the characters. I’m re-reading all of Jane Austen’s books in 2016, and it has so far been lovely, even with this one. May was Mansfield Park month, and I was looking forward to it, as it has been my least favorite Austen since I first read it, and thought that might make for an interesting reading experience. In fact, until now, it’s the only one of her books I hadn’t re-read. (Spoilers for a two hundred year old book to follow. Seriously, all the spoilers. Don’t read this if you haven’t read the book yet, which I do highly recommend the audio on, by the way. Juliet Stevenson is a great narrator.)
(Also, I finished this book in May and it is almost August. This review was not easy to write–this book is just not one that engages me.)
– – –
Dear Sir Thomas,
I think I’m supposed to like you, but I don’t. You raised two largely useless children, and one that is sort of useful some of the time, but has an annoying propensity to mansplain things and fall for questionable women. You also treat your niece Fanny with indifference for most of her life. I know she doesn’t make being her family easy (you could probably just look at her little face to see she’s quietly judging you, and she probably doesn’t make for a great conversationalist). But still, you don’t pay attention to her until she’s pretty. I don’t know how else to interpret your actions.
And then you start playing favorites with her against your own children. I suppose it’s nice that Fanny ends up with a father figure in her life, when her own is nothing special, but it makes you look like an ass. Raise frivolous, morally suspect children and then turn on them, that’s what you do.
(When you yelled at Fanny and made her cry for refusing to marry a man she found unsuitable, I did hate you very much indeed. And I don’t even like Fanny all that much! I just hate arrogant bullies.)
Dear Mr. Rushworth,
I think I’m supposed to find you ridiculous, but I just feel sorry for you. Nobody takes you seriously even before you marry Maria and she cheats on you with Mr. Foofy Pants I’m So Hot Right Now I Can’t Even Contain Myself.
That’s . . . all I got.
Mehhhh. You’re okay. I’m really trying here, but Fanny likes you, and that’s really your only identifying characteristic: being her only loved sibling.
But then you show up in the end, and I guess Fanny learns to love you, too, and you should be grateful for being taken out of that disgraceful uncivilized household and brought into a REAL household where you can learn to be a REAL person just like Fanny did. That is the lesson here.
Dear Mrs. Price,
I just feel like you don’t care. You married for love, right? How did that work out for you? You’re just basically like, TAKE MY CHILDREN, JUST TAKE ‘EM, all the time. I don’t get you, and I don’t care to. I said Good Day.
Friends was after your time (and also you are fictional), but allow me to quote you a poem. It’s called “The Empty Vase”:
‘Translucent beauty . . .
My vessel so empty with nothing inside.
Now that I’ve touched you,
you seem emptier still.’
An asshole wrote this poem, but you should probably think it over real hard.
In your case the emptiness is mostly because you’re morally bankrupt, but you know, it works so I’m going with it. Please feel bad about sullying such a pretty face.
Dear Lady Bertram,
I don’t know, man. Maybe pay more attention to your actual children than your dog?
You have terrible taste in men, and you are a terrible sister.
You have terrible taste in men, you are a terrible sister, and you make bad choices that hurt people.
(I do feel bad, though, that you will be the one suffering the scandal, and not Henry Crawford. He’ll probably charm the skirts off some other gullible heiress and be just fine in the end.)
The first time I read this book, I thought you were okay. Obviously a bit dim or shallow, to have misread Mary Crawford so completely, and not seen Fanny at all, but that’s forgivable. This time through, though, I found you bothersome. You are soooo patronizing to Fanny, and so full of your own righteousness, I very much wanted to kick you in the pants. You think you are so much better than all your family members, including Fanny, but you’re so busy being right, you can’t even see your own faults. And this is never really rectified, to my satisfaction.
You shoulda groveled, son.
I don’t know why, but I like you.
That’s all. Go about your day.
I feel like you are the key to understanding this novel, which is tough because for much of it, you are an empty center the plot just rotates around. You are almost completely passive, and even as you’re just sitting there watching events unfold, we get almost nothing of your feelings regarding what’s happening. Like, that whole thing with the ha-ha, you just watched those fools cross boundaries with each other and you could see the disaster coming, but you did nothing but sit there and judge them. That’s right, people think you’re sweet and kind because you’re quiet, but you’re not kind or sweet; you are silent because you do not feel safe enough to speak your peace. In reality, you are a pretty, judgmental little squirrel, with almost no compassion for the plights of others. Inside, I feel like your brain is just an unending mantra of, “Well, their own fault, really.” That, and chains of looping images of Edmund with hearts floating over his head.
This was the key for me:
“The remembrance of all her earliest pleasures, and of what she had suffered in being torn from them, came over her with renewed strength, and it seemed as if to be at home again would heal every pain that had since grown out of the separation. To be in the centre of such a circle, loved by so many, and more loved by all than she had ever been before; to feel affection without fear or restraint; to feel herself the equal of those who surrounded her; to be at peace from all mention of the Crawfords, safe from every look which could be fancied a reproach on their account. This was a prospect to be dwelt on with a fondness that could be but half acknowledged.”
You don’t desire compassion or generosity in companions, you desire to be their equals. You only remained silent as a child, and even as your cousins committed wrongdoings, because you felt you had no power or right to speak. But your desire for equality does not translate to a wish for others to be equal as well. You’re just in it for you. By the end, you’ve got Edmund, you’re the center of the family (Julia, Tom, and Maria, we do not speak of). You don’t hate them or wish them ill, but you won’t try to help them.
You didn’t want anyone paying attention to you when you were younger, not because you were modest or shy, but because you were afraid they’d find out what you really thought.
I am perhaps misinterpreting your actions, but I find you and your book perplexing, and the ultimate point of the narrative you’re enmeshed in eludes me.
I do wish you well in your new happy life as the Princess of Mansfield Park.
Dear Mrs. Norris,
I find it fitting that you were immortalized in the minds of young children (and anyone else who loves Harry Potter) as a vicious, nosy cat. Like you, feline Mrs. Norris is a bothersome thorn, but not worthy of hatred, just pity in the end.
—> Jane Eyre
—> Sense and Sensibility
—> Pride and Prejudice
Thank you for those eloquent thoughts regarding Henry Crawford. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
This is my least favorite. Even Jonny Lee Miller couldn’t save this one for me.
However, I will always have a soft spot for poor Mr Rushworth simply because of Hugh Bonneville’s top-notch dithering and all-around idiocy in the movie.
I would have had more to say about him had I written this in may or even June . . . but I’ve forgotten most of what I read, to be honest.
I’ve never seen the Jonny Lee Miller version, only the BBC one with Hayley Atwell and Billie Piper, which was fun enough, but completely betrays the spirit of the book by turning it into a romantic comedy with a happy ending.
I’ll have to check the other one out. I do love a good Bonneville dither (he’s excellent at it in Notting Hill as well).
The Johnny Lee Miller and Frances O’Connor version is the only one I’ve seen, and it also doesn’t stick to the book. It seems the writers decided to turn Fanny into an Austen stand-in, but sticks pretty close otherwise. I, of course, love it because it hit me at just the right time.
I always felt sorry for Mr. Rushworth, too. I’ve always enjoyed Mansfield Park in a car crash sort of way. Everyone in it is so awful, but I was mesmerized by their poor choices and unable to look away.
I think their being awful is the point, but it’s still not very fun to read about! At least, not compared to all her other books.
I’ve only read three of Austen’s novels and this review only strengthens my resolve to not read Mansfield Park and not feel bad about it.
Awww, I think if you like Austen, you should read them all at least once. It’s not unredeemable at all!
This: Mr. Foofy Pants I’m So Hot Right Now I Can’t Even Contain Myself
Gave me much LOL.
I’m glad that terrible joke made at least one more person besides me laugh. Honestly, I’m not very funny or witty, but when I write weird things it’s usually because I think they’re funny. I’m like the nerd girl version of Dad Jokes.
I always love your letters to fictional people and actually squealed out loud when I saw this review was up. Sadly, it’s been a long time since I read Mansfield Park and I therefore don’t remember the plot or characters well enough to fully appreciate your wit.
Ha, I wouldn’t really call it wit. It’s basically extended name-calling.
Great review! I don’t know if it’s because I drink deeply of the Austen kool-aid but I really like Mansfield Park. I didn’t the first time I read it but after watching the Johnny Lee Miller movie I revisited it and was able to understand Fanny a little better. Each child is reacting to the negativity in which they were raised. Edmund and Fanny reject it, as does Tom, but the others embrace it. Fanny is remarkable because she doesn’t allow others to determine her worth. All of the other characters do and as a result they are destructive and… Read more »
Yeah, it’s a really interesting book to *talk* about, but I have a really hard time emotionally connecting to it. I love seeing everyone’s reactions to it, and what they think of the characters. There are some really good, almost essay-like reviews of it over on Goodreads. It almost makes me miss grad school (I took a social satire seminar where all we did was read the works of Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh and it was so fun.)
These letters are the greatest. I appreciate the time you put into them, especially this one. Mansfield Park is Austen’s least accessible novel, but I spent many years believing it was my favorite (I’m on a major Emma kick now). Fanny is a deeply hard person to like, but I love her for her refusal to give up her own sense of right. That confrontation with Sir Thomas shows how much of a person she is inside herself and how very repugnant he is.
I’m sooo excited for my re-read of Emma, which I’m actually starting as soon as I finish the last Bill Hodges book (so, soon!) It wasn’t a book I liked the first time, but I like it more and more every time I read it.
I agree with you about Fanny. I just feel like I can’t find an ‘in’ with her, even as I respect her. Oh, that scene with Sir Thomas made me SO MAD. Poor girl.