Jane Austen had already published her beloved Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice when she introduced her readers to Mansfield Park in 1814. Of a more serious nature, Mansfield Park is not as well known as the first two, but, in my opinion, it is just as wonderful. It has been proclaimed by one as "the most sensible novel I have ever read."
Fanny Price left her large, poor family at the age of ten to live with her wealthy relations, Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park, and his family. She is viewed as the poor and inferior relation by most of her cousins, except Edmund, who is a pillar of strength for her. She grows up to be a quiet yet inwardly strong young woman with a heart to serve and a deep sense of what is right. When she is eighteen years old, her quiet, contented world is turned upside down when her uncle leaves for the West Indies to oversea business there, and Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive in their circle of friends, fresh out of London society.
Fanny alone observes the trouble in their midst as Henry Crawford plays with the affections of her cousins, Maria and Julia, the former of the two already being commited to marry a Mr. Rushworth of great fortune. Things go from bad to worse, from Henry's flirtations and Mary's spiteful remarks on the clergy (Edmund's profession), to the decision to perform a play at Mansfield Park, which would put all propriety at naught. Fanny alone stands her ground on what is right; even her noble cousin Edmund is drawn in by Mary Crawford's charms. Her strength of character is put to the ultimate test when she is sought by a man whose love, she knows, is as quick to pass as summer storms, and when she sees the man she loves fall for a woman with almost no sense of righteousness and honor. Will Fanny be vindicated, and the reputation of Mansfield Park spared? Can Edmund ever come to see Mary for who she really is, and love Fanny instead?
Miss Austen's narrative of sense and true godliness snatched me up so that it was almost impossible to put the book down. I read with admiration of Fanny's quiet courage and inner strength; I sighed with frustration over Edmund's blindness and foolishness; I rejoiced to see the Right conquer. I stayed up until midnight so that I could see how everything concluded, and I closed the book reminded of the quotation I once heard that says, "You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend."
Fanny Price is not your typical heroine and is often misunderstood or even frowned upon by worldly critics. She is no spirited, vivacious Elizabeth Bennett or wild, passionate Marianne Dashwood. She is not "handsome, clever, and rich" like Emma, nor is she romantic and imaginative like Catherine. She is extremely shy, hesitant to voice her opinion or step out in the open, and susceptible to headaches. However, beneath it all is a well of strength, goodness, and constancy that makes her a model for any young woman. As one writer put it, she "has the passion of Marianne, while possessing the rationale of Elinor." In her meek and quiet spirit is a picture of a life controlled by the love of Christ. She is a true heroine.
What a delight to slip again into the world of Jane Austen! It is not just a world of balls, rank, barouche boxes, and elegant gowns. It is a glimpse into the hidden corners of the heart, which remain the same throughout the ages. I highly recommend Mansfield Park to any reader who wants a book with a delightful story, a delicious style, and an unforgettable message.
Note: The picture above is from the 2007 movie version of "Mansfield Park" that aired on Masterpiece Theatre. It's a tolerable rendition, but nothing compares to the book!
P.S. I am happy to say that I have now read all six of Jane Austen's novels! :-D