Bibliophile Musings: More Than Ten Years Later, A Redemptive Argument for “Mansfield Park”
If you hate Jane Austen, well, you have my sympathies.
But let other bloggers type about whining and misery.
Since one of my friends first introduced me to the great authoress at the young age of thirteen, I went through the full gambit of novels. Starting with Emma, followed by Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey. As I grew in respect for Jane Austen’s works, I took a class in college that analyzed the novels and specifically looked at their adaptation to film, in which we read the books and watched a selection of the movies. It was at this time my opinions on each of the heroines of these books solidified. Each book, (except for Northager Abbey who’s heroine seemed immature and flippant), seemed to have a level-headed, sharp-witted (or for some sweeter characters, a sharp wit was replaced with an equal or greater sharp mind), including Fanny Price of Mansfield Park. Though her character is one of the most noble characters in all literature, her hero, her confidant, her dearest relation didn’t seem like her noble equal no matter how I considered it.
I was faced with a perplexing question.
Was Edmund Bertram as flippant as Catherine Morland?
It actually came out as, “Oh my gosh, Edmund Bertram is a pansy.”
I proceeded to try and fail to fully argue that Edmund was not a pansy. Throughout the whole book, Edmund saw Fanny as someone to care for, or someone who needed care and concern. What drew them together was their common logic and principles, making Edmund’s attraction to Mary Crawford, a woman without principles, all the more ironic. Even Fanny manages to steal the heart of Mary’s brother, though with her last breath, she would swear she could never love him.
So how could Edmund come to the conclusion that a woman without principle who sees disgrace as disgrace only because the culprits were caught in a disgraceful act, is not as desirable as a woman of principles?
How could he change his mind – his heart – so quickly?
I know, I know. I’m applying logic to this which I’m not sure is all that rational. Alas, please allow me to continue.
I think it has to do with the pacing. All of this is explained in one chapter, for one thing. The last chapter seems to be almost entirely building Edmund up after the reader has been beating their head against the wall because he’s been chasing the wrong woman for most of the book. However, the words that make the difference are those that express his fear that Fanny only sees him as a brother, and he might not be able to convince her to think otherwise.
For the last ten years, I’ve thought that Edmund changed his mind in one day – just quitting the misery of loving Mary and making the decision to love Fanny instead. It seemed ridiculous.
It was more than ridiculous. It was illogical.
After ten years, the answer seems rather simple: time. Sometimes when we are at our lowest, it is the people that God puts in our lives that are meant to be there – we just have to figure out why.
And that’s exactly what I believe Jane Austen intended to happen to Edmund.
Like Newton’s apple colliding with his head, Edmund started comparing fine, society women to a model woman, and then suddenly realized his model woman was Fanny – kind, sweet, helpful, selfless, Fanny.
Call me a simpleton, but that makes sense.
Often times we can’t see the forest because of the trees, and I think that perhaps explains the ending of Mansfield Park, though the merit of the point is nearly lost on a cliche.
Ironically, this observation not only redeems Edmund, but it also builds Fanny up to near sainthood, which I do think Jane Austen intended.
I mean, after all, Edmund was becoming a clergyman.
Even though sarcasm is a sweet balm for the everyday rustic, alas, I think my words and musings have annoyed your long enough.
Do you agree? I’d love to hear.
If you haven’t read Mansfield Park, check it out here: Mansfield Park.