Thursday, July 14, 2005

Upon Re-Reading Mansfield Park . . .

I am nearing the end of probably my fifth or sixth reading of MP, and I know what's coming up.

**spoiler alert**spoiler alert**spoiler alert***

I know that in a few more pages, Henry Crawford will run off with Maria Rushworth, condemning him and her forever in the eyes of the Bertrams and Fanny Price. Oh, Henry, don't do it! You're getting so close to Fanny. Only let Edmund propose to Mary, let her accept his hand, and give Fanny a little while to get over her disappointment. Stay the course - she will reward your steadfastness with her love in just a little while. Don't show her that her opinion of your principles was well-founded. Don't do it!

I love MP, but the ending kind of stinks. Mary and Henry Crawford are so delightful. I cannot help but think that they would have, in turn, made better spouses for Edmund and Fanny than those two were for each other. Oh, Jane, what would you think of my impudence and audacity in wishing a re-write of the ending?

Fanny and Edmund - each one so principled and steady and virtuous and dull, dull, dull. I picture their married home-life as consisting of much sitting around, reading poetry, and rhapsodizing on Nature and its glories. Not that there is anything wrong with Nature and its glories - I rather like them myself - but where is the witty interplay of lively (and acerbic) observations of the human scene that made this Georgian/Regency era such a fun one? Fanny and Edmund have to be the most boring couple of protagonists ever to tie the knot in a Jane Austen novel.

And yet, I love this novel. It is so fine and well-written and entertaining. I actually bristled when I read one person's opinion that it was one of the "lesser works" of Jane Austen. It is, in fact, one of the greater works of all British Literature - thank you very much.

Jane Austen recorded for posterity all of her family's and friends' observations of MP. They are delightful, in and of themselves, to read. It is amazing how frank some of the comments are:

Mrs. Augusta Bramstone - owned that she though S&S and P&P downright nonsense, but expected to like MP better; &, having finished the first volume, flattered herself that she had got through the worst.

Fanny Cage - did not much like it - not to be compared P&P - nothing interesting in the characters - language poor - characters natural and well-supported - improved as it went on.

Mrs. Bramstone - . . . Preferred it to either of the others - but imagined that might be her want of Taste - as she does not understand Wit.

Edward & George (Knight - JA's nephews) - Not liked it near so well as P&P - Edward admired Fanny - George disliked her - George interested in nobody but Mary Crawford - Edward pleased with Henry C. - Edmund objected to as cold and formal - Henry C.'s going off with Mrs. R. - at such a time, when so much in love with Fanny, thought unnatural by Edward.

To this last, I must heartily agree. HC seems so in love with Fanny - he seems so likely to have reformed and refined his rakish ways - it just is too weird and jarring when we learn of the adulterous elopement. I'm sure JA wanted to shock us completely, but it is a most dreadful shock, because (at least to me) Henry Crawford seems a much better match for Fanny - who needs someone to liven her spirits. Mary Crawford would have shaped Edmund right up from his superfluity of gravity, and he would have steadied her character. Oh, it's just too bad.

Oh well, what's done is done. MP will be 200 years in print in just a few years. I'm sure JA would have been highly gratified to see its enduring popularity and success.

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