Friday, August 23, 2013

Mansfield Park Read Along Part 1

I just like to talk about books as much as I can manage and this month there is a read-along and discussion going on about Mansfield Park over at The Book Rat. These are some getting to know you questions.

1) Was Mansfield Park the first Austen book you read?
No. I do not think that is a bad thing either. It is, in fact, the last one I finished.

2) Is this the first time you've read Mansfield Park?
This is the third attempt and the first successful one. I started Mansfield Park in the middle of July because I anticipated being unable to finish this book or at least not being able to keep up with it. I did finish the book at the beginning of the month and I was very surprised. I'm not exactly reading along now but...I was meaning to. 

3) How many other Austen books have you read?
All of them except her unfinished work. Persuasion is my favorite.

4) Will you read more of them/reread them?
Last year I read Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice during Austen in August. Maybe I'll read Emma and Persuasion. I like to reread them. I learn something new every time and as I get older I realize more about the time period and empathize with the characters more.

5) Do you or will you read Austen adaptations?
I have and will read Austen adaptations. I think they are fun and also bring a fresh perspective to a classic story.

My responses to Mansfield Park

  • What were your initial impressions of the story? Not just the characters and their respective situations, but also the style and tone - if you've read Austen before, do you find Mansfield Park to be very different in any significant ways? I don't think the writing style is different than any of Austen's other novels. It has the same kind of format and same basic plot idea. Even so, it is much more difficult for me to stay interested in this story. 
  • Going more into the characters now, Mansfield Park's inhabitants are pretty universally considered Austen's hardest to love. What was your response to them through the first half of this story? Do you feel for any of them? Hate any of them with a vehemence beyond that which you normally reserve for fictional characters? And if you try to look at them objectively, do you have any more sympathy (or disgust) with their actions and behavior? Even though almost all the characters in this novel are some version of horrid, I don't hate all of them. I dislike Mrs. Norris, but I have a soft spot of Sir Thomas because he eventually tries to take Fanny under his wing a bit. I think the one that disgusts me the most is Mary Crawford. From very early on she knows Edmund is going to be a clergyman and is appalled by it. Yet, she continues to put herself in his path. She denounces his profession and I think if his characterization was stronger and he argued with her in a more spirited way it could be interesting. Instead I think Edmund comes off as a prude rather than someone who firmly believes in his frutue. Mary Crawford is the one I hate rather than Mrs. Norris. 
  • Fanny is often considered to be a very milquetoast, frustratingly passive heroine. Do you agree with this perception of her? Do you find yourself making excuses for her or holding things against her? Or do you feel that Fanny is underestimated as a character? Consider the scene in the Rushworth's park, as Fanny sits for hours, waiting to be noticed again, while everyone around her seeks their own amusement. Fanny is so frustrating to me because so much happens around her, but nothing happens to her (at least not at this point). I do make excuses for her because I wouldn't be very assertive either if Mrs. Norris was constantly picking on me. STILL I find her very frustrating and she just seems too passive to be the main character of a novel. I know I shouldn't try to hold her up against Austen's other heroines to compare her immediately but I kept thinking WWED? (What Would Elizabeth/Emma Do?) They just wouldn't have stood by to be forgotten quite as easily as Fanny does. Julia strikes off on her own to find everyone else as soon as she can while Fanny sits and is easily forgotten by everyone else while they explore Rushworth's property. 
  • "The Play" and preparation for it is one of the most telling and pivotal scenes in Mansfield Park - discuss your reaction to the entire Lover's Vows storyline: what it brings to light in the characters, what changes and ruptures it causes among them, things that amused or irritated you, etc. Did your feelings about any of the characters change as a result of The Play? How did you feel about Fanny during this whole incident? Would you have liked to see the play - and its aftermath - without the intrusion of the returning Lord Bertram? Fanny is incredibly dull, but she does stand by her principles as well as her disposition allows her. Even when Mrs. Norris heckles her she disagrees with the play and stays out of it as best she can. Obviously the Crawfords seem more devious after the play because of how Henry plays the sisters against one another and how Mary toys with Edmund. Rushworth is obviously worthless after he is hopeless during the rehearsals. During most of this part of the book I was actually bored because it just is a lot of bickering and improper behavior that just seems rude. This section actually ends on the most dramatic note, Sir Thomas' return! 
  • Many of the relationships we've been introduced to so far are very contentious: Maria and Julia, sometimes Tom and Edmund, Mrs Norris and everybody. And in fact, the story starts with a rift in the family. What do you make of the "friendships" and family dynamics in the story, and of the changes wrought by the entrance of the Crawfords? I think the friendships and family relationships seem fragile at the beginning of the story especially between Fanny and most of her family. She constantly worries she will do something to offend and will be sent away as a result. However, when the Crawfords join them, I think it makes all the relationships appear shallow and transparent. Maria's engagement seems even more about marrying for advantage, Edmund's friendship with Fanny is weaker and many of the other relationships are weakened by the entrance of the siblings. 
  • Is there anything else you'd like to talk about from Volume One? Can someone please explain why Henry Crawford was considered such an expert on landscaping? Did I miss this in the novel or is it weird to anyone else?

1 comment:

  1. Hi there! I'm a bit behind on the read along, but I did just finish the chapters for this first discussion post.

    I also liked that Fanny stood her ground with the play, and didn't let Mrs Norris shame her into taking part. And I really like your point about the arrival of Crawfords making all the relationships weaker! That is definitely what happens, they disturb the status quo.

    I laughed at your Henry Crawford, the landscape expert question! Now that you mention it, I can't remember the reason right away...