The Great Jane Re-Read: Mansfield Park

Time for the great Jane Summer Re-Read! Join me! @emily_m_deardo

This week’s contender: Mansfield Park.

I’ve written about Mansfield Park on the blog here.  It was also the topic of my senior thesis for my undergrad English degree, in which I wrote about how Fanny was a model of femininity to be embraced, not ignored. One of these days I’ll upload it to the Internets and share it.

My favorite movie version is the 1999 one.

Previous entries in the series: Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice. 

Back to Pemberley: The Great Jane Re-Read

Time for the great Jane Summer Re-Read! Join me! @emily_m_deardo

 

It’s almost Memorial Day weekend here in the States, which is the unofficial summer kick-off. Barbecues will fire up, pools will open, and school kids enter the homestretch of the school year, if they’re not already out.

In my house, Memorial Day means it’s time for the Great Jane Re-Read.

I first fell in love with Jane before I went to college. Like most women in the 90s, this is the image that led me to Jane:

Mr. Darcy, I presume. @emily_m_deardo

Yes. I wasn’t drawn to Jane because I was naturally precocious–I was drawn to Jane because of Colin Firth.

There is nothing wrong with that! 

During summer vacations, my best friends and I would spend a lot of time on hot summer days watching movies in one another’s houses. One day, Tiff whipped out her parents’ 6 volume VHS set of Pride and Prejudice. I’d been wanting to read the book, but I hadn’t–yet.

We spent an entire afternoon watching it. And it was glorious. So glorious, in fact, that I went to Barnes and Noble, got Jane, and preceded to read P&P in one big gulp. I used newly discovered Amazon to buy the rest of her books when I was in the hospital later that summer. I read them eagerly, voraciously, devotedly–I underlined passages and made notes in the margins. When I was in college, I chose English Lit as my specialization, and my senior thesis was on….yeah, that’s right….Jane. 🙂 Specifically, feminism in Mansfield Park, and no, that does not mean what you think it means. (In a nutshell, my argument was that we should all be nicer to Fanny Price, and that Jane liked that character, and we should too! I’m Team Fanny! And Hailey basically writes my thesis in blog format in that post. Sort of. Maybe one day I’ll share the thesis with y’all.)

So, every summer, I go back to Jane, starting Memorial Day weekend. This year I’ve started early. I’ve already re-read Sense and Sensibility (Hardcover Classics), and I’m reading  The Annotated Northanger Abbey right now, so I’m also doing this out of order. 🙂 (The order is Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey.) I got a new copy of NA for my birthday, so I wanted to read that after S&S. (Yes, I do have multiple copies of Jane, including the gorgeous Penguin ones that are illustrated here. Seriously, they’re divine)

Why do I re-read her every summer? For a lot of reasons. I get more familiar with the books; they seep more deeply into me. And there’s things I notice every time that hit me differently. I’m not the same person I was the last time I read these books. I find myself liking or disliking certain characters more. For example, I really disliked Emma the first few times I read her book. Now, she’s getting better (but is she “handsome enough to tempt me?”).

I intend, as I re-read these over the summer, to write about each book after I finish it–a bit of Jane notes, if you will. And of course I’ll direct you to my Jane series that I did last year. 

Will you join me in the re-read? Which Jane protagonist is your favorite? Which is your least favorite?

 

The Annual Summer Jane Austen Re-Read! Join me @emily_m_deardo

Seven Quick Takes No. 45

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I.
You may have noticed it’s been Jane Austen week here at LA. If you missed them, here are links: Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility; Femininity in Sense and Sensibility; Northanger Abbey’s Unlikely Heroine; The Relationships in Pride and Prejudice. Today is the last day in the series, so I’ll have a post on that up later today (on Emma, I think).

II.

And, also, here are my retreat recap notes.

III.

This week I also turned 32 (on Wednesday). Yeehaw! I always get excited when I get a year older. I defy people who do not acknowledge how old they are. 🙂 I had a really nice birthday, got lots of books and got myself some Doctor Who Series 2 on sale, so even better. We had ice cream cake and there were hockey victories and overall it was glorious.

IV.

OK, so on Goodreads, I notice that everyone who reads Moby-Dick likes it but me. Am I the only one who really despises it, or are my friends on GR just crazy literate and/or nuts? Help?

Fun fact: I actually got into an argument with one of my boyfriends about this topic. That’s my life, folks.

V.

Rehab continues apace. It seems to be going really well so we might actually extend it. I’m fighting a cold so I’m going to be on increased steroids, which means I’ll probably want to eat the table. Oh well. Whatever, right? Could be worse. I have to do the treadmill today–dratness–but it’s also Friday so that’s happy.

VI.
Today is also National Blue and Green Day for Organ Donation Awareness. Are you an organ donor? If not, please be one.Thank you. I’ll be at Lifeline of Ohio’s Candlelight Vigil for Donation tonight. Actually, all of April is Donate Life Month. It’s very a propos for me. So, if you’re not an organ donor–be one? Please? 🙂

VII.

And finally: went to yoga class this week for the first time in a long time. It was pretty epic and I had a blast.

A truth universally acknowledged: Jane Austen, Aristotle and Aquinas

A possible sketch of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra.

A possible sketch of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra.

Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint.

–From Jane Austen’s Juvenalia

The good Dominican brothers at Dominicana  are running a series on Jane Austen in light of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. The first entry, introducing the series, is here.

Now, since I am who I am–a fervent Janeite–I would have to, of course, write my own ideas in my own blog space, because, as much as I appreciate the Honored Brother in his devoting attention to my Dear Jane, there are a few things with which I have issue, or which my Jane obsession could serve to clarify some points. (Are you liking my Jane writing style yet?)

In the first essay, In Pursuit of Happiness, Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility is discussed:

Another critical aspect of Aristotelian virtue ethics is the importance given to the individual, moral person in her totality. It is not a question of mind over body, but rather of an integral whole, mind and body, making decisions in the face of challenges that come up in life. This dynamic is the primary focus of Sense and Sensibility, as the title declares forthrightly. A rather poor reading of this novel would suggest that Austen favors a rational approach to romance to one based upon feeling or that Elinor, as well as Marianne, must learn something from her counterpart. However, when the narrator introduces Elinor to the reader, she is described as having “an excellent heart” and that “her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them.” Mind is not given a monopoly in virtuous action, and Elinor is by no means a stranger to emotion. It is through the union of the intellectual and the sensible that Elinor is able to weather her troubled course throughout the novel much more composedly than her overly affectionate sister, Marianne.

Indeed, a rather poor reading of this novel would lead to the idea that Austen suggests Elinor is the model to be followed. In fact, Austen put much of herself into Marianne (the love of Cowper, of drawing, etcetera), and intended that the readers would see the need for a healthy balance of both sense and sensibilityElinor may not be a stranger to emotion, but the only time is it visible to others is during the scene when Edward proposes to her at the end of the novel, when it literally comes pouring out of her. Elinor has a “good heart”, yes, but suffocating her emotion is not a healthy thing, either, as we see.

The central conflict of the novel is that pull between sense and passion, which almost kills both protagonists–Elinor, the life in her soul for the loss of Edward, and Marianne, her physical death due to her walk to Combe Magna in the rain once they reached Cleveland. Both sisters need to learn from the other–Elinor, to be a bit more open in her affections, and Marianne needs a dose of Elinor’s common sense. Both sisters reach this balance by the end of the novel and end up happily married.

The second essay, “Foundations Once Destroyed”, focuses on the Jane novel nearest to my heart–Mansfield Park. I say that because it’s what I wrote my senior thesis on, in college, in particular the idea that Fanny Price is an excellent example of feminism, properly understood, and especially in the Catholic sense of femininity. There is one mistake in this essay:

In so few words, the narrator of Mansfield Park identifies the foundation for the remarkable attachment of the charming and playful Henry Crawford for the demure and boring Fanny Price.

BORING! Fanny Price is not boring. She is demure and introspective, but if she were boring, neither Mary nor Henry would’ve paid the slightest attention to her. Instead, she is a delightful enigma to them, as they both interrogate the Bertram children about Fanny’s background, whether she is “out or not out”, and about her social history. Henry sees her as a challenge, declaring to his sister Maria that he will make Fanny Price fall in love with him. By calling Fanny boring, the entire piece loses its steam because by saying she’s boring, the reader can think that her goodness is boring. And it is not. Fanny’s virtue is revealed to triumph in the end, when Henry and Maria are seen for what they are.

In an interesting side note, Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister, wanted Fanny to marry Henry. She thought that she could have reformed him. And indeed, Henry shares several qualities with Jane’s favorite brother, also named Henry.

Mansfield Park inspires more debate than any other Austen novel–many critics, through the centuries (its bicentennial is on May 9 of this year) have hated Fanny, calling her among other things, repellent and lacking in self-knowledge, generosity and humility. Lionel Trilling, who defended Mansfield Park, said:  “Nobody, I believe, has ever found it possible to like the heroine of Mansfield Park.”

Trilling obviously did not know us, those of us who like Fanny Price. But to call her boring, as the author so regretful did in an otherwise good piece, is to continue to propagate Trilling’s statement.