There is nothing more endearing than a sympathetic character like Fanny Price. I think that’s why I started feeling better when I started reading this book by Jane Austen for the Jane Austen Book Club Online. I was so disappointed with Emma that I really was looking forward to this book to rejuvenate my excitement for reading the rest of the Jane Austen books.
I wasn’t disappointed. A recurring theme in most Jane Austen novels is the exploration of the differences in class by birth and money. This is novel is no exception as we are introduced to Fanny Price, a poor relation to the Mansfield Park family, the Bertrams. In order to help out a sister who married a man of lesser fortune, the Bertrams, at the urging of the manipulative Mrs. Norris, another sister, they bring Fanny in as their ward to raise and educate. When Fanny joins the family, she wasn’t relegated to the role of ‘help’ but at the same time she was constantly reminded of her status (thanks again to her aunt, Mrs. Norris), being a recipient of charity and not as equal in standing to her cousins. The one constant source of kindness in the family, Fanny always found in her cousin Edward who never looked upon her as a charity case but rather as an equal member of the family.
Fanny cannot help being the reserved person that she is. She isn’t as outgoing and bubbly as her cousins and her friend Mary Crawford. Her situation has been such as it has made her the reticent and humble person that she is. I see it as a quiet dignity.
I fully understood where she was coming from when she wouldn’t take seriously, the advances of Henry Crawford, who by all definitions is a ‘catch’. Any girl would have been glad to have him and if Fanny had been the kind of girl whose only concern is to better herself and her family financially, then I’m sure she would have gladly entertained his attentions and proposal. But sometimes, even without ideological reasons, you just know in your guts when something is not right. You know when the ‘chemistry’ is absent. I think that was the case with Fanny and Henry.
Early on, with the close intimacy that developed between Fanny and Edward, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘If they weren’t cousins they would be perfect for each other’. I forgot that during that time it wasn’t unusual for cousins, even first cousins, to marry. Which is what happens in this story. Fanny ends up with Edward and they lived happily ever after. I’m not being abrupt in my description, that’s exactly how the novel ended.
I was thoroughly enjoying reading this book up until the last chapters. Henry goes and runs off with Maria leaving Fanny vindicated for rejecting his advances then all of a sudden, the story took a steep downward slide to the ending. That’s how it felt like to me. The ending felt rushed like the author just wanted to wrap things up. I wish Edward and Fanny’s story was explored and developed more than it was.
So bottom line is, I liked the story line, I liked the flow of the book but I feel shortchanged by the ending. It was still a good read though.