Dedicated to classics and hits.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen


Mansfield Park
by Jane Austen
p. 1814
Wordsworth Classics Editions
with illustrations by Hugh Thomson
p. 1995

    Within the Jane Austen collected works, Mansfield Park is significant because it is the first of Jane Austen's novels based on original material, i.e. Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice had existed in different form long before their publication dates of 1811 and 1813. 

   An understanding of the artistic material of Mansfield Park is best gained by understanding the situation of the Artist, "Five months after the appearance of Pride and Prejudice, she had Mansfield Park read to publish.  As Jane Austen's first contemporary book, not using material generated in her teens and early twenties, Mansfield Park was..a leap in the dark for the thirty-seven-year-old author.  The themes- of neglectful parenting, bad ministering, sexual transgression, and the dubious origins of many a good man's gains- were much more somber than before, and the stifled central character, Fanny Price, quite a challenge to readers just getting used to the charms of the Dashwood sisters and Elizabeth Bennett."  (1)

  What does this passage tell us about the Author who wrote Mansfield Park?  It sounds like she was restless with the juvenile material she had reshaped in Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.    
The Wikipedia entry on Mansfield Park would have you believe that it is the least popular of her novels, but the Google Ngram Viewer would seem to disagree with that assertion.

   Fanny Price is a more complicated character then her prior two heroines.  Her story highlights class issues in early 19th century England in a way that her first two books do not.  Within the various revivals of Jane Austen from the mid 19th century on, there have also been streams and counter-streams of the specific works, and Mansfield Park has been a main-stay of literary criticism since the late 19th century.  Anything ANYONE can say about Mansfield Park has been said by someone at some time.  Mansfield Park has been parsed so often that it makes me want to revere this, and other Jane Austen books, from a respectful distance, focusing only on the penumbra of Audience reception and leaving the work itself alone. 


(1)  Harman, Claire- Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World (London 2009)

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