Goodreads: Taken from the poverty of her parents' home, Fanny Price is brought up with her rich cousins at Mansfield Park, acutely aware of her humble rank and with only her cousin Edmund as an ally. When Fanny's uncle is absent in Antigua, Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive in the neighbourhood, bringing with them London glamour and a reckless taste for flirtation. As her female cousins vie for Henry's attention, and even Edmund falls for Mary's dazzling charms, only Fanny remains doubtful about the Crawfords' influence and finds herself more isolated than ever. A subtle examination of social position and moral integrity, Mansfield Parkis one of Jane Austen's most profound works.
Person who is inhabiting my body right now - who are you and where did you put Elizabeth? How is this even possible?! I LOVE JANE AUSTEN. That has been a defining fact of my life for well over a decade now. And yet, here I am, and I freaking hated this book. Not mild dislike, not meh feelings - hated. If I rated on pure feels this would be a one star. But I can't justify rating this book lower than some of the other books I've rated two stars (although this is making me rethink my lack of one stars so far this year). Because it's still well written and whatnot, it's just...this plot sucks!
Be warned, spoilers follow!
This book is so moralistic, and I actually think Maria Bertram's story might have been more sympathetic to discover. I mean how sad is it that she's fallen in love with a man who toys with her, goes after her cousin, then retoys with her - but still doesn't love her? In her place, don't you think she would have believed he loved her and would marry her? Why wouldn't she think that? In another love story, it wouldn't be terrible she married someone else and then had an affair - if she was the main character, it would simply be tragic. I think I would have connected with that story more than this one, which really punishes her for these decisions, even as the narrator acknowledges that it isn't just a fling for Maria - she truly loves Henry. She'd be a much more sympathetic leading lady.
That being said, I don't dislike Fanny, but she and I are definitely opposed in our core beliefs. A lot of people have a problem with her character because she's a super goody-goody. Which I don't disagree with at all, seeing her character develop from being very withdrawn to blossoming into a character who is much more open - actually because of Henry Crawford, but more on him later - is beautifully done. There's nothing wrong with her exactly, but as I tend to gravitate to more bold heroines, it's not surprising she's not one of my favourites. I think a lot of her opinions are spot on. For example, I agree that Mary isn't a good match for Edmund - but it's less to do with the moral reasons and more to do with the simple fact that they have entirely different interests/life goals. And unlike Fanny, I don't think Mary's reaction to Maria/Henry's affair was appalling - she simply wanted to do what was best for her family, and...well I guess I just would have acted and believed the same things as Mary. I think her reasonings and reactions were smart (and even though it was perhaps not wise to confess her thoughts on Tom's being ill...when your entire future is based on your husbands income and place in society...doesn't it make sense that she'd be interested in what Edmund's future changes might be? I'm kind of used to that kind of thinking in my historical fiction!) And since Mary is Fanny's foil, I'm automatically on the opposite side of the spectrum here.
As for the love interests...I'm sorry but Edmund is boring, and he totally doesn't deserve Fanny. He spends the entire book mooning over Mary - to Fanny. And then after all that, all we get at the end of the book was - yes he was super sad about Mary, and when it was appropriate to move on he did, and he realized...oh yeah Fanny is pretty cool! THAT'S TELLING, NOT SHOWING JANE. You are better than this! There was no gradual change of heart we saw, and there was no love confession. NO. LOVE. CONFESSION. How can you go from reading things like:
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
And most especially this:
"You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope...I have loved none but you."
To a simple summation of what happened!
But...but...I was promised a love confession!
Seriously this change of heart happens in like the last few pages of the book, and all of a sudden they're married! It reads like an epilogue, actually. If they are supposed to be the main romantic focus here, I want some character development here! Not having super intense events happening (the scandals happen all together and towards the very end)...and then it immediately diffuses into - these people were happy, these people weren't here's a quick version of why, the end! It's like she skipped the entire falling action bit that's supposed to go between the climax and the conclusion! So you really don't feel like Edmund ever really loves Fanny nearly as much as she loves him. And that makes me unhappy. Edmund's character never evolves from start to finish in the book. He is literally exactly the same person at the beginning of the book as he is at the end, and since he's a main character I think that odd, since Fanny, Henry, and Mary at the very least go through some pretty major character development. And since he's supposed to be the leading man...I expect more. (Or as I put in my goodreads review - Edmund is a boring sissy boy.)
On the flip side, I thought Henry Crawford showed real promise. It feels like with his attention to Fanny, he is the one who really brings her out of her shell. While she's comfortable with Edmund, it never goes beyond his company. With Henry, she starts being more open with everyone. He also woos her, and makes her feel like she's the only one he is into, and it feels like he's truly falling in love with. Which is why it comes as such a shock when he runs off with Maria - even the explanation for that doesn't feel like it fits his character. While I can see he is a guy who is easily distracted (which is not an attractive attribute of his) - if the explanation is that his pride was stung by someone he's already won, wouldn't he still be after Fanny more than after a woman he had already made his conquest once? That reasoning just doesn't ring true to me. He woos Fanny despite her significant (but relative) poverty in comparison to her cousins, despite meeting her family. He still woos her. And I honestly don't believe it's because she kept saying no - I think that peaked his interest at the start, but I feel like he really did fall in love with her through the process. No, he isn't a perfect love interest or character. I feel as far as Jane's "bad boys" go, he is actually not so bad. That being said, I totally could have been convinced of Edmund as a love interest...if Jane had ever made it feel like more than just a one-sided love of Fanny's part. (Actually, maybe those parallels with Maria are on purpose, but because Maria is less moral she doesn't get a happy ending?) The whole ending just felt like it was really half-hearted and lazy.
I'm going to go re-evaluate my life now. Things are different now that there's a Jane Austen book I loathed.