The Austen Project: Mansfield Park and Emma
|March 26, 2013||Posted by Jess under Books, The Austen Project|
I haven’t forgotten about this! I just kind of got burned out on Mansfield Park for a while. It’s cool, I’ve got nine more months to (reread) the last two!
Mansfield Park. Sweet baby Jesus, I hated this book. I loathed this book. I tore through it towards the end just so that I could enjoy hating it as viscerally as I did. Screw you, Mansfield Park!
What, you want more than that?
Okay, fine. Basically, I found both Fanny and Edmund to be insufferably sanctimonious, judgmental, and unpleasant. Fanny has very little to recommend her; she’s clearly supposed to be a Cinderella character, but she’s not shown to be particularly kind or loving or clever or anything positive – we’re just supposed to like her because other people are mean to her, which, nope, sorry. (I also found Mrs. Norris’ cruelty to her to be so extreme and unrealistic as to take me out of the book. There’s absolutely no motivation for Mrs. Norris to treat her that way.) Mostly, Fanny is “good,” which translates, especially to a modern audience, as prudishness.1 She’s also deeply petty and judgmental. She supposedly dislikes Mary Crawford because of Mary’s “immorality,” but it’s clear that she’s just jealous over Edmund, and while that’s a totally understandable reaction, her determination to think of Mary as a bad person when Mary is relentlessly kind to her infuriated me. Like, okay, Mary is the only person who defends Fanny from Mrs. Norris, while Edmund ignores years of emotional abuse, so Mary = evil and Edmund = everything that is good in the world? Okay, sure. Or how about how when Tom gets sick, Fanny’s first thought is “Mary will probably be happy if he dies because then Edmund will be the baronet”? Or when she visits her family, and spends all of her time silently judging her parents for being poor and her siblings for being children and thus noisy, and moping because she’s not the sole focus of her mother’s attention when Mrs. Price has seven other children to look after, when there’s been absolutely no indication given that she thought about any family members but William once while at Mansfield Park? I did feel on Fanny’s behalf while everyone was trying to pressure her to marry Henry, but for the most part, let’s be real: she’s kind of a big jerk.
But at least she’s less of a jerk than Edmund! I spent most of the book hoping Edmund would just die very suddenly. He is even more sanctimonious than Fanny, while also completely oblivious to the real nature of…anyone. He’s grossly controlling of Fanny. (Their eventual romance? When it’s made abundantly clear that she’s perfect for him because he’s “shaped her mind” or whatever? EW EW EW.) But the thing I hated the most about him was his epic mansplaining. Whenever he disagrees with Mary (or, less frequently, Fanny), he not only dismisses their opinion, he tells them they don’t even actually hold that opinion. Basically, “oh, you’re so cute and great, you couldn’t possibly think anything so incorrect.” I have absolutely no idea why Mary likes him, because he’s completely insufferable. His crowning moment, though, is probably when he goes to see Mary after Henry and Maria run off together. When he discovers that Mary is trying to come up ways to mend the situation instead of preparing to cut her brother out of her life forever, he tells her what a dissolute whore she is and storms out. WOW, WHAT A PRINCE.
In short, I hated this book and will never read it again, the end.
Emma. This one I liked! Although, let’s be honest, pretty much nothing happens in it. But Emma herself is a really engaging heroine, so that helps. I feel kind of guilty saying I liked her when I spent so long ripping on Fanny Price, since Fanny is basically harmless and Emma is kind of an asshole who causes actual harm to the people around her…but I think intentions and character growth count for a lot. Emma never means to hurt anyone, and she learns from her mistakes and resolves to be better. Her bad behavior is also meant to be seen as such, whereas Fanny’s judgmental nature and sulky jealousy are painted as virtues. (It probably helps that I was thinking fondly of Clueless pretty much the whole way through the book.) Emma is also the most proactive of Austen’s heroines by far, which I like. I mean, the actions she undertakes and the plots she sets into motion are all very miniscule domestic concerns, but at least she’s allowed to do something rather than waiting for a man to ride into town and shake up everyone’s social life.
On the other hand, I found her romance with Knightley a little gross, especially since their relationship consists almost entirely of him scolding her like a father or older brother would. When he said he’d been in love with her since she was thirteen I actually gagged. He’s much more likeable than Edmund Bertram, and yet in a way he’s worse, because though Edmund spends his adolescence and early adulthood “shaping Fanny’s mind,” he’s doing it because he’s her older cousinbrother and that’s what older relatives do, not because he’s trying to turn her into his perfect little child bride, ahem ahem Knightley.
But again, as mentioned, I did enjoy it a lot. I also found this book to be one of the funniest of the Austens, alongside Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey; since basically nothing happens, Austen doesn’t have “plot” or “feelings” getting in the way of making fun of everyone all the time, hilariously. Good times.
…And since I read Persuasion and Northanger Abbey in college, I have now technically read all the Austen. But fear not, I will be rereading and blogging about them…um, eventually! (Probably like four Disney movies from now, let’s be real.)
- To be absolutely fair, both Fanny and Edmund, as well as the book as a whole, suffer by a modern perspective, while Mary benefits from it. When Mary suggests early on that the church might be benefitted by only the people who want to be there attending, while those who don’t care can sleep in, I immediately started liking her, and Fanny and Edmund’s pearl-clutching over the whole acting debacle just comes off as ridiculous. ↩