My fourteen-year-old friend Rose is reading Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park for the first time. Last fall she reviewed the Real Reads version of the novel adapted by Gill Tavner, and after she read your comments encouraging her to read the original—thank you, dear readers!—she decided to try it. In honour of the 201st anniversary of Mansfield Park, which was published on May 9, 1814, here is the first instalment of Rose’s commentary.
After reading the abridged version I was expecting most of the things I saw. One thing that did surprise me was Fanny. She is really relatable, which I didn’t find in the shorter version. She is sweet—probably funny when she knows you well and quiet when she doesn’t. As far as I know this might be one of Jane Austen’s more normal characters. Not everyone can be as sassy as Lizzy Bennet and I think I like that the books show that.
It’s way more apparent here how the adults think they are doing Fanny a favor and how wrong they really are. It also highlights how bad they are at communicating their feelings. Fanny is too scared to share how she feels about being away from home and the truly sad bit about this is that she has every right to be. Nobody is going to care if she complains. In fact they’ve said they will send her away or punish her if she isn’t happy. It’s so awful for them to force these expectations on her! In the abridged version of the book the author made her seem like a wimp. She just couldn’t manage a new environment or even adapt. That’s so wrong! She’s being bullied, shamed, and criticized, all while being as polite and cheerful as she can.
I find this book to be very similar to a lot of modern books about the new girl in school. Someone used to be the best student, tragedy strikes, she moves to a better school, her grades drop, she’s bullied…. She falls for the popular boy, the rival mean girl appears, the main character is good and sweet, she wins, she lives happily ever after…. Reading this book makes you realize how influential Jane Austen was.
The Fanny and Edmund thing can be a bit weird to read about, especially knowing the end. If a modern author were writing this it would turn out that there was some kind of scandal and they weren’t actually cousins. I would feel very safe supporting (read: adoring) that relationship if they weren’t blood relatives. But it seems as if Jane wants me to like the cousins thing. The fact that they are cousins is mentioned every other page and Sir Thomas seems worried that later in life they will like each other. I don’t know if… I’m just not sure how I feel about it yet.
I was astonished at how some characters that seemed in the right in the shorter version of the book were really stuck up, rich idiots in the larger one. The girls, the adults—everyone is holding Fanny’s social standing against her. Overall I ended up liking Fanny way more than I expected. My favorite parts were all mentions of the pug. I am hoping to see him (or is it her?) develop into his true role as the leading character.