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Merle

Merle

Mansfield Park - Jane Austen I've never been a huge fan of Jane Austen, even though it seems like I should be. This book was well-written and, for the most part, engaging, but I don't feel like I have enough of an opinion about it even to rate it (and, uh, that's not usually a problem for me).

A lot of the ratings seem to turn on what people thought of Fanny. For people who dislike the book, the reason is generally her conspicuous lack of awesomeness--she's timid, shy, and self-effacing, she's not witty, a walk in the garden exhausts her, and she doesn't ever do much of anything. ("I cannot act," she says, in response to her cousins' request that she take a part in a play--but this pretty much sums up her role in the book, too.) At the same time, it's clear that Austen thinks a good deal of her--the girl's practically a Mary Sue. She grows up overlooked and emotionally neglected, but she's still sweet as can be and loves everybody, even those who don't deserve it. Plus, she's always right and everybody else has to admit it in the end. She reminds me a bit of Esther in Bleak House, except Esther I'm not entirely sure we're supposed to take at face value, and Fanny I think we are.

Fanny's redeeming quality is that she sticks to her guns (incongruous a metaphor as that is). Even when it's not cool, and despite her dependent status, she won't go against her principles. Unfortunately, she doesn't distinguish between morality and the stultifying sense of propriety at the time, so one of her two big stands is against her cousins and their friends putting on a play. (The other one, dealing with her love life, is more interesting and I liked the way that turned out.) I've read some reviews that made me think she spoke out against the corruption in her society, the fact that her family's money depends on slave labor in the Caribbean--and that would've been cool, but actually nobody ever mentions this. (I hear the movie is totally different so maybe that's where this meme came from?)

Anyway, I also noticed here just how little physicality there is in Austen's books. There's not much description, nor physical action in the scenes. They're all dialogue and exposition. This contributes to how limited and stultifying her world feels, to me--although it's not her fault we're used to more cinematic writing these days.

This all makes it sound like I didn't like the book. In fact, I read through it in a few days and am sure it's a good literary effort. And it sounds like I disliked Fanny--but I don't really have strong feelings about her one way or the other. Guess I just didn't "get it."