‘A Beautiful Exactitude’–Mansfield Park

"I was quiet but I was not blind."

“I was quiet but I was not blind.”

Has it been two hundred years already?

If you are a Jane Austen fan, you know that of which I speak–the two hundred year anniversary of Austen’s novel Mansfield Park.

Mansfield Park

One can already feel the happy buzz in the blogosphere, and a breath of air gusts past as fresh as the first warm breeze of spring. There will be much delightful discussion to ensue in the coming months. On writer Sarah Emsley’s blog, I’m looking forward to ‘An Invitation to Mansfield Park’. She will host a series of guest bloggers who will look at various aspects of the novel. As well, Jane Austen in Vermont will be posting regular insights on the book through the year.

“My idea of good company…is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.'” Anne Elliott

Perhaps none of Jane Austen’s works has engendered such strong feeling, pro or con, than Mansfield Park. For many readers, it lacks the sparkle and wit of Austen’s other works such as Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Many academics insist it is the author’s most perfectly realized, most exquisitely crafted work. As quoted in my title, literary critic Frank Swinnerton once described it as ‘a perfect galaxy of portraits, rendered with beautiful exactitude.‘ Others feel conflicted by the ending, and wish the fascinating brother/sister Crawford duo had not been vilified. As well, it has been noted, in Jane Austen’s own words quoted above, spoken through her character Anne Elliott in Persuasion, that her definition of ‘good company‘ might better describe the Crawfords than Fanny Price.

I feel a bit of all of the above. What intrigues me most at present, though, is the writer’s own voice and inner conflicts that is pervasive throughout. Perhaps, now that I have read the book again as an older woman, these are things I was more sensitive to.

Mansfield Park, in my opinion, is the best candidate for a sequel! There are so many lovely loose ends lying around at the close of the story. Perhaps Jane Austen had more than trees in mind when she wrote, through Fanny’s thoughts:

‘Her eye fell everywhere on lawns and plantations of the freshest green; and the trees, though not fully clothed, were in that delightful state when farther beauty is known to be at hand, and when, while much is actually given to the sight, more yet remains for the imagination.…’

Jane Austen’s description of the happy installation of Susan Price at Mansfield Park, makes one think that perhaps, as the ‘fearless’ and quicker minded younger sister of Fanny, she had the makings for heroine material:

‘[Susan’s] more fearless disposition and happier nerves made everything easy to her there. With quickness in understanding the tempers of those she had to deal with, and no natural timidity to restrain any consequent wishes, she was soon welcome and useful to all; and after Fanny’s removal succeeded so naturally to her influence over the hourly comfort of her aunt, as gradually to become, perhaps, the most beloved of the two.’

So off we go…are you ready to re-visit Mansfield Park?