Mansfield Park: Keepin’ It in the Family

Now before the stream of Jane Austen fangirl hate mail starts to flood the inbox, let me offer this disclaimer: As a bona fide connoisseur – yes, a degreed aficionado – of English literature, I heartily admire and hold dear the epitome of all that is truly “great” about Great Britain – most notably the laudable Jane Austen.  Alongside the wit of Wilde, her entire library holds a cherished spot of honor upon the family bookshelves.  The fervent professions of Mr. Darcy still send me into a swoon, and the long-awaited outpourings of Edward Ferrars set my heart aflutter.  With that said, allow me to offer this addendum: Mansfield Park is an abomination.

I take no issue with Ms. Austen’s writing prowess.  As one would expect, the mastery of her pen is apparent upon the page.  Admittedly, the alleged heroine is an insipid wallflower who falls somewhere along the pastel side of the character color wheel, who is even forgettable to the other characters of the same tale.  Take, for instance, the observations of Edmund, the object of her affections:

“‘But where is Fanny? Is she gone to bed?’

“‘No, not that I know of,’ replied Mrs. Norris. ‘She was here a moment ago.’

“Her own gentle voice speaking from the other end of the room […] told them that she was on the sofa.”

Yet the passive, blasé wallflower that is Fanny Price is not wherein my primary complaints lie.  Nay, I instead take issue with the novel’s enthusiastic promotion of cousinly love.  One must first take pity upon the unfortunately – though perhaps aptly – named heroine, Fanny Price.  (Fanny Price?  Not sure, but you might want to check with your local butcher.  It is, however, arguably superior to the designation of her doppelganger, Fanny Pack.)  Poor Fanny – who hands down wins the Crappiest Austen Heroine Naming Contest and whose first name unwittingly summarizes the quality of the plans for marital bliss proposed by her own story.

It should probably be noted that Ms. Austen defines in no uncertain terms that the familial fated and mated pair, Edmund and Fanny, are not such distant, extended cousins that modern notions would consider them unrelated.  No, the lineage is quite defined in that they share a full four grandparents since their mothers are sisters – not in the sense of everlasting friendship but in the sense of everlasting blood relations having shared the same womb.  Thus, “cousin” as it is used to describe their relationship is not some euphemism for intimacy that is merely like that of family – because it is in fact that which can only be shared by family.  If the pun can be pardoned, they wear the same genes.  Dear, dear Fanny – with all of your sharpness of mind, bland and beige though it may be, can you not see that you are casting your marital net in your own gene pool, and that perhaps there are better, less grotesque options further downstream…and perhaps in another ancestral ocean altogether?

The mastery of Austen’s literary brushstrokes, like the majority of her novels, sets the stage for a sweeping, romantic tale.  At least it is intended to be romantic, but it is always just gross.  I can never bring myself to enjoy the romanticism because I am too busy scolding Fanny and Edmund.

Edmund says in a letter to Fanny: “You are very much wanted.  I miss you more than I can express.  […] I want you at home, that I may have your opinion about Thornton Lacey [Edmund’s parsonage].  I have little heart for extensive improvements till I know that it will ever have a mistress. […] Yours ever, my dearest Fanny.”

No! That is something one cousin should NEVER say to another cousin.

“Scarcely had [Edmund] done regretting Mary Crawford […] before it began to strike him […] whether Fanny herself were not growing as dear, as important to him in all her smiles, and all her ways […]; and whether it might not be a possible […] to persuade her that her warm and sisterly regard for him would be foundation enough for wedded love.”

NO!  Absolutely not!  “Warm and sisterly regard” should never serve as the “foundation” for “wedded love!”  Never the twain shall meet!  Is the island really so small as to necessitate incest for the perpetuation of the English race?  Must the family trees be made to more closely resemble family shrubs?

“With such a regard for her, indeed, as his had long been, a regard founded on the most endearing claims of innocence and helplessness […], what could be more natural than the change?”

What could be more natural, you ask?  Perhaps doing your metaphorical grocery shopping outside of your own family’s pantry?  My regard for my guinea pigs is based upon “the most endearing claims of innocence and helplessness,” but you won’t see me applying for a marriage license anytime soon.

“Having once set out […] on this road to happiness, there was nothing on the side of prudence to stop him or make his progress slow […]; no need of drawing new hopes of happiness from dissimilarity of temper.”

Yes, I’m certain Edmund noticed a vast sea of similarities – in temper, in appearance, and all manner of other things – which tends to happen when you share the majority of your genome with one another.

“Their own inclinations ascertained, there were no difficulties behind, no drawback of poverty or parent.”

Wait – are we counting shared parentage in the “pros” column now? No, no, no!  Don’t you realize your children will have enough scolioses to cause Quasimodo to recoil?  Not to mention the special flap on their pants to accommodate the second nose sprouting from their knee!

In regards to the heroine’s uncle/father-in-law-to-be, it is said, “Fanny was indeed the daughter that he wanted.”  Because “niece” is an insufficient title to bestow upon such a creature.  But why stop there?  Surely additional connections can be forged.  Why not be the uncle-father-husband-insurance agent to his niece-daughter-wife-landlady?

The book remains on my shelf so that I can continue to claim possession of all of Austen’s works.  However, I have not ruled out gluing the pages shut.  Mansfield Park?  More like Trailer Park.


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