Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen
I must admit that Mansfield Park is one of the more divisive novels within Jane Austen’s body of work. It lacks the sort of sparkling heroine that can be found in most of Austen’s writings, and presents instead a sober-minded but rather timid and deeply shy young woman whose life has been shaped strongly by neglect and abuse. The more I read this novel, the more empathetic I feel for the sensitive Fanny Price, fond of habits, deeply reserved about her own emotional life and someone who is often mistakenly thought to be priggish, but who has a deep compassion for those who are underdogs like herself, which she shows when she begins to help out someone in an even more unfortunate position than herself in her next youngest sister Susan, who is benefited strongly by her concern and patronage and encouragement. The fact that so many people find it so easy to cast blame upon Fanny for being rather unappealing or who cast blame of Jane Austen for having made such a diffident heroine for one of her romance novels suggests the stunning lack of insight that most people have to the repercussions of child abuse and the way that Jane Austen must have been far more aware of such matters than she lets on.
As far as books go, this particular one is pretty stragihtforward. It has a lovely mosaic cover with a thoughtful introduction by Amanda Vickery, and it includes on its back cover a particularly ironic quite that “a large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard from,” which ends up being decisively untrue in this particular novel. Given that Fanny has such a subterranean emotional life, more than most Jane Austen novels this one depends on a sympathetic and understanding reader. It is not much to ask for someone to cheer on the sensibility of a Marianne Dashwood or the wit and verve of an Elizabeth Bennet or even the exuberance of an Emma Woodhouse, but it does take someone of a fairly sensitive and understanding eye to be able to find Fanny Price an appealing figure for all of her stern moral rectitude and extreme awkwardness in pushing herself forward. Thankfully, such people are common enough that this novel remains one that is highly thought of by particularly sensitive readers of Austen who by their appreciation of the novel demonstrate that they understand what the author was after in creating this particular revenge fantasy of sorts.