Jane Austen

Mansfield Park: Jane Austen’s Upside-Down Town

It’s time for my second Jane Austen-related post! Because 2014 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park, which I (and probably many others) consider to be Jane Austen’s “problem novel.”

I’ve been thinking about Mansfield Park quite a lot recently, in part because of another blog I follow, called sarahemsley.com.  I’m grateful to Sarah for posting thought-provoking essays in celebration of Mansfield Park this year.

Fanny Price is the Jane Austen heroine whose character and actions inspire the most debate, in my opinion. If you’ll allow me to over-simplify (and you will, because this is my blog), the debate tends to fall sharply into two camps, consisting of “Fanny’s a wimp!” versus “No, she’s not!”

I, as a quiet, soft-spoken person, fall into the latter camp. No surprise there.

I think that Jane Austen felt that she had already done the spirited, witty, extroverted heroine with Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. I am sure that she made a deliberate decision, in Mansfield Park, to try an entirely different kind of heroine. Moreover, I think she also decided to try an inversion of the hero/heroine relationship she had created in her previous novel.

Fanny Price is unlike Lizzy Bennet in many ways, not the least of which is her “quiet, passive manner.” However, Fanny is unlike Lizzy in another, more significant way. Fanny is an observer. She can see what is happening right in front of her, and succeeds in drawing accurate and meaningful conclusions about people and relationships around her. Consider how different this is from Lizzy, who upbraids herself for being “wretchedly blind” when she realizes the value of Mr. Darcy’s affection for her. In contrast, Fanny says to her cousin Edmund, “I was quiet, but I was not blind.” At the conclusion of the novel, we see that Fanny is invariably spot on in her observations of other people. She was right to refuse a marriage proposal from the unprincipled Henry Crawford, and she was right when she saw that Mary Crawford was no matrimonial catch for her cousin Edmund.

However, there is a blind person in Mansfield Park, and that is the hero, Fanny’s cousin Edmund Bertram. He believes himself to be in love with Mary Crawford, when in reality he is infatuated with her charming manners and witty conversation. He dismisses Fanny’s observations about the Crawfords. And most of all, he is blind to the merit of his cousin, Fanny Price, who has been in love with him since childhood.

Just like Lizzy (“wretchedly blind”) and later, Emma Woodhouse (“I seem to have been doomed to blindness”), Edmund isn’t punished for his earlier failure to see and value what was right in front of his nose. He is rewarded with the love of and marriage to his cousin.

So, we see that in Mansfield Park, Jane Austen turns the hero/heroine relationship upside-down. Her heroine, Fanny, is the astute observer, just as are Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley; and the hero, Edmund, is the blind one. I am grateful that Jane Austen achieved something completely different in Mansfield Park, giving us a heroine who is as morally uncompromising and keenly observant as the gentlemen who wield much more power both in the novels and the society they depict.

I just don’t know why we can’t forgive Fanny for being observant and morally righteous, when we are happy to accept that in Darcy and Mr. Knightley. I don’t know why we can’t forgive Edmund for being blind to what’s happening around him, when we are happy to have Lizzy and Emma rewarded for the same fault. Maybe, 200 years later, we’re still uncomfortable with flipping gender roles in this way.

And that, my dears, shows the extraordinary power of Jane Austen.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

Dear Miss Woodhouse

All right, I have decided that it is high time for a Jane Austen-related post. Please note, if you haven’t already, that this is in no way a Jane Austen Blog. I love her work, and I have re-read her six novels many, many times, but a whole blog on one topic? No, I’m afraid I am not disciplined enough for that!

I am currently re-reading Emma. For probably at least the fifteenth time. Emma is special to me, because when Jane Austenites play the “Which Austen character do you think you are?” game, I choose Jane Fairfax. Not because I am elegant and accomplished, but because I can very much see myself in Jane when she says, “I will not say, that since I entered into the engagement I have not had some happy moments, but I can say, that I have never known the blessing of one tranquil hour.” When I do wrong, I am much the same way. I cannot forgive myself easily, and I cannot be calm when I am upset with myself.

Also, I imagine that I am often open to the charge of being reserved. I’m not nearly so charming in person as I am on this blog.

Finally, I have the dubious fortune of being very attached to a gentleman of much livelier temperament than myself. I suppose, for myself and Miss Fairfax (no, I will not call her “Jane”  in the style of Mrs. Elton!) it’s necessary to be with a lively guy who breaks through our reserve and who stirs us up a little. On the other hand, it’s easy for me to imagine, a few years into the marriage, Jane Fairfax Churchill being all, “Frank, just cut it out, okay? You are really annoying me,” or whatever the equivalent of that is in early 19th century language (anyone want to try that in the comments section?).

Query: Do you think Jane Austen is inviting us into a more intimate relationship with Emma Woodhouse by calling her novel merely Emma? I find that I can’t call her “Miss Woodhouse” any more than I can call Jane Fairfax “Jane.”

The more often I read Emma, though, the more I think about one question. When Mrs. Weston, Mr. Knightley, and Emma are talking about Jane Fairfax in Chapter 33, Emma says, “She is a riddle, quite a riddle! …to chuse the mortification of Mrs. Elton’s notice and the penury of her conversation, rather than return to the superior companions who have always loved her with such real, generous affection.”

Then later, Emma asks, “She is not to be with the Dixons… but why must she consent to be with the Eltons? —Here is quite a separate puzzle.”

Mr. Knightley, in the course of his reply, says, “But (with reproachful smile at Emma) she receives attentions from Mrs. Elton, which nobody else pays her.”

This is supposed to be a major rebuke to Emma for not inviting Jane Fairfax more often.

But my question is this: Why is Emma the only one so rebuked? Mrs. Weston has finally achieved independence and a lovely home of her own. Why on earth is Mrs. Weston not inviting Jane Fairfax to Randalls for morning visits, supper visits, or walks in the shrubbery?

We know perfectly well that Emma’s jealousy and resentment of Jane Fairfax are the feelings which preclude Emma becoming “more her friend.” Should we suspect Mrs. Weston of similar feelings? Or is she just not paying attention?

Mrs. Weston is probably one of the least-developed characters in the novel. It never really bothers me, except when I realize she could have taken a much more pivotal role in the development of the plot.

And with such a sociable husband, too! Mr. Weston would never have objected to Mrs. Weston having in as much company as she liked!

Maybe there is something I’m missing.

Poor Jane Fairfax. At least I can easily get away from the Mrs. Eltons in my life. And believe me, I do.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

Three Little Bookshops

I’m seeing a lot of bookish types writing and commenting about the whole Amazon Versus Hachette battle, and it made me realize my good fortune. My good fortune is living in a community with not one, not two, but *three* independently-owned bookstores within a couple of  miles of my house. Within walking distance, even, when I’m feeling particularly active.

I, my dears, have options.

Yes, it’s true. I won’t get my book choices in two days flat. It’ll be more like five to eight business days. I will have to actually go out and run an errand to get my books, because they will not be delivered to my door. And I will not get the rock-bottom cheapest prices on the two books I’m hoping to own by the end of this week.

Well, no money can buy the feeling of moral righteousness that I get from buying local from an indie bookshop. I’m well-known at one of them, slightly lesser known at the other two. And I’ll never get any of that warm fuzzy stuff from pointing and clicking online.

I don’t buy books often, anyway. The public library is my very good friend. I won’t buy a book until I’ve read it more than twice, which means I know I will read it at least twice more over my lifetime. Notable exceptions are the Harry Potter books, the Series of Unfortunate Events books, and any of the Thief books by Megan Whalen Turner.

I still have plenty of books at home. People will keep buying them for me.

And I read a lot, which means there are rather a lot of books that I have read more than twice. I’m in the double digits for any of Jane Austen’s six novels.

How weird does this make me? (Oh, look. My blog post is all about me. Again.) I don’t know anyone, except my fellow Janeites, who read books over and over again. Does anyone else do this?

If you read the same books over and over, please comment and tell me what they are. If you want to wax lyrical about how wonderful your favorite books can be upon the seventh reading, please feel free to do so.

Thank you so much.

Love  you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy