Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Mansfield Park Read-Along | Week 1


Welcome to Week 1 of the Mansfield Park read-along! I'm so excited to start 2018 discussing this book with all of you. If you haven't heard the details yet, you can learn more about the read-along schedule in this invitation post. (We're reading 12 chapters per week.)

Today we're going to discuss chapters 1-12 (Volume I). If you came prepared, go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Mansfield Park read-along tag.) If you still have to catch up on some reading, you're welcome to check in later this week or whenever you're ready. :)

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

~ ~ ~

Mansfield Park Volume I: Chapters 1-12

Discussion Format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and three questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes

  • "Nobody meant to be unkind, but nobody put themselves out of their way to secure her comfort." [How tragic for Fanny...and how true, that kindness isn't just an absence of cruelty, but requires action and reaching out to someone else.]
  • "He made reading useful by talking to her of what she read." [It's such a boost to the memory and what we can gain from a book to be able to talk about it with someone else, like what we're doing today!]
  • "You see but half. You see the evil, but you do not see the consolation. There will be little rubs and disappointments every where, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then...we find comfort somewhere—and those evil-minded observers, dearest Mary, who make much of a little, are more taken in and deceived than the parties themselves." [I found this discussion intriguing. I believe Mrs. Grant is speaking here, and I like how she defends marriage. It's easy to get bogged down in the little things, missing the bigger blessing.]
  • "It was better for Miss Bertram, who might be said to have two strings to her bow. She had Rushworth-feelings, and Crawford-feelings, and in the vicinity of Sotherton, the former had considerable effect." [I won't comment on Miss Bertram's conflicting feelings here...but I do think this description is clever.]
  • "A whole family assembling regularly for the purpose of prayer, is fine!" [Preach, Fanny!]

General Impressions

Summing up our thoughts on twelve chapters is going to be difficult, I know! There's a lot that happens...so much to comment on regarding this very interesting cast of characters.

I'm not sure any one really stands out as overly likable to me, other than Fanny. Edmund has me quite torn, as there are lines and moments where he seems to really shine. He obviously cares about Fanny, and his active kindness to her makes all the difference in her experiences at Mansfield Park. I love when his affection becomes apparent; how he defends Fanny, fights for her need to get out, exercise, and be a part of things. And what's most important to Fanny (like her brother), Edmund shows great respect and attention toward.

On the other hand, there's Miss Crawford—and Edmund's obvious infatuation, despite the fact that they don't really seem to share many values. They flirt, they have some good discussions, but for someone like Edmund whose values run deep, you would think he'd be paying a little more attention to what really matters instead of the surface level. (She can play a harp splendidly, but would she really stand by your side as a pastor's wife?)

Still, I suppose it's a realistic scenario, and Miss Crawford gets Edmund to examine and share his beliefs; she paves the way for thought-provoking conversations. I think Fanny can do that too, especially with her extensive reading and book knowledge, but her views have been so shaped by Edmund and are so similar to his own that she probably doesn't challenge Edmund in the ways that Miss Crawford does. And a man does enjoy a challenge, doesn't he?

(Not to mention the fact that Fanny is still quite young and probably feels more like family to Edmund than a potential love interest. So...I get it; I just don't necessarily like it. :))

As for the other characters and their relationships, I'm not sure what to say. I feel bad for Julia having to compete with her sister for a guy's attention, while her sister already has a fiance. But then, both Julia and Maria are so focused on pride and status. I feel bad for Mr. Rushworth and his mother, who are stroking Maria's ego while her heart has wandered down a completely different path.

Mr. Craword should have stayed home. Buuuut now he's back, which does not bode well for the girls of Mansfield Park.

And then there's Mrs. Norris, who seems to be getting along just fine without having to sacrifice for anyone. But the selfish road is bound to be a lonely one, lacking in meaning. It's too bad she missed out on getting to know Fanny and having such a sweet companion.

So far, I'm enjoying the read. I'm hoping to see Fanny grow in confidence while maintaining her gentle nature. And while it would be satisfying to see certain characters open their eyes before it's too late, it will be interesting to see exactly where these not-so-ideal paths lead.

Discussion Questions

Feel free to answer one, two, or all three of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. Would you consider the Bertram family taking in Fanny to be a kindness in the long run? If so, why? If not, could it have been a kindness if they approached things differently?

2. If you were a governess teaching the Bertram children and Fanny, what lesson would you specifically choose for each of them (as kids or adults)? Feel free to have fun with this!

3. Imagine you had joined the group on their visit to Sotherton. Which part of the tour would you most have enjoyed? Would we find you wandering the halls or meandering through the wilderness?

Join us next Wednesday for our second discussion! 
(Vol. I: Ch. 13-18 and Vol. II: Ch. 1-6)

12 comments:

Julie said...

Loved your observations as always Amber! I'm struggling a bit with this one because I'm really not liking any of the characters! ha! Here is my post: https://myfavoritepastime.blogspot.com/2018/01/mansfield-park-read-along-week-1.html

I'm hoping this next section will draw me in better, we'll see.

Amber Holcomb said...

Julie,

Aww, thank you! :)

And that's completely understandable! This cast is a little difficult to love so far. ;) Will stop by to comment on your thoughts!

~Amber

Lona said...

Hi Amber, I'm new to your blog, just wanted to join in the MP readalong. I love the quote you posted from Mrs. Grant, because, like all of Austen's dialogue, it illustrates Mrs. Grant's good-natured and optimistic character. Austen gives every character their own unique voice; she was just brilliant at this. Here's a great analyst (he's not at all hoity-toity) talking about this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQPlL_spNkY
I learned a new word, "idiolect."
Mrs. Norris is an amazing Pharisee, isn't she. As for taking Fanny in, I suppose that anyone in that day and age would say, yes, this is a great thing for Fanny, considering the alternatives. She has no dowry and she wouldn't get more than a very basic education in Portsmouth. Where and how would she end up?
If I toured Sotherton I'd like to see what they called "the offices," that is the kitchen, pantry and larder, as much as the fine rooms.
Literature experts say that Mansfield Park is part of a genre known as the "conduct novel" which were intended to encourage virtue and morality. A big theme in conduct novels is, how to raise children, especially daughters. You remember that funny scene where Maria and Julia tell Aunt Norris how ignorant Fanny is and it demonstrates that while they may know their history, they don't know anything about kindness or sympathy?
Thinking of the unlovable cast, I think a lot of Austen books, especially Persuasion and Sense & Sensibility, have a heroine who is surrounded by a bunch of people who are vain or selfish or foolish, and none of them "get" her. Only the hero "gets" her. Austen had a talent for writing ridiculous characters and showing up their faults and frailties. In Mansfield Park, she creates the Crawfords, who are so witty and dangerously attractive.
Thanks for hosting this discussion!

Miranda Atchley said...

I agree, Amber; I like Fanny, even if she isn't so prominent yet, but Edmund has me torn. Sometimes he seems like a good hero, and sometimes he doesn't. The Betrams, Norrises, and Crawfords overshadow everything because they're crazy! Even so, I'm looking forward to reading more of this book and discussing with you all. Happy reading! :-)

Courtney Clark said...

Amber, I have to agree with you --- Fanny is the only likable character so far. I like Edmund, because Fanny does, but he has not given me complete reason to be sold on him as the hero.

I, too, am anxious to see how each character will fare as we move forward. Thank you for the delightful discussion questions! I finally answered them in my own blog post here: https://thegreenmockingbird.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/mansfield-park-read-along-week-1-thoughts/

Lona, it's great to have you joining us!!!! Thank you for the conduct novel fact. That's so fascinating! Austen does seem to make her supporting characters dramatically reflect different natures to express little moral lessons (Hello, Persuasion's Sir Walter Elliot and vanity!).

Ginette B said...

I have read Mansfield Park several times already, but this is my first readalong, so thanks for hosting it! When I read the book for the first time (many years ago, my copy is a whopping 33 years old, I got it for Christmas 1984!), I didn't like it all that much, to be honest. I was a late teen, and I had read all other complete Austen novels (minus Lady Susan, which hadn't been translated into my language by then), and I didn't like the heroine and the hero in this story all that much. I thought Fanny was a doormat and Edmund was a whimp. My attitude towards them has changed considerably over the years, although they still aren't among my favourite characters. All of Austen's books work because of the character combinations, but this one stands out because it mostly works through this feature. Fanny and Edmund are part of the whole thing, more so than all other Austen characters. Fanny is quiet, which is not what we are used to when it comes to Austen's heroines. This is because Fanny is the poor relative. Fanny cannot be sassy and self-confident, that's not part of her role. She has to be grateful for the chance she is given. So, in response to your first question:yes, it's kind of the Bertrams to take in Fanny. They take her away from a house of chaos, poverty, noise and worries. They are also doing Fanny's parents a favour because they take away a hungry mouth from their table and improve her chances to make a living later. And last, but not least, they are doing themselves a favour because they can show the world how generous they are (never underestimate this aspect - they surely like being praised as generous and benevolent). The contrast between the Ward sisters is important too, they all stand as examples (and also caricatures) for their respective place in society: Mrs Norris is sketched as a cheap pharisee, but as a clergyman's wife, she has to hold the pennies together, Lady Bertram as being beautiful and indolent is the epitome of the supersaturated gentry, yet you can't really blame her because beauty obviously was what her husband was looking for, and Mrs Price is the one who married for love, yet ended up in a bit of a pickle because her husband did not meet her romantic expectations (at least it seems like that to me). So, on this background, it's quite obvious why the Bertram children are the way they are and why Fanny is the way she is. The Bertram children have all grown up with a sense of entitlement, encouraged by Aunt Norris's attitude who isn't kind herself and hence cannot possibly value kindness in others, either. Lady Bertram doesn't seem to be very interested in her children, although she doesn't mind them, either - she's just too indifferent. I take it that she didn't raise them herself, as was the tradition, so she left all the petty stuff to nurses and governesses/house teachers; no wonder they are basically strangers to her. You can see early on in the book that the Bertram children are used to taking advantage of Fanny; whenever they need an excuse or distraction, they look out for Fanny. And Fanny might not always be happy about that, but she will usually comply. I think this is what I disliked about her when I was younger, but I can see now why she did it. She knows she owes her relatives gratitude, so she does as she's asked. Miss Crawford is a Lizzy Bennet type of girl (quick-witted and good at repartee) minus the kindness and the ability for self-reflection. Also, she's much more spoilt. But her way of approaching Edmund is so different from what he's used to - he can't help but being fascinated by her. I feel sorry for Mr Rushworth - and knowing what I know after having read the book several times, I have good reasons for this feelings.-All in all, I think it's a nice set of characters, none of them is all good or all evil, and if some are not particularly likable, they are at least entertaining or funny in a way. So far for my thoughts on the first part of the book!

Amber Holcomb said...

Lona,

To echo Courtney, so wonderful to have you join in! :)

I enjoyed that video clip you shared! Great insight, to notice the way each character has their own way of speaking. I love what the professor says about being able to take a snippet of dialogue from an Austen novel and easily pinpointing who said it. :)

That's an interesting point about Fanny's future... She is certainly given more opportunities at Mansfield. If only it wasn't at the expense of being taken away from her family. :\ But I'm glad she still gets to see her brother, who seems to be doing very well with the opportunities he's been given!

Also echoing Courtney in thanking you for the great facts and thoughts about this genre and characterization in Austen's novels! The hard-to-love characters do serve as a stark contrast to the connection between the heroine and hero. :)

Thank you for joining the discussion!

~Amber

Amber Holcomb said...

Miranda,

This cast of characters sure is interesting, isn't it? I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with Fanny's character, and if Edmund becomes more likable. We just have to wade through all the drama of the other characters. ;) LOL

Thank you for stopping by, friend, and for your posts!

~Amber

Amber Holcomb said...

Courtney,

So happy to have you joining the read-along! :) Thank you for sharing the link to your post. Will stop by soon!

Love your addition to the point Lona made, using Sir Walter as an example!

And yes, I'm also curious to see whether or not Edmund turns out to be hero material... :)

~Amber

Amber Holcomb said...

Ginette,

It's great to have you join the read-along! And I really appreciate you sharing your insights, especially knowing the book as well as you do. :) This is such an interesting point: "Fanny and Edmund are part of the whole thing, more so than all other Austen characters." I don't know if I would have thought about it like that, but that's fascinating! They really do seem to be a product of their environments growing up, and they interact with their environments based on the roles they know. Interesting to think about!

Also, I love what you said here: "Miss Crawford is a Lizzy Bennet type of girl (quick-witted and good at repartee) minus the kindness and the ability for self-reflection." What a great connection! And it really shows how much difference kindness and self-awareness make to someone's personality.

Thank you again for your thoughtful comment and insights on the characters in this book!

~Amber

MovieCritic said...

Once again, my appologizes for being so late! I really am enjoying reading it, I just have not been getting my thoughts together quickly!

Hm, I hadn't thought of that. I guess Edmund does like Miss Crawford because she challenges his thoughts.

I agree with Mrs. Norris missing out on a good companion. Poor Fanny.

Thank you again for hosting this! Hopefully I will get the rest of my thoughts out soon!

~MovieCritic

Amber Holcomb said...

MovieCritic,

No need to apologize! I'm glad you're still joining in and enjoying the book! :)

Poor Fanny, indeed! Mrs. Norris could have had a gem of a companion if she had been willing to take Fanny under her wing and showed her genuine love. Alas!

So fun to see your post, friend, and I hope you continue to enjoy the story!

~Amber