Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mansfield Park Book Club Kicks Off!

Welcome virtual book club participants, those who comment and those silent lurkers (you know who you are)! Thanks for all the input last week on your favorite Austen book and adaptation. Feel free to go back and throw your two cents' in whenever you like.

Before we get cracking on Fanny & Company, just thought I'd bring up the new Mansfield Park opera (!!!) version I've discovered in my online wanderings. (Check this YouTube trailer for it.) Despite being season-ticket holders of the San Francisco Opera in the early days of our marriage, I confess to not being a super fan of the art form. In my plebeian head I think, "Why must it take everyone so stinking long to say anything???" Plus, I can't understand half of what they're saying. That trailer, for instance--the first word sounds like "Archiba-a-a-a-ald!" Give me a good play any day. Nevertheless, for those of you with more musical training and patience, you may want to see when the opera version hits a location near you. Like Capesthorne Hall, Cheshire.

Onward.

First, some background notes. In 1814, Mansfield Park was Austen's third novel to be published (fourth to be written), after Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, but before Emma. It had a small printing but sold out quickly. However, a second edition was not put out until 1816. The novel was probably begun in early 1811, the same year in which George, Prince of Wales, was named Prince Regent in place of his mad father George III. In the same year, Luddites began their rampage through industrializing counties, destroying textile machines that took their jobs away. Venezuela and Paraguay declared their independence. In 1812, the British were fighting both Napoleon (who invaded Russia) and the United States.

With all this in mind, what did you think of the first three chapters, the "set-up"? What did you think Fanny had in common with other Austen heroines, and how was she different? Does this novel strike you as different in tone than the earlier ones, or not?

What about Edmund being destined for the clergy? Austen's father was a clergyman. After P&P, did it surprise you to have a respectable character put forward as a clergyman?

For the next post, let's read through Chapter 28. When the novel was first published in volumes, this is where the first volume ended. You may find this plot summary of Lover's Vows helpful.

5 comments:

  1. Here's what I thought of the set-up: I kept waiting for the real book to start. It seemed like a fairly extended throat-clearing, although it did give me a very good picture of the character of all the major characters.

    Fanny has an uncertain future in common with other Austen heroines, but in the first three chapters, she is so young so we don't have a clear a view of what kind of woman she will become. In the other books you mentioned above, the heroines are older and their characters are more fully established. I haven't read the others recently, so I can't comment as to tone.

    As for the clergy question, Edmund can't touch the clergy of P&P and Emma on the smarm-o-meter, but in the first three chapters, I'd have to say we can't really tell whether this choice of profession is sincere or if it is the result of the "living" his father is planning to offer him. We do know he is a true friend to the heroine. At the start, his character seems more in line with the clergy-bound Edward in S&S.

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  2. Anna--I loved the way you put it--"an extended throat-clearing." Funny how there are fashions in book-writing. Nowadays no one would put up with this.

    I agree that Fanny fits in with her uncertain future, but I think she really sticks out in Austen, in that she doesn't have a witty, sparkly bone in her. Maybe she's most like Elinor in S&S, without the responsibility for the family?

    As for the sincerity in becoming a clergyman, I think when you have a State church and an established career path for younger sons, that gets pretty blurry. Edmund, I think, is more sincere than most--not that it helps him withstand Mary any better.

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  3. I hope you're not meaning to dis Elinor in S&S, a true heroine in the quest to stamp out chick drama in every ladies' room in which it is found. Anyway, that's beside the point: In the first three chapters of MP, Austen goes out of her way to tell the reader that Fanny's got nothin'. If memory serves, Elinor in S&S is presented as an appealing character from the get-go; she is of a different nature than her sister but she is no "Mary" from P&P, for example. We like her.

    Can you explain what you mean about the State church and established career path and what that suggests to us about Edmund? Do you mean that, as it is the only "honorable" profession open to him (military?), it says nothing about his character that he chooses it? Given that we know he has a guaranteed income in that field from his father, I agree that there is room for doubt. But also, in the first three chapters, we see a lot of the better side of his character: his sincere friendship with Fanny ("his friendship never failed her"), his efforts to help her become educated and more emotionally secure in her situation. Given that all of his relatives are portrayed as either indifferent, hard-hearted, selfish, frivolous or some combination of the above, I think Austen means for us to see him as sincere and good in his person.

    However, we have yet to see how he deals with the temptations of Mary (we don't meet her until ch. 4). Nor do we yet see any reason he chooses the Church other than income. We learn plenty about this later in different conversations he has with Mary, but nothing yet.

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  4. Absolutely I think Austen means Edmund to be admirable and sincere, if a little weak when he encounters Mary. I only meant that, going into ministry is always a mixed decision when you have a state church and career paths wrapped up with sincere beliefs. (Trollope's THE WARDEN and BARCHESTER TOWERS are delightful novels about this.)
    And I have nothing mean to say about Elinor except that, just for once, I wish she had slapped sense into Marianne.

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