At the center of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park is Fanny Price, the classic “poor cousin” who has been brought to live with the rich Sir Thomas Bertram and his wife as an act of charity. Over time, Fanny comes to demonstrate forcibly those virtues Austen most admired: modesty, firm principles, and a loving heart. As Fanny watches her cousins Maria and Julia cast aside their scruples in dangerous flirtations (and worse), and as she herself resolutely resists the advantages of marriage to the fascinating but morally unsteady Henry Crawford, her seeming austerity grows in appeal and makes clear why she was Austen’s own favorite among her heroines.
Mansfield Park encompasses not only Austen’s great comedic gifts and her genius as a historian of the human animal, but her personal credo as well—her faith in a social order that combats chaos through civil grace, decency, and wit. With an introduction by Peter Conrad.
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)
Into this Cinderella existence comes Henry Crawford and his sister, Mary, who are visiting relatives in the neighborhood. Soon Mansfield Park is given over to all kinds of gaiety, including a daring interlude spent dabbling in theatricals. Young Edmund is smitten with Mary, and Henry Crawford woos Fanny. Yet these two charming, gifted, and attractive siblings gradually reveal themselves to be lacking in one essential Austenian quality: principle. Without good principles to temper passion, the results can be disastrous, and indeed, Mansfield Park is rife with adultery, betrayal, social ruin, and ruptured friendships. But this is a comedy, after all, so there is also a requisite happy ending and plenty of Austen's patented gentle satire along the way. Describing the switch in Edmund's affections from Mary to Fanny, she writes: "I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion, that everyone may be at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of unconquerable passions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, must vary much as to time in different people." What does not vary is the pleasure with which new generations come to Jane Austen. --Alix Wilber