In one of Jane Austen's most morally complex and richly drawn novels, she paints a fascinating portrait of an upper-class family and the cousin who comes to live with them. Fanny Price, the timid and poor relative of the wealthy Bertrams, finds comfort only in her gentle cousin, Edmund, with whom she gradually falls in love. But the departure of the father on business, and the arrival of the worldly Henry Crawford and his sister Mary, irrevocably change the family’s fortunes. A penetrating account both of individual motives and social mores, Mansfield Park remains as fresh today as when it was written. The world's greatest works of literature are now available in these beautiful keepsake volumes. Bound in real cloth, and featuring gilt edges and ribbon markers, these beautifully produced books are a wonderful way to build a handsome library of classic literature. These are the essential novels that belong in every home. They'll transport readers to imaginary worlds and provide excitement, entertainment, and enlightenment for years to come. All of these novels feature attractive illustrations and have an unequalled period feel that will grace the library, the bedside table or bureau.
Though Jane Austen was writing at a time when Gothic potboilers such as Ann Ward Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho
and Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto
were all the rage, she never got carried away by romance in her own novels. In Austen's ordered world, the passions that ruled Gothic fiction would be horridly out of place; marriage was, first and foremost, a contract, the bedrock of polite society. Certain rules applied to who was eligible and who was not, how one courted and married and what one expected afterwards. To flout these rules was to tear at the basic fabric of society, and the consequences could be terrible. Each of the six novels she completed in her lifetime are, in effect, comic cautionary tales that end happily for those characters who play by the rules and badly for those who don't. In Mansfield Park
, for example, Austen gives us Fanny Price, a poor young woman who has grown up in her wealthy relatives' household without ever being accepted as an equal. The only one who has truly been kind to Fanny is Edmund Bertram, the younger of the family's two sons.
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