In this, the least popular of the Austen novels, the reader may well wonder: is Austen up to something different? Or just not on form? Does Austen fail with this novel if she could be said to have particularly succeeded with Pride and Prejudice, as well as Sense and Sensibility and Emma?
Maybe it’s just a question of modern sensibilities? Maybe it’s a problem with Fanny Price, the least likable, apparently, of all of Austen’s heroines? Maybe it’s the moralising tone, sharpest in this novel, which irks.
The key problem, as I see it, is one of plot: Mary and Henry Crawford could just as easily have been redeemed as not. The story doesn’t have the sense that it must have played out just so when the reader gets to the end. The unravelling of Henry and Mary Crawford, and the vindication of Fanny Price, are just a tad too contingent. It could all have been otherwise. Fanny doesn’t turn out to be essentially good, and just, and right; it simply turns out that she happens to have been right: she could have (and should have, I think), ended up being a rather pathetic and narrow minded character, a bitter old-maid, and a cautionary tale: get off your high-horse, Fanny Price, just who do you think you are?
Mansfield Park shows the dark side of Jane Austen
Ignore its uptight reputation – Mansfield Park, published 200 years ago this month, seethes with sex and explores England’s murkiest corners
Move over Lizzie Bennet – let’s hear it for the unsung heroine
Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park, has been unfairly dismissed by readers and critics. To mark the novel’s 200th anniversary, writers celebrate literary leading ladies who have been overshadowed by their showier sisters