Jan 162019

Selfish Natures and Sharp Observations

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Purchased

I’ve finally made it…and it feels a long time coming! This is the sixth annotated edition I’ve read of a Jane Austen novel – a Christmas tradition I started back in December 2013! And this last one feels a significant triumph. One reason is because these last 3 weeks have been rather busy with holidays, travels, houseguests, and work obligations (not the best time to plan reading an 800+ page book!). Another reason is because Mansfield Park is the Jane Austen novel I’m least acquainted with – since I’ve only read it twice before and there has been a considerable amount of time since my last read… (over 10 years!). I’m happy to finally revisit with these old friends (not sure if the term ‘friends’ apply to to this group as many of them are insufferably selfish!) and read my sixth annotated edition! (For those who are interested in reading about my previous experiences reading an annotated Jane Austen work, see the bottom of this review.)

With all my reviews of annotated editions, my rations and comments reflect the annotations and observations made by the editors and not Jane Austen’s magnificent and beloved masterpieces.

Here are some of the insights and understandings I learned while reading David Shapard’s annotations:

  • Fanny Has Flaws and Strength: Fanny earns some readers’ animosity for her timidity stringent moral code. But as David Shapard points out, Fanny is not perfect – she has an envious nature when it comes to Mary Crawford. She does not lend much charity or think of Mary with any kindness…even when Mary makes much effort to befriend her. In addition, it surprised me to realize how much strength Fanny has to go against others’ wishes (something she does more than once.) For such a person that is regarded as timid and dependent, she has some fierce inner strength when she refuses to participate in the play or accept Mr. Crawford’s proposal. Especially since in both cases she was worked on by numerous people with strong arguments of persuasion. Fanny is an undeniable tower of strength!
  • Nature vs. Nurture: Through this novel we see Jane Austen comment (indirectly)  on the argument of nature verses nurture – what is hereditary and what roles do the environment and upbringing play in a person’s development. Edmund and Sir Thomas both spend a lot of time dwelling on this issue. Edmund repeatedly and staunchly defends Mary Crawford as in possession of a good nature and pure of heart but polluted by London society, her uncle, and her friends. And Sir Thomas spends some time reflecting towards the end on the fate of his daughters – were they misguided, was their education defective, were they “given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit.” It just once again illustrates how keen an observer Jane Austen is!
  • More About the Jane Austen’s Time, the Navy and Portsmouth: I’m thankful to Mr. Shapard for providing some new details about Jane Austen’s time and in particular more about the Navy and Portsmouth. I found it fascinating to learn the difficulties involved with being promoted from midshipman and how lucky William Price is to receive a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. In addition, it was great to learn more about the importance of and featured landmarks around Portsmouth (I know Jane Austen paints it in a less favorable light, but it actually sounds like an interesting place to visit!)
  • Some Critical Comments: One of the things I love most about annotations is when the editor shares some critical commentary about Jane Austen’s novel. I was happy to see Mr. Shapard make some comments towards the end of this story about some developments that maybe aren’t regarded as the most plausible and make comments on the novel’s overall structure.

Since rereading any Jane Austen work (even without annotations) is like a new experience, and readers often make new discoveries on subsequent re-readings, I thought I’d share some of mine here:

  • Quiet Doesn’t Mean Passive: Similar to Anne Elliot, Fanny is regarded as a more quiet and inactive heroine…but I disagree with those who call her a passive heroine. She is perhaps (maybe tied with Anne Elliot) one of Jane Austen’s most emotionally sensitive and active heroines. Throughout the story we see the many times Fanny suppresses feelings, tries to govern and unworthy thoughts and emotions, and is often internally perturbed by the events that surround her. She may not be outwardly active all the time (despite Aunt Norris’s best intentions) or garner our attention with , but internally she is anything but passive.
  • Amazingly Selfish!: Goodness, every character is overly self-serving and self-focused! Who isn’t selfish in this novel?!? It is actually laughable to see how often selfishness runs rampant with these characters. For example, Edmund’s comment after he reunited with Fanny and the Mr. Crawford’s affair with Mrs. Rushworth is public knowledge: “No wonder – you must feel it – you must suffer. How a man who had once loved, could desert you! But your’s – your regard was new compared with – Fanny, think of me!” LOL! I definitely think Jane Austen is winking at her readers with those italics!
  • Edmund is Not Worthy: Nope! I used to like him more than I did before this reread, but I’ve sadly discovered that Edmund is just as selfish as everyone else in this novel and that his change of regard for Fanny at the end does not satisfy. I do apologize, Ms. Austen. I’m afraid I need a little bit more to go on to find Edmund worthy of Fanny.
  • William Price Needs His Own Story: I’ve said it before about dear William (and also James Morland) these lovely brothers need their own story!

As always, reading an annotated edition of a Jane Austen novel is a wonderful, enriching, and rewarding experience.  Mansfield Park may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but reading this story through some newer (and sharper) lenses definitely enhances the reader’s pleasure and appreciation for this impressive work.

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My Reviews of Annotated Editions

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition by Patricia Meyer Spacks

The Annotated Persuasion by David Shapar

Emma: An Annotated Edition by Bharat Tandon

The Annotated Northanger Abbey by David Shapard

Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition by Patricia Meyer Spacks

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  25 Responses to “The Annotated Mansfield Park – Jane Austen (Edited by David M. Shapard)”


    Love this review! Great insights on character development and themes. It’s been a while since I’ve read Mansfield Park. Maybe this will be a good summer read for me!

    I have Shapard’s annotated versions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. What great resources they are! (But I must admit: if I want to lose myself in the language or the narrative, I have to read an un-annotated version, as I’ve never learned to ignore the facing page with all those great comments and historical tidbits!)


      Thank you, Christina! It’s interesting what stands out to you when you reread Jane Austen.

      Oh I agree! Although I still haven’t read those two by Shapard – I’ve read Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and now Mansfield Park. And yes, I’m the same way…I have to read every annotation!


    I adore Mansfield Park, mostly because of Fanny and her oh-so-realistic interior voice. I admire her strength in the face of pressure to marry Mr. Crawford; she understands the kind of man he is, and she is not willing to subject herself to a lifetime with such a person. She sees the selfishness of those around her and loves them anyway (perhaps with the exception of Aunt Norris who is the most unlovable character in all of Austen, IMHO); she is not blind to their faults, nor is she blind to her own. She sees even Edmund’s weaknesses, and still she loves him because, despite his self-absorption, he is a good man beneath it all. (Although Edmund is perhaps not good enough for Fanny who deserves a Colonel Brandon or a Mr. Knightley…more than Marianne and Emma do, anyway!)

    Thanks for your review of this annotated edition; I would love to collect and read them all, too!! 😀

    Susanne 🙂


      I agree with so much of what you said, Susanne! I’m so thankful to you for sharing your love of Mansfield Park with me! Agreed, Aunt Norris is most unlovable! She may the one Austen character I actually loathe!

      I love how Fanny recognizes her own flaws too, that just shows how much more self-aware and perceptive she is compared with everyone else in the novel.

      LOL! I do agree with you about Fanny deserving more than Edmund…at least the Edmund we see during MP!

      Hope you get to read this one soon! I also hope to collect and read all the David Shapard editions!


    Congratulations Meredith! I am very impressed with your goal and you have finished it! Mansfield Park was not a favourite of mine until I re-read it last year, or was it the year before, in order to read a variation. I enjoyed it so much more and felt I understood it better. I certainly agree with the selfishness of most of the characters. Jane Austen’s keen insight has left us with seeing the people around us today much better…for human nature certainly hasn’t changed much!


    I look forward to this Annotated version at some point. I’ve read three of his others and learned more about Austen’s world and some of what wasn’t obvious to a modern reader.

    Mansfield Park has been my second fav of Austen’s works for a long time and it is largely because Fanny has such quiet, inner strength in the midst of all those selfish people. 🙂 I agree about Edmund acting like he was settling when Fanny was the real gem. Yes!!! William would make a wonderful hero. I’ve read one variation where he is the hero opposite Mary Crawford. LOL


      Absolutely! It is so interesting how many words or expressions had different meanings back then…it is funny to discover some new inside jokes and fun Jane Austen was poking at!

      I so agree with your praise about Fanny! And wow…William and Mary? That is an interesting development!


    I had this unrealistic goal/hope of reading this before you reviewed it, but like I said; unrealistic. I also don’t own this book yet, although I’m a fan of Shaphard’s annotated Jane Austen. I think I’ll have to put this off now until much later. But I do really like your review, Meredith, and it encourages me. You SHOULD congratulate yourself for accomplishing this goal. I toast you with my favorite beverage, (tea.) 😀

    I have, but have not yet read other of Shaphard’s annotations, and frankly given the choice I would read an other of these first. Fun fact: I have a signed copy of S&S from when Mr Shaphard came to Austen, TX for the annual book fair there (I was like: Eeee, celebrity!!) This was about 2009?? VERY early in my venture into JAFF, I’d barely gotten started. These take about three times as long to read, at least for me, as reading the actual novel straight through. I’ve promised myself I will read at least one MP variation this year, as I admire those authors who have written them. Now that I’ve seen your review, I believe I’ll read MP in the future with a different viewpoint.


      Oh GOOD Gravy!!! I misspelled Austin, TX!!!! I’m laughing my head off (inside) as I groan mightily on the outside. Oh, Lord. And I always despised the way people would mistake the spelling of Jane Austen’s name……especially in Texas! :0


      Oh you are so lovely for wanting to do that, Michelle! And I completely understand – it was at times a challenging task to read MP at such a time of year!

      I so recommend reading another David Shapard annotation first! It takes some getting used to because there are so many annotations to read. That is so awesome that you have a signed book from Mr. Shapard! And yes, it takes me 3x as long as well! I don’t skip reading any of the annotations!

      I’m so happy you enjoyed my review and that it shed some new perspective on MP for you!

      LOL! I totally thought that was on purpose!!


    What a wonderful review. I love how you broke it down into subsets. Wow! Many of those I have not considered. Thanks for the evaluation. I am for Team Fanny all the way, even though she was not perfect. Have a blessed rest of the week and say hello to your Mr. Bingley.


    I agree with J.W. Garrett, I really like the way you structure your reviews, Meredith! I know there aren’t many Fanny fans out there, but am I the only Edmund fan around? I like his dry sense of humour. And I know he’d be a faithful and devoted husband. Of course in my variations, he suffers and suffers, but I still like him.


      Thank you, Lona! This review is a big one so it felt easier to break things down. 🙂 I definitely could be an Edmund fan and I do think he has likable qualities…but I need some missing chapters that illustrate a satisfying show some evolution, because he definitely needs a bit of evolving to be worthy of Fanny! Oh yes, he did suffer greatly in your stories!


    Wow, that’s a real doorstopper to tackle over the holidays! Congratulations on getting the better of it! I’m glad you’re coming around to Fanny as a character; the last time I read MP, I was struck by how many horrible feelings she first has and then conquers. And as for the selfishness, I think that was the worst possible social trait in Jane Austen’s eyes, a true violation of the code of interdependence, and MP is where she really makes this most explicit.

    As for Edmund, maybe he will grow into a better person under the twin influences of Fanny and a life of service to his parishioners. We can hope! Happy new year to you and Mr. Bingley!


      LOL! So true! I’ve always liked Fanny, I know I have a lot in common with her. 😉 But it is great to find some new ways to admire her and perhaps defend her to others! 😉

      Interesting supposition about Jane Austen, she definitely imbues a negative view on this characteristic.

      I definitely think Edmund can/will grow worthy of Fanny! For sure! I just wish we saw it on page rather than a brief summary that doesn’t really give any specifics.

      Thanks so much for reading this review and sharing your thoughts! Hope 2019 is treating you well so far!


    Congrats! I’m facing this one again soon as my non-Austen in Boston Austen book club is rereading Mansfield. I read the Harvard Press annotated MP last year and found the annotations “lacking”. Cheers!


      Oh fun! I hope you find this one more satisfying! There were a few chapters were I was wishing for more annotations, but perhaps there was little that could be said. 😉


    I only have the annotated P&P and I absolutely love it. These books are awesome.


    This is a really fascinating post, thank you Meredith! I liked your analysis of Fanny’s character, the new things you’ve discovered about her and what you’ve learned from this insightful book.

    I know this might sound a bit outrageous, but personally I think Fanny should have married Henry Crawford. Edmund is her first cousin!!! I know he’s a better person than Henry, but genetically… 😉 People saw things differently back then I guess.

    BTW Portsmouth is not hugely far from where I grew up. It’s not a bad city! 😉 I haven’t been there for years, but it is a very interesting place to visit if you get the chance. You can visit Nelson’s ship the Victory which he died on – very much of JA’s period – and going even further back in time, King Henry the 8th’s lost ship the Mary Rose which was discovered at the bottom of the Solent (the sea around Portsmouth)n in the 1970s and much more. See website here: https://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/


      Thank you, Elaine! I so appreciate you reading it! 🙂 It is always fun to discover new things when reading Jane Austen.

      It isn’t outrageous at all! I’m very torn about that myself – most of the time I feel Henry can be redeemed and Edmund is unworthy of Fanny. True about the first cousin business too.

      That’s awesome that you are so near Portsmouth, it sounds like a fun place to visit! Thanks so much for sharing!


    This looks wonderful! Thanks for the great post, Meredith! I should read more of the annotated versions. We get to learn so many details that otherwise might have passed us by.

    It took me ages to get into Mansfield Park, and even now I like it more for the wealth of Regency info it gives us, more than all JA’s other novels, than for the plot itself. But it’s fascinating to see our favourite lady writing as convincingly about Fanny as about Elizabeth. Why oh why there are so few finished novels of hers…..


      Thanks so much for checking out this mammoth of a review, Joana! It is so interesting to see how much we miss since we are not from Jane Austen’s era and use words differently nowadays. I love all the subtle ways she pokes fun and makes references!

      I do agree about Mp being a little hard to love. It is never one I list as my favorite Jane Austen, but nonetheless it is still a story I greatly enjoy and find a lot to admire in.

      I echo your lament as well!! If only…!

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