Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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.
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