I’ve made no secret of the fact that Mansfield Park is my least favorite Austen novel, particularly because I dislike Fanny Price. It seems I am in good company, because Austen’s own mother found Fanny “insipid.”
The British Library has made available Austen’s record of comments made by family and friends about Mansfield Park and Emma. In her iconic hand, she records direct quotes (probably from letters?) and more generally commentary, some possibly relayed secondhand. Many of the commenters compare the work to P&P (Pride and Prejudice) or S&S (Sense and Sensibility), which are probably still her most popular works.
Rebecca Onion has a nice transcript here on her The Vault blog for Slate (don’t worry–this article is worth reading, unlike the last one I linked from Slate).
It seems many people enjoyed the “Portsmouth scene,” in which Fanny visits her family and is visited in turn by Henry Crawford, which I admit is a highlight of the book for me.
It also seems that many people either like Fanny, or like Mrs. Norris, but no one seems to like them both! I obviously fall in the Mrs. Norris camp. My real complaint with Fanny is that she is so judgmental. And, she’s in love with her cousin. Gross.
Austen’s own family gave fairly unvarnished opinions (above). But I personally find critique less harsh coming from people that really know me, so she may have appreciated the constructive criticism.
You know who I didn’t like? The main character in Persuasion. I can’t even remember her name now. I find it very hard to relate to people who spend 7 years pining after someone. Maybe I’m a cold-blooded woman but no thank you. What a waste of time. So many fish in the sea!
Hahaha, that would be Anne Elliot, and she is my favorite! She is so very like me–well, hopefully not the pining. That is kinda bordering on pathetic, you are right. But I love how she learns to listen to own mind and go for what she wants instead of doing what’s expected of her. I have a very difficult time with that myself.
My sister likes her too. I had very little patience with her, and ergo, the novel. Maybe it is because I can’t relate to her since you mention she learns to listen to her own mind. I have no problem with that. I’ve always been pretty decisive and do what I want (but not always…sometimes I get sucked into expectations). So it’s hard for me to feel sympathy just because I’m such a different person.
My sister on the other hand…oh Lordy. She questions herself quite often and I could see her pining after someone for a while.
Thanks for sharing such a great link to the critiques! It’s so interesting to read opinions from when Austen’s books were first published.
Yeah, it’s so interesting to see how her contemporaries critiqued her. And interesting that she kept a personal record!