Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jane!

For a time, thanks to a gift from my friend Diane, I was a card-carrying member of the Northern California chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America. In additional to the national organization there are about 60 regional groups (including Northern California) almost all of whom have some sort of celebration of Jane Austen’s birthday – which happens to be today December 16th (in 1775)! Completely by coincidence I have just finished listening to an audio recording of Austen’s Mansfield Park. My listening time is almost all centered around my running time and these last few weeks have been delightful thanks to this recording. While there is a plot, the novel was much more interesting to me for the portrayal of English manners. And while the heroine is Fanny Price, I was more interested in Austen’s portrayal of some of the other characters namely Fanny’s two aunts Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris.

Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris and Fanny’s mother, Mrs. Price, are sisters. Mrs. Price married for love but has ended up living in poverty, the mother of nine children with a drunken husband. Lady Bertram is married to the wealthy owner of Mansfield Park and Mrs. Norris is, at the time of the story, the widow of the former chaplain of Mansfield Park with reduced financial circumstances. The only resemblance between Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris is that each is completely self-absorbed. Austen’s descriptions of them are gems of character analysis and writing.

When Fanny is eight years old, Lady Bertram agrees to take Fanny in to be raised with her own four children. Fanny is treated as the poor relation (especially by Mrs. Norris) except by one of the sons, her cousin Edmund. Most of the novel occurs when Fanny is eighteen and is occasioned by the visit to Mansfield Park of Henry and Mary Crawford (brother and sister to the wife of the current chaplain of Mansfield Park) and Mr. Yates, a friend of the elder Bertram son. So we have 4 Bertram siblings, cousin Fanny and 3 friends, all single and of approximately the same age. I’m sure you can guess where the plot is going - although it takes several twists and turns.

While the novel is generally noted for its satire, there are some serious reflections. Toward the end of the book, when Sir Thomas Bertram is disappointed by the actions of several of his children, he reflects on his failure as a parent in the children’s education and wonders if he is to blame – a passage to resonate with many parents in any time and place and financial circumstances.

Having enjoyed this book so much, I think it is time to renew my membership.

Download a free audio recording of Mansfield Park

No comments:

Post a Comment