I was struck with the sudden desire late Wednesday night to pick up Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Among Austen’s works, it is the one I am the least familiar with. I have read it only two or three times and never with any particular sense of joy. Yet suddenly I felt that I must try it again, that this time I might finally unlock its charms.
It does not begin well. Austen, whose masterful opening lines for Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, and Emma can be readily quoted by even non-rabid fans, was frankly slacking off when she commenced Mansfield Park with a rambling compound sentence on the history of the Bertram family. It is an immediate reminder for readers that this is her least sprightly, least optimistic novel. Even Persuasion has more energy and hope in its pages. Yes, structurally it is beautifully, thoughtfully crafted and has a cast of well-developed characters second only to Emma, but, like Fanny herself, only after a long acquaintance do you come to recognize the book’s virtues and love it. First, you must make it through the opening pages, at least to Fanny’s arrival at Mansfield Park.
Well, I have done that now so, trusting that the worst is behind me, look forward to reading on. But, a bit shamefully, I must admit that I am more excited to renew my acquaintance with the charming Crawford siblings than with Fanny or Edmund.