I may have went to college to hone my skills as a writer, but being an English major means, there is a lot of literature classes that will be assigned to your future semesters. Reviewing and breaking down works of fiction done by others is a major part of the writing process. It is examples of why things work or don’t. The only real choice I had to make to make in my literature courses was to take British literature or American literature course. I went with British, because I was a massive Jane Austen fan.
Oddly, in none of my college or high school courses was I ever required to read any of her novels. That is extremely shocking, I know. I have to wonder if this is the reason why I chose Mansfield Park as my favorite. It was my first exposure, knowingly, and even more shocking, it was the movie at that. My fellow lit alums are probably scandalized by that confession, and understandably so. I say knowingly, because I had been watching the film version of Emma, repeatedly, before Mansfield Park graced the screens. The difference is that my twelve year-old mind never connected with the writer Jane Austen or that Emma was actually hers when I was watching it.
Mansfield Park was an adaption of another of Ms. Austen’s work onto the big screen. The character of Fanny Price just spoke to me. I related to her character in so many ways and still do. I fortunately didn’t have to be removed from my family and sent away to live with my cousins as a friend slash servant because my social status blurred the lines between propriety and family responsibility. I just grew up in a normal household with my normal family, so I had that going for me. Fanny’s situation aside still left this strong willed girl, whose head was filled with imagination. Unfortunately, she still had to be aware of her limitations. She was still expected to play by the rules of society. Society didn’t give her a whole lot of options, but she still had choices. Ignoring the whole “I’m in love with my cousin, Edmund!” thing, Fanny was in love with someone she was not supposed to ever consider because of her social status. She accepted that her love could never be, but she still held on to a tiny sliver of hope. This was more than most women in her time allowed themselves.
Fanny new her place and played by the rules. It didn’t mean that she didn’t look for loop holes or judged and chose by the consequences. Fanny’s uncle had such a high opinion of her when she grew to the age of marriage that he decided to have a coming out ball for her. Fanny may have been in love with Edmund, but she firmly didn’t want to be handed over to some man by her uncle like he was handing over the title to a car. She stuck to her beliefs regardless if that meant she would be forced to go back to poverty.
Fanny does get tempted to fall for the easy choice. She gets an offer of marriage from a man, a charming one at that, who represents everything that she doesn’t believe in. But does Mr. Crawford ever try to woo the poor girl. If I am honest I got a little wooed myself. Even with all of this, she does finally make the right decision in choosing her own beliefs and feelings. She knew she could never love him regardless of the type of man he was, but mainly due to her heart belonging to another. I think she would have chosen a life on her own than to ever settle making me respect her that much more.
This is why Mansfield Park struck such a cord within me. I have always felt like a girl that is aware of her place in the world, but is not willing to sacrifice that which truly makes me who I am in order to satisfy others. My love and devotion for Mansfield Park is understood and accepted, but for other Jane Austen fans, I usually get this response in return, “So Pride and Prejudice is a close second, then.” I am not saying that this is all true of the fandom, but Pride and Prejudice is usually expected to the favorite. If it isn’t, then the acceptance of a close personal bond with one of the other novels, with the exception of Northanger Abbey. That novel is usually considered a four letter word among the Austenites. Not that it is bad, just clearly not a favorite for Austen to have written let alone to read it. When I tell people that I actually prefer another of the novels above the beloved Pride and Prejudice as a second favorite, I get odds looks of disbelief. Even in such a fandom of unified enjoyment and respect, there is a hierarchy.
Persuasion is actually my second favorite, because I am a hopeless romantic and love the story in this novel. Stating this, however, does not diminish my love and feelings for Pride and Prejudice. For her time, Elizabeth Bennett was pretty radical. She was comfortable enough to not follow the social order and beat her own drum. Her sarcasm and wit is enough for any kind of inspiration. I just have my own loves and ways of loving when it comes to Jane Austen. You would not believe how many retellings and Jane Austen inspired novels I have read over the years because that is how much I love it.
For my fellow Austenites, I want to say this. It is okay to love any of the other five novels more than Elizabeth Bennett’s and Mr. Darcy’s romance. It’s okay. Hell, it’s even okay to love Northanger Abbey more. Honestly, if it wasn’t treated like a dirty secret, and I had gotten my hands on it when I was twelve, I probably would have been in love with it just as much as I love Mansfield Park.
Pride and Prejudice is a wonderful novel that is fun and provoking, but Austen was a great writer in general. This carried over to her other novels which were just as good. It wasn’t her first novel nor her last. The woman had a talent that I personally envy. I can only hope that I can write at least one thing as amazing as anything she has.
These are my preferences in order.
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility
I must also take a moment to point out that while not all film adaptions are perfect representations of these novels, there are some decent ones.
I recommend the recent BBC adaptation of Emma. I fully believe that this is the best interpretation of any of her novels that has ever been made. They do take liberties at times, but I believe Jane Austen would have approved.
The 90’s BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth is always a favorite, but if you want something a little shorter. The last version with Keira Knightley and Michael Macfadyen is a pretty decent condensed version.
Also I think the 1999 version of Mansfield Park is fantastic.