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"Mansfield Park" by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park is available for free download from the ebooks catalog.

Mansfield ParkPublished in July 1814, Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price who has been raised by her wealthy aunt and uncle as charity to her mother who married poorly. Treated as inferior by everyone except her cousin Edmund, Fanny's gratitude toward Edmund secretly grows into love. As suitors and other lovers come into the picture, the plot thickens and emotions run high in true Austen style.

Many readers complain about Mansfield Park. It has the drama and plot complexity of Austen's greater works, but the heroine is probably not someone you'd care too much about at first sight. Fanny Price is quiet and reserved. All of her struggles are inner ones. She does not quarrel or speak her mind. Her attractions are calm repose and strict moral standards.

All of Austen's heroines grow and mature in some way, and Fanny possibly grows the most. She does not become outspoken and witty like Lizzy Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, but we watch her grow into a sophisticated woman who values herself and her notions and will settle for nothing less than she thinks she deserves. Another striking characteristic of this book is that the "villains" are the most likable of Austen's creation. While her plots are by no means predictable, it is usually obvious at least by halfway through the novel which characters will redeem themselves and which will not. In Mansfield Park, she keeps you guessing straight to the end.

Apparently Austen struggled to find the ending to this story. There is a delicious ambiguity of character and plot, and had Austen lived a little longer or in a later time period, perhaps we could have seen this ambiguity carried out to its full extent in a later novel. We could have seen one of her heroines end up in slightly questionable but exciting circumstances. But it seems Austen was socially conservative, even for her own time, and we must be content to happily enjoy her novels for their amusing insight and surprising application to modern life, even if some of us might rather rewrite the ending to Mansfield Park.

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