At our first meeting of 2010 six members discussed Vol. I of Mansfield Park, i.e. Chapters 1-18, concluding with the cliffhanger situation of Sir Thomas’s early, unexpected return home, and it proved as stimulating as our meetings usually are. We can usually rely upon differences of opinion to start our discussion and one member’s report of a critic’s comment that MP is a novel without a heroine was warmly opposed by others who felt that Fanny was demonstrably the heroine as the novel is told from her perspective, and her qualities of high principles, constancy and modesty were those highly valued in Austen’s society.
There was also disagreement about Edmund’s capitulation in taking part in Lover’s Vows. Was it to prevent the greater evil of admitting outsiders to a family production or was it because he wanted to act opposite Mary Crawford to whom he was becoming reluctantly(?) attracted?
We also had some merriment over the question of young women being ‘out’ or, perhaps, still ‘in’ and the confusion and embarrassment poor Tom suffered at Miss Sneyd’s hands – perhaps the only time and with less reason that Tom was ever embarrassed in his life. Tom’s position in the novel was also discussed with the interesting observation being made that at novel’s end he is left unpartnered – and, indeed, he does not appear to have much interest in the female sex being more involved in ‘blokey’ pursuits – drinking, horse racing, etc. What does this say about his profligacy and his character in general?
We also lightly touched upon various ideas suggested by members gleaned from their readings about the theme of MP, including education, high Tory politics (whatever that may mean), siblings and Jane’s own comment to Cassandra that she was writing about ‘ordination’. We are sure to come back to these – and more – as we move through the book. The other controversial question of slavery, for example, will surely be raised when we discuss Vol. II at our next meeting on Saturday, 20th February.
Now, you other members, whether you were present or not, please join in our discussion by commenting here – and come to our next meeting armed with your ideas and any comments you have read from other critics.