February 2010 meeting: Mansfield Park Vol. II

Mansfield Park Book Covers

And the winner is: Penguin Books!

Who should Fanny Price have married? At our meeting on Saturday 20th February this was a question on which members’ opinions were divided – not equally: how could it as there were 11 members, three of them first-timers (welcome Helen, Mia and Jenny) present, but there was strong support for Cassandra’s stance that she should have married Henry Crawford. This, of course, led to a discussion of both Fanny and Henry’s characters and personalities.

Some described Fanny as puritanical and ‘wishy washy’ – lacking in humour and spirit –  while others defended her as physically frail but morally strong, particularly during the Lovers’ Vows period when she refused even her beloved Edmund’s request to take part. And could a ‘wishy washy’ character have withstood Sir Thomas’s veiled bullying and even Edmund’s cajoling when she refused Henry’s proposal.

Henry, one of Austen’s less villainous villains, also divided opinion: was he a reformed character who would have given Fanny some spirit and whom she would have kept on the straight and narrow, or was he an incorrigible womaniser who would have reverted to type after ‘the honeymoon period’ of marriage was over? As one member said, we will never know.  Some derided Edmund and Fanny’s future married life as being a pretty dull affair but others felt they were well suited and likely to achieve happiness in their own way.

We spent some time talking about Mary’s character trying to decide whether she was  a true friend to Fanny or merely using her in the absence of any other suitable young women to socialise with. Had her London upbringing and values blinded her to the virtues of a country lifestyle and, especially, we considered her attitude to the clergy.  Some of us wondered why Edmund could not make up his mind to propose to Mary as he so often seemed on the point of doing. His strong moral objections to some of her ‘playfulness’ did, as we find later in the novel, have sound grounds and saved him from a union which would not have been a happy one for him.

Anna pointed out that our studying MP volume by volume brought out the strong structure of the novel, this being particularly evident in Volume II which covers the period of the play, Sir Thomas’s absence and return, and the proposal. Mary made the comment that during the game of Speculation Mary Crawford said ‘No cold prudence for me. I am not born to sit still and do nothing. If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it.’ which she felt encapsulated the novel.

Members had fun working together on  Bill’s quiz on Volume II  and we had our usual quotes challenge.

Volume III which we will discuss at our next meeting on 20th March promises to be equally interesting.

Business matters covered at the meeting were:

  • Those (Mary, Anna, Marilyn, Bill, Margaret , Mia, Sue, Sarah –  and anyone else who lets us know) interested in being involved in our presentation at JASA’s September conference will get together separately to work on this.
  • Mary offered to take on responsibility for our library.

Members, please – those present at this meeting and those who were unable to attend – comment on this or add your own post about this meeting: we all learn from each other and this is where we can share our insights as well as at meetings.

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3 Responses to February 2010 meeting: Mansfield Park Vol. II

  1. I must say that I loved the way new member Cheng, at only her second meeting, took our quotes challenge to a whole new level. She gave us one word, from Volume 2 of Mansfield Park, and asked us to complete the rest of the sentence. The word, from Sir Thomas, was “What” … and with a few hints the group managed to finish it eventually!!

  2. mary collins says:

    At the Aug. ’07 JASA meeting Dr Jim Sait gave a talk entitled ‘Jane Austen’s shapely turns’. “Dr Sait proposed that Austen’s novels were carefully structured so that the climax physically appears halfway through the story, and all the books build up to this climax, where things are as bad as they can get, and then unravel on the downhill run to the end of the novel.” Dr Sait’s talk was published in ‘Sensibilities’ Dec. ’07.
    The card games scene at the Grants occurs midway through ‘Mansfield Park’ (give or take a page or two) and is the pivotal point of the novel. The Bertram girls are absent, Mrs Norris’ influence has waned, and Sir Thomas is now regarding Fanny in a favourable light. Following Mary’s comment, and after Henry again feels compelled to expand on his ideas for improvements at Thornton Lacey, he advises Fanny to ignore William’s ploy and says “Your sister does not part with the queen. She is quite determined. The game will be yours, turning to her again – it will certainly be yours.” So here we have, at the midway point of the novel, ‘the plot in a minute’. For although Fanny still has many trials ahead we know that she most certainly does win the game.
    Referencing Marilyn’s great talk on the theatrical aspect of ‘Emma’, we can also see that this is a very theatrical scene. All the main players are assembled centre stage at the speculation table, while Sir Thomas and Mrs Norris, seated upstage at the whist table, are observing the play from completely opposing points of view.

  3. Thanks Mary … great comments. I love the idea of “the game” being Fanny’s. It’s always interesting to reread books once you know the plot, to see how an author has subtly (if they’re good!) been leading you on a path.

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