Have finished yet another re-read of Mansfield Park, in celebration of its bicentenary, and as always with a slow, deliberate re-read of anything Austen, one finds all sorts of new insights, new sentences, new cause for chuckles [yes! even Mansfield Park is chuckle-worthy!] – but as I have little time at present to engage in long semi-thoughtful posts on this novel, I shall just begin posting every few days some of my favorite lines, passages, all exhibiting the best of Jane Austen … and welcome your comments…
Today I start with a sentence in the first paragraph. Without the legendary opening line of Pride & Prejudice’s “a truth universally acknowledged” to start the tale, Mansfield Park begins rather like a family accounting – how the three Ward sisters fared with husband finding. And then we have this sentence, rather snuck in there I think to echo Pride and Prejudice:
“But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world, as there are pretty women to deserve them.”
[MP, Vol. I, Ch. I]
And we find in the three Ward sisters the limited options available to women of limited fortune in Jane Austen’s day: Maria lands the baronet, Frances marries for Love and ends up the worst of the lot, and the eldest becomes a vicar’s wife and one of Austen’s most beastly characters … and thus begins Mansfield Park…
One of her charmingly snide jabs at the society, thinly veiled in clean, white kid gloves. And this one is adroitly focused on both of the sexes.. As if merely being, by chance, pretty makes a woman deserve a prize. And also as if being wealthy, once again by chance in this society of wealthy idlers, makes a man a prize.
Well said Fran!
If we were to interpret the phrase,,”good fortune,” to,mean,love,then we could have an interesting interpretation. The following phrase is
“as there are pretty women to deserve them.”
We can see Jane Austen at her female emancipation and feminist best. She is totally FOR women and the subtleties of this sentence show it!!! My goodness, Deb she would have made a great suffragette.. She lived in the wrong century. ha! ha!
Well, Tony, then we get into proto-feminist ground! – I like that Jane Austen lived right when she did! – the term by the way is “large fortune” which changes the meaning – must juxtapose “fortune” and “deserve” – I think the latter the telling term as you say…
I’ve also just finished rereading Mansfield Park — I found myself thinking about the Crawfords recently and wanting to renew my acquaintance with them. (They are so wonderfully ambiguous.)
As for the sentence you quote, it is an interesting echo of P&P’s opening salvo, isn’t it, but kind of in a minor key? Instead of the humorous vision she sets out in P&P — an imaginary word populated with wealthy men all in quest of wives — we have this image of scarcity, the negative construction emphasizing this idea. However few pretty women there might be in the world, there are even fewer men of large fortune. The implication is that it’s a tough, cold world out there, and only a few are going to really do well.
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Yes, absolutely – and why it takes so long to really really read Austen – each sentence carries so much meaning! It is a humorous line, followed by the reality of the marriages of the other two sisters, one marries the vicar friend of Sir Thomas, the other for Love – neither of these marriages are successful, and one wonders about Lady Bertram and Sir Thomas, also not a happy marriage in my view – the entire book is about crumbling domestic lives, hopefully all redeemed by Fanny and Edmund coming together… and of course the key word is “deserve”…
Did you find your re-acquaintance with the Crawfords enlightening in some way? I found this time round how very claustrophobic I felt every time Henry Crawford was on the page – how he harasses Fanny with his closeness, his constant pushing at her for a response, and his constant talking –
Thanks for commenting…
I just finished a re-read of Mansfield Park, as well. I have formed some different notions of it as an older reader, I admit. (I have always preferred the comedy in Austen’s books.) So I’m looking forward to all the input and articles coming up this year! You point out an interesting perspective with which to begin–the fate of three sisters who have all made different choices in life. Usually fiction celebrates the heroine who chooses for love (as though that is somehow driven by a stronger, wilder heart and freer spirit) but Frances Ward turns out anything but spirited or inspiring…perhaps she is too tired, a condition that could be blamed on the other elements in her life, but oddly enough, also seems to afflict her oldest daughter throughout the novel. (Fanny Price is ‘benched’ through much of the action) Not to mention her sister Maria Bertram, who, although she has someone to do everything for her, can barely exert herself off the sofa. Was Jane Austen really, really tired when she wrote this? I’m inclined to think so.
A very good point – there is a feeling of malaise throughout isn’t there? – except for Mrs. Norris who is incessantly busy! – at nothing of course but her own beastly endeavors! The Crawfords arrive full of energy and life and revive everybody, but to what purpose? I don’t think Austen was tired – she was finally in a comfortable home and was at the height of her powers when she started writing this, and S&S had just been published – I think that all the issues that confuse readers of MP are the themes exactly as Austen set out to convey, and why we are all still discussing this book as the most problematic after 200 years…
I think Mansfield Park is a lot more realistic than Pride and Prejudice. That being said, hope you have a moment to check out my own whimsical blog, at “cicily 17” and perhaps become a follower.
It takes 19th century literary characters such as Jane Eyre and David Copperfield into the modern world. My latest post is Mr. Darcy Goes Equine
Thank you Annabelle – I have removed your links as that is my policy – though you can be found via your blog name… thanks for stopping by.