Saturday, 11 July 2015


MANSFIELD PARK was one of my A-level set books, and being an anxious student, I probably read it nine or ten times over the period of that course. Once I'd written the exam, just seeing the Penguin cover was enough to make me nauseous. I therefore haven't opened it since I skimmed it on that exam day, which, horrifyingly, is now almost twenty years ago, though I can still easily call up that exam room smell as if I was there last week.

MANSFIELD PARK has always been my least favourite Austen, largely because it contains my least favourite Austen heroine, Fanny, who is a total drip. This is not helped by the fact that Austen likes to refer to her as "my dear Fanny" - actually wait maybe that does help a bit. Books do tend to change over the years, so I was surprised to find that this one was actually much as I remembered it - Fanny's still a drip, I'm afraid. The only thing which struck me anew on this reading was how very moral a story it is. It's very much about the value of stillness, and stern principle, and about how seductive and charming and finally dangerous is the reverse. I don't know why this didn't strike me as a teenager? Perhaps I was more convinced then of the value of principle, and so it struck me as simply true, rather than as a moral position. But it's very clear. Here's Austen's summary, near the end: "Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly at fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest." Jeez.

Let's be clear here people. I say it's my least favourite Austen. That's still puts it among the best books ever written.

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