Heyo! Welcome to today’s Boozy Books. Let’s get started, shall we?
First up, an update on my sinus infection. It’s mostly healed, so that’s good! I’m not quite 100%, but I can think properly again, so that’s a good thing. Now, if only I could get my characters to speak to me; they’ve all gone silent.
Does anyone know if a side effect of Sudafed is temporary sanity? It’s terribly quiet upstairs and I don’t like it.
As is my wont when I don’t feel well, I turn to Austen. To be fair, I didn’t read her this week; I watched every Austen adaptation I own instead. And, as in all things, it seems to be Mansfield Park which suffers.
I hate this book. OK… well… no. I don’t hate it. But it is certainly my least favorite of Austen’s works. I mean, I understand the point of it; Fanny Price is clear-sighted and makes no attempts to pretend to be something she isn’t. She puts on no airs and is not taken in by the elegance and modern sensibilities of the Crawfords. I get it. She’s their foil. That doesn’t mean I have to like her.
This is because I desperately want her to hit someone… or at least to speak up and call everyone on their shit rather than being the quiet example of moral correctness. I think she takes “rising above” to such a level, she ends up becoming something of a door mat, at the whims of everyone around her. And, yes, I understand she is the poor relation and completely dependent upon everyone at Mansfield for her living… that does not mean she needs to accept cruelty with blithe indifference. Or to sit back and watch Edmund, the man she loves, delude himself into thinking Mary Crawford is a suitable match.
Seriously. Did Jane Austen set out to populate an entire novel with unlikable people? OK, I’m being harsh, aren’t I? Fanny is not unlikable… and I can definitely admire the fact that she is true to herself in a way that no one else in the novel is. She comes to value herself and her opinions in the latter half of the novel and, though she is the “poor relation with little understanding”, she is the one who sees the world most clearly. I get it. But she can be so insufferably priggish, especially to a modern reader. While Mary Crawford’s attempt to smooth over the fact that Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford have run off together (Maria being a married woman) is certainly lacking in character, one certainly does not have to be entirely moralistic to be a decent person. Would Fanny Price have been morally corrupt for taking part in a silly play? Would it have been so horrible to flirt? After all, flirtation is not an invitation to anything further.
Of course, I come at this novel from the perspective of a modern reader. And, of all of Austen’s books, I think it is Mansfield Park which has aged the worst. Austen comes across as moralizing, arguing that the simple life of the country is better than the dissolute manners of the city, and Fanny’s moralism is likely a product of Austen’s own upbringing. There is some belief that Aunt Norris (the officious elder sister of Lady Bertram) is based on Austen’s own sister-in-law. And, frankly… I think the characters suffer a bit for that moralizing.
If, however, you focus on how self-deluding and selfish the supposedly superior Bertrams are compared to the inferior Fanny Price (inferior based, of course, on birth and status), there are vestiges of Austen’s disdain for the concept of titles and the supposed superiority of birth status over what is earned. Fanny is born poor, but it is she who is the strongest and who is, arguably, better. The problem comes with the interpretation that it is BECAUSE Fanny was born poor that she was a better person, which the final chapter makes the case for.
In the end, Fanny gets Edmund, Tom doesn’t die, and the Crawfords are dismissed from Mansfield society. Why, then, do I wish Fanny had flipped the entire Bertram family the deuces and run off to become an explorer?
OK… I might write that.
Well… what to drink with this novel? I’d say something dangerous. The kind of drink you almost don’t realize will make you do naughty things, but only almost. That way you can decide just how far it is you want to go. And, of course, Sir Thomas goes to Antigua, which is in the West Indies, so I’m thinking rum. So… I’m going to go… mojito! Who doesn’t love mojitos? I’m a great fan of raspberry mojitos, myself (just add some raspberries while you muddle). If you want to be a Fanny and remain morally uncorrupted, remove the rum… or just stare disapprovingly from the corner. If you want to be Edmund, begin by drinking the virgin version and then gradually add more rum in order to impress Mary Crawford. For the rest of us… just party hardy. In fact, skip the book altogether and just drink. You’ll have much more fun. Trust me.
In fact, I think I’m going to go make one now. But use soda water, not tonic. Tonic’s gross. It even sounds gross. Actually, I bet Fanny Price drinks tonic water because that’s what good people do…
Anyway, that’s it from me today. I’ve been unfair to Fanny Price for long enough. Until tomorrow, where A will bring you the weekly Shakespeare report!
Buy the Book:
A Recipe for Raspberry Mojitos! (You can omit the Chambord if you like. I’ve found I don’t need it. A few really ripe raspberries is totally enough.)
(Make sure to buy WHITE RUM! Bacardi is fine since you’re mixing it.)