Hey, guys! Welcome to this week’s Boozy Books! So, as you know, I occasionally go back and re-read something I’ve already paired with a view to finding something new to say about it. I’ve done it with Middlemarch a bunch of times already (mostly because I keep re-reading Middlemarch) and, really, I felt like I was neglecting Austen. I realized the other day it had been years since I re-read Emma and Sense and Sensibility (I paired them from memory. I know… that must be cheating.), and set out to re-read them. The only issue is that they’re in boxes in the closet right now since I don’t have room to put all my books on shelves, so I decided to start with Mansfield Park instead.
I don’t know if you remember, but I was pretty damn mean to Fanny Price when I paired this. If you don’t, read it here. I’ve never liked her much. She is so placid, so afraid, so unwilling to stand up for herself. The man she loves (the oh-so-uninspiring Edmund Bertram) is throwing himself after a terrible woman, and she just sits there pining like that’s going to work. And, because Austen cleverly disguised all her novels as romances, it does work. Edmund finally realizes that Fanny is the kind of woman he needs to end up with, and they… end up together.
And nothing really changes.
But when I paired it last time, I didn’t really take the opportunity to talk about the real topic of Mansfield Park: slavery. And Jane Austen is just not here for it. Far from the scholastic claims of Edward Said, Austen is very much against slavery, and the novel is an attack on both the institution and those that support it. The titular house is a new, modern building (unlike the grand old country mansions of Pemberley and Donwell Abbey) built on the proceeds of Sir Thomas’ slave trading. Even the name is consequential: Lord Mansfield, England’s Lord Chief Justice, ruled in the Somerset case that, on English soil, every man was free. So a house named after the man who’d made slavery illegal in England (but not the rest of the empire)… built on the proceeds of slavery? That’s the foundation of the novel, and we’ve only discussed the name.
Austen doesn’t let up, either. There are numerous references to slavery throughout the novel, to the point that it’s no surprise the book was never reviewed in its own time. It speaks volumes that it is the only book not to be reviewed when all of Austen’s other books were.
And, ok, I was really hard on Fanny Price. It’s hard to like someone whose religiosity and poor upbringing are used as the reasons she’s better than everyone else. Especially to modern readers. But that doesn’t change the fact that she is better than everyone else. She is the only character who isn’t charmed by the corrupting Crawfords or drawn in by their sparkling wit and good looks. And it’s when she stops being shy and retiring that she becomes a true hero, standing up to her adopted family and refusing to marry Henry Crawford. So I wanted to give her her due.
What to drink? My goodness, I have no idea. I admit, I wasn’t re-reading with a few to pair again, so I was thinking more about Austen’s stance on slavery. I’m on a one-woman mission to get people to stop thinking of Austen as a romance writer or, as Charlotte Brontë’ said, a writer of “carefully fenced, highly-cultivated garden(s)”. She isn’t. She was writing some political shit, guys, and had a lot of downright radical things to say about her time. It is a shame that we’ve forgotten that. So, um… don’t drink anything romantic. Drink something that’ll wake you up, open your eyes.
I’d say drink coffee or tea, but slavery…
Just drink water. That’ll do it.