Austen Marathon: Mansfield Park

Title: Mansfield Park

Author: Jane Austen

Genre: Fiction; Classic, Romance

First Published: 1814

Pages: 472

Rating: B+

Status: Reread

 

Mansfield Park is Jane Austen’s third novel. This novel follows the life of Fanny Price, a young girl rescued from poverty by her beautiful but indolent aunt, Lady Bertram, and her respectable but strict uncle, Sir Thomas. Her family sends her off to live with the Bertram family in their spacious estate in Mansfield Park. There, she meets her crafty and oftentimes cruel aunt, Mrs. Norris, and Sir Thomas’ children, Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia

Although the children are, by no means, intentionally cruel, constant assurance from Mrs. Norris of their lofty station compared to Fanny made them careless with her feelings. All of her cousins exhibited selfishness, save for the younger brother, Edmund. Edmund becomes Fanny’s closest friend and defender. She grows to love him, but is too afraid to show him how she feels. It all seems too late for Fanny when the Crawford siblings enter the scene.

The rakish and charming Henry Crawford becomes an instant hit with the Bertram sisters, while his own pretty sister, Mary, attracts the attentions of Edmund. Fanny could only watch their growing attractions with pain and dismay. When Maria, the older Bertram girl, marries the silly but incredibly wealthy, Mr. Rushworth, Henry turns his attention to Fanny. He seems to have fallen for our heroine completely. But a scandal awaits in the form of an elopement, an affair, and a terrible disgrace. The rest, is essentially, an incredibly tangled web, which is only set right in the final four pages of the novel.

 

The Results of the Reread.

There was a time when I said I would never reread Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. The first time I read the book, I found it dragging. It was a challenge to get through Fanny’s self-righteous soliloquies. I found Edmund stale and wooden—even more so than Edward Ferrars. The only relief was that there was life to be found in Mary Crawford. Although arguably despicable, I preferred her crassness, her thoughtless remarks over Fanny’s constant cringing and inability to express even a morsel of her sentiments without much prodding. Granted, one could take the novel’s setting into consideration, but the times have rarely stopped Austen from creating strong-willed and vocal characters.

Upon rereading Mansfield Park, I found myself enjoying the book a bit more. A careful reread allows one to appreciate the intricacies of Austen’s writings—the solid descriptions, the wit, the overall picture painstakingly painted pretty and polite. And dear Fanny, she was a quiet surprise. Although her hidden vexations, her trembling, and her general weak constitution made her less striking than the likes of Elizabeth Bennet, Marianne Dashwood, or Emma Woodhouse, she had her merits. She was loyal, intelligent, and virtuous. However, were those traits enough to save the book? Unfortunately, the answer is “No.”

Compared to Austen’s other novels, I find Mansfield Park to be the stalest, the most dated. Perhaps the disappointment I feel is directly tied to how I just reread this novel after reading Pride and Prejudice—which is an easy favorite for many Austen fans. Perhaps I simply don’t like Fanny, because kind as she is, she is a bit weepy and I find her character weak. Or perhaps, it’s simply because out of all of Austen’s works, this is the one that has the poorest character development. That, and I was secretly rooting for a Henry Crawford reform—I wanted Fanny’s love to save him. I also didn’t want Fanny to be Edmund’s second choice—although this point is arguable, as a considerable amount of time may have passed between Edmund’s heartbreak and his realization that he loved Fanny more than as a sister.

Book Review: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – Helen Fielding

Author: Helen Fielding

Genre: Fiction, Chick-Lit

First Published: 1999

Status: Read

Pages: 338

Rating: B

Fact: Helen Fielding is a comic genius. Now, if only someone told her she didn’t have to try so hard in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Fielding succeeded in turning a beloved character into a laughable caricature.

Bridget Jones is back—and her life is crazier than ever! In Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, we find our hilarious British heroine ‘four weeks and five days in’ in what she describes as a ‘functional relationship with (an) adult male.’ Indeed, everything seems to be going well for our dear, Bridget. She’s happily back to smoking and drinking, she’s a legit TV journalist, she has the dashing Mark Darcy in bed with her—all appears peachy keen.

But not ONE chapter in and the drama starts. Having established the rapport between Bridget, Shazzer, and Jude in the last book, you’d expect a bit of envy from the singletons and miserably-attached. But when her friends accuse her of being a “Smug-Going-Out-with-Someone,” and attempt to convince her that Mark Darcy is cheating on her with his rich and skinny bitch colleague, Rebecca, the whole thing becomes a bit too much. And it only gets worse. Somewhere between Bridget Jones’s Diary and this book, Bridget has sadly become somewhat spineless.

Case in point, when she and Mark find a naked and insane Asian boy on Mark’s bed, she runs off instead of demanding an explanation right off the bat. She automatically assumes that Mark’s some sort of ‘gay bestial pervert.’ Then, when she pays a carpenter an exorbitant sum to install shelves she doesn’t want, and he refuses to work, it’s as if she can’t do anything about the situation. Finally, she gets the opportunity of a lifetime—an interview with Colin Firth—and she screws it up. She misses her plane, botches the interview (because she’s too obsessed with the image of Firth emerging from the lake, soaked and sexy as Mr. Darcy in P&P), and misses her deadline. Although she ends up writing a side-splitting piece, the interview turned out to be immensely cringe-worthy.

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Book #5: Bridget Jones’s Diary

BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY

Author: Helen Fielding

Genre: Non-Fiction; Comedy/Chick-Lit

Rating: A+

First Published: 1996

Status: Read

Pages: 271

“Deliciously candid and absolutely hilarious, Bridget Jones’s Diary is the type of book one keeps on the bedside table for emergency laughs and instant pick-me-ups. V. v. good.”

Some books are meant to be read once, others are meant to be reread until the pages fall out. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding falls under the second category. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this book a literary masterpiece comparable to the works of Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, or the Brönte sisters, it really is quite a book. Its unflinching and comic portrayal of single women (singletons) and smug marrieds is absolutely spot-on.

True to its name, this book reads like an actual diary with daily entries where Bridget tracks everything from her weight to her calorie consumption, cigarette count to alcohol units. You’ll see her mood fluctuate along with her weight as she goes from one addiction to another—moving from cigarettes to lottery tickets and afternoon cocktails to smoothies.

With every confession Bridget makes, she also voices out the reader’s innermost fears, nagging insecurities, and irrational musings. Whether it’s a tendency to weigh oneself obsessively, count each calorie, chase after the “wrong” guy, smoke too many cigarettes, consume copious amounts of alcohol before 5 p.m., or rely too heavily on self-help books to solve romance and self-esteem issues—Bridget’s candid confessions will strike a chord somewhere. In my case, this book brought to light my unhealthy belief that my happiness is inversely related to my weight—that I would only truly be happy if I were a size 2 or less.

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Book #2: The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK

Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fiction; Horror/Fantasy
First Published: 2008
Status: Read
Pages: 312
Price: PHP 419.00/$9.86

The Graveyard Book is a wistful, witty, and deliciously creepy offering from the master storyteller, Neil Gaiman. It reads like a children’s book tailor-made for adults.

Opening with arguably one of the best first lines in fiction—“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”—The Graveyard Book reels you in with its macabre start and keeps you hooked until its bittersweet end. Unlike a standard horror story, which starts out with a steady beat and builds its way to a staggering crescendo, this witty and whimsical treat from Gaiman starts at the scariest point of the piece. This book starts with bloody murder.

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