The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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October 8, 2017

A year with our Jane: one old thing, and one new thing, in Mansfield Park

It will be a comfort to me to tell you how things now are, and what are my present plans, if plans I can be said to have.*
At a time when I''m definitely reading books, but only very slowly finishing them,  I'm glad that I'm at least trying to stick with my project to re-read all of Jane Austen in this 200th-anniversary year.  Last month and this, it was Mansfield Park, and though this one hasn't every been, and probably won't ever be, among my favorites, it has been steadily growing on me {now, even more so}.

My idea in this re-reading was that I would try to notice new things about each book, and I didn't pay enough attention to that with this one.  I'm struck again by how wonderful Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram are as characters, and how much they add to the story.  There's a great sentence near the end, when Tom Bertram's health is so uncertain, where Austen describes Lady B.'s letters to Fanny as 'a sort of playing at being frightened.'  (That seems perfect, both for the character and the author.)
Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery, I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore every body, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort,and to have done with all the rest.
As for something new, I read the last few chapters in the annotated coffee-table edition I've been collecting, and as side note pointed out, almost everyone (other than Fanny and Edward) are off-stage at the end, and almost everything is told at second-hand.  In fact, the whole ending -- especially the inevitable marriage, and the wrapping up of so much that happens to other characters -- is condensed into one chapter, told by the narrator.  I don't remember noticing that before; it seemed a little odd, a little like an after-thought, but there was enough humor, enough of our Jane, in it to make it work. {And as always in these novels, it doesn't matter that I know what's going to happen, I'm always still able to look forward to it when it does.}

Northanger Abbey is next, and it fits in the time of year perfectly; didn't I (ahem) plan that well?  But The Eustace Diamonds is also calling to me; I'm not as far along for our #PalliserParty as our friend JoAnn is {I'm working on that - I promise!} but fortunately it's very, very hard to put down once I get going.

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
Annotated edition, edited by Deirdre Shauna Lynch, Belknap Press, 2016; I also listened to the Naxos audiobook edition, narrated by Juliet Stevenson
From my shelves/on my Kindle


Lisa said...

The Eustace Diamonds would also work for RIP, wouldn't it? I haven't felt the Trollope shelves calling my name in a while, but now I'm thinking it's also been a good while since I've read The Eustace Diamonds.

Audrey said...

It would! Though I still also intend to read books on purpose for these challenges and not by coincidence. :)

JoAnn said...

Hmm... I hadn't thought about The Eustace Diamonds for RIP, but coincidence may be the only way I'll manage it this year ;-)

Mansfield Park is not one of my favorite Jane novels either, but it has been nearly 20 years since I read it. Maybe it will grow on me, too. I've always loved Northanger Abbey though!

Audrey said...

Until a few years ago, Northanger Abbey is the one that I had never read/wasn't interested in, etc. etc. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to re-reading it (and/or listening? Juliet Stevenson again! :))

Tanya van Hasselt said...

You've put it so perfectly - knowing what is going to happen but still certain of enjoying it! I wonder if your opinion of Fanny has changed - we had some discussion concerning 'horribly good heroines' over on ninevoices; I often think she's dismissed as wishy-washy when really she is as strong-minded and determined as Elizabeth or Emma. Perhaps it's her seriousness and lack of ready wit which make her less attractive?

Jennifer said...

I scrolled down to leave a comment and found that Tanya van Hasselt already said what I wanted to say in the comment above. I think Fanny is not valued as she should be and that Mansfield Park is a novel that grows on you the more you read it. I hope you enjoy your reread of Northanger Abbey.

JaneGS said...

I always consider Mansfield Park to be my least favorite, until I'm actually reading it, and then I'm fully engaged, laughing and savoring Austen's wit and characters. Interesting observation about the compression and off-stage action at the end--there is a sense of detachment at the end, that this must contribute to.

Vintage Reading said...

Lovely post! I love that 'Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery ...' quote, too. I have the coffee table edition of Pride and Prejudice and they are beautiful books but rather too heavy to carry around. I'm due for another re-read of MP soon so will look out for the off-stage events at the end.

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