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Monday, August 26, 2013

Mansfield Park Read Along Discussion Questions, part 2

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Hello, Janeites, and welcome back to the MP Read Along! This is the 2nd set of discussion questions for Mansfield Park, which you can join here, and answer the questions at your leisure. (Don't have a copy? See the sign up page for lots of ways to get it for free!) Feel free to answer them as you see fit - via blog, vlog, funny gifs, concise tweets - whatever works for you! Also, feel free to skip questions here and there or altogether - the read along is for enjoyment and community, and you're by no means obligated to answer questions you don't want to. Feel free to discuss - or not - whatever you'd like.
If you missed the questions from Volume One, you can find them - and share your responses - here.
Now, on to Volume Two!

Volume Two opens with Sir Bertram's returning home, all plans for the play abandoned, and everyone in a dissatisfied uproar, and proceeds through Maria's marriage to Rushworth, William's arrival, a ball and a newly-blooming Fanny, and ends with a proposal from Henry Crawford. It's a pretty short volume, but packed with moments of upheaval and import.
The questions:
  • What do you make of Sir Bertram's treatment of Fanny when he returns home? Consider this passage:
    "[Sir Thomas,] on perceiving her, came forward with a kindness which astonished and penetrated her, calling her his dear Fanny, kissing her affectionately, and observing with decided pleasure how much she was grown! Fanny knew not how to feel, nor where to look. She was quite oppressed. He had never been so kind, so very kind to her in his life. His manner seemed changed, his voice was quick from the agitation of joy; and all that had been awful in his dignity seemed lost in tenderness."
  • What do you make of Sir Thomas' completely new treatment of Fanny? Does it make you reconsider their relationship, or Sir Thomas as a character? Consider also Sophie's piece on incest at Mansfield Park.
  • Considering this same question from another angle, let's talk a bit about Fanny's age and status. In Vol 2, multiple characters notice how much Fanny has "improved" in looks, and Henry even states that she's grown at least 2 inches since the Crawfords met her, less than a year ago. It's easy to forget, but Fanny is only 16 at the arrival of the Crawfords, and 17 by novel's end; how does this color your interpretation of the events of the book thus far? Does your opinion of Fanny, or others treatment of her, change with her age taken into account?
  • We often discuss Fanny as a very passive character, but in some parts of the novel, and especially in part 2, we begin to see another side of Fanny. Through some of her more unguarded conversations with Edmund, and through her own inner-monologues, especially when speaking with Henry Crawford, we see that a different, strongly-opinionated Fanny is buried under the surface. Discuss that motif as a whole: the public and private sides of characters, how it plays into decorum and propriety, and our overall impressions of the characters and the novels. Do you wish Fanny would say the things she thinks? How would the novel change if she did so?
  • In this Volume, Henry Crawford tells his sister that he intends to make Fanny fall in love with him, that he "cannot be satisfied...without making a small hole in Fanny Price's heart." Discuss your reaction to this, given not only the story so far, but also Fanny's age, character, and status (near as the reader can tell, she's not "out" in society yet, though she does mix with the company of her family, putting her in a strange state of limbo). 
  • Further, in Henry's efforts to make Fanny fall for him, he seems to get caught in his own snare and fall for Fanny. What do you make of this turn of events? Do you believe Henry's affections for Fanny are real?  And what do you make of Mary's assessment of a relationship between her brother and Fanny:
    "The gentleness and gratitude of her disposition would secure her all your own immediately. From my soul I do not think she would marry you without love; that is, if there is a girl in the world capable of being uninfluenced by ambition, I can suppose it her; but ask her to love you, and she will never have the heart to refuse.”
  • Anything else you'd like to discuss from Volume Two?

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  1. You know, that's an excellent point about Fanny's age that I never really consider. She seems so "complete" by the time the main action of the novel begins that I usually don't take that into account. My own reading of Fanny and her "passiveness" is that she has some form of social anxiety disorder (which, having to speak to Mrs. Norris would give me one too!) that makes her so timid. I think this is actually one of the reasons I identify with Fanny and enjoy Mansfield Park so much; Austen's other heroines are so polished and secure, but Fanny feels like a real person with real problems. And I love how the strength of her character makes her valuable to others despite a lack of charm, wit, etc.

    What makes this extra interesting to me is some arguments I've recently read in Susan Cain's book and others about how the West has shifted from a culture of character to a culture of personality; maybe that's one of the reasons so many readers dislike Fanny and modern adaptations feel the need to make her more personable?

  2. It took me a few days to have chance to do this, but better late than never! I think the link from the index isn't working, but I got here in the end :)

    1. I keep fixing that stupid link and blogger keeps changing it and unfixing it! It's driving me nuts!!


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