All you need to know about the books you meant to read; This week: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Plot: An austerely ideological novel that details the persecution and eventual triumph of the watchful, withdrawn Cinderella, Fanny Price.

Fanny is a dependent relative supported by Sir Thomas Bertram, owner of Mansfield Park. Her gentle virtues are contrasted with the boisterous fatuity of Bertram's slackly educated daughters, Maria and Julia. Fanny glides into love with Bertram's son, Edmund, an honest innocent who hopes to take holy orders.

Into this fragile paradise burst the Crawfords, Henry and Mary. Regency bobby-dazzlers both urban and urbane, they over-stimulate the Bertram sisters and seduce the reader with their cheeky humour. Fanny notes glumly that Edmund fancies Mary.

When Sir Thomas takes a trip to his West Indian plantations, the Crawfords let rip. Propriety collapses as they bully everyone (except Fanny) into putting on amateur theatricals whereby the young people can flirt outrageously with one another while pretending to be acting. Sir Thomas returns and is disabled with fury.

Gradually, evil begins to self-destruct. Henry Crawford attempts to work his seductive wiles on Fanny but is rejected by her, and casually elopes with Maria who has previously married the chinless twit, Mr Rushworth. Mary Crawford fails to condemn her brother's adultery but is disgraced, left dissatisfied, and faces an empty future.

Sir Thomas and his son finally understand Fanny's value. She marries Edmund and will reign over Mansfield Park, the domain that has always been spiritually hers.

Theme: Traditional Christian values are besieged by a "modern" shifty amorality. Fanny's passivity is not a symptom of weakness but exemplifies the Christian life of humility, patience and piety. Her self-critical poise is rooted in the soil of the civilised Christian community of Mansfield Park. It is fitting that she should marry Edmund, whose decision to be ordained illuminates the importance of a world tethered to religious feeling. In opposition, the wayward and frivolous Crawfords are viewed initially as seductively witty and energetic but become, in due course, both evil and destructive.

Style: The comic glitter of Pride and Prejudice is replaced by the bleak elegance of moral discrimination. It reads like Samuel Johnson after rigorous exercise and diet, the vocabulary - "liberality", "condescension", "agreeable" - ensnaring the unwary with its concealed ironies.

Chief strengths: The novel is both political and domestic, dramatising a series of conservative beliefs in such a way as to make them appear necessary, if uncomfortable. Austen shows the importance of an adherence to the past and rescues the idea of "tradition" from the hands of English Heritage and the National Trust.

Chief weaknesses: Fanny's self-control leaks into smugness, especially in the second half where she takes centre stage; Austen's punitive treatment of the villains suggests an absence of charity and forgiveness.

What they thought of it then: The first edition was sold out in six weeks but it was classified as merely another diverting tale by the charming Miss Austen.

What we think of it now: Popular with the critics because it engages with ideas: recently, Bertram's West Indian property has suffered close scrutiny, the novel seen as a Tory critique of colonialism and Empire. The "common reader" probably wants more fun.

Responsible for: Austen's moral earnestness fuelled George Eliot; her Regency bucks Georgette Heyer.

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project