On Rereading Mansfield Park

The first time I read Mansfield Park, I was 19 and a freshman in college who commuted into the city via train. Taking the train daily was a new experience and afforded me extra reading time so I started to sift through my long self-imposed reading list. Like many, I fell in love with Austen’s writing with Pride and Prejudice and was making my way through her other novels. Mansfield was my third.

Naturally, fresh out of high school my life experience was limited. My views of the world were rapidly changing and while I could dig into some of Austen’s commentary, there was a lot I missed. I found Edmund and Fanny’s story to be simply romantic. I was annoyed by Henry and Mary. I took a lot about the characters at face value without realizing it. My impression of the book was also informed by the miniseries with Billie Piper (which I still love). As many movies and television shows based on Austen, the romantic aspects are emphasized. This isn’t “wrong,” but a very specific interpretation of what Austen wrote. While I don’t think my interpretation of the book at 19 was necessarily wrong either, I was focused a lot on what I thought was the central romance. Those characters had to be the heroes, right?

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