Lost in Austen

I kind of fell into re-reading Mansfield Park this past week - I always mean to leave the Austens be for a while so as to enjoy them all the more after a break, but somehow they always find their way onto my bedside table or that spot beside my breakfast plate, clamouring (as I fondly suppose) to be read.

MP is one I enjoy more each time I read it. Interestingly, there are no particularly likeable characters in this one. Fanny and Edmund themselves are not especially appealing; Fanny is too shrinking and Edmund too grave. Someone has pointed out that Mary Crawford is not so very different from Elizabeth Bennet, but Austen is in such a different frame of mind when creating Fanny and Mary that Mary's wit and worldliness come across as serious faults of temper. 

I think the pleasure in this novel is the fineness of the moral sensibilities involved, and how vividly offences against true morality are depicted. Rife selfishness, ambition, greed, lust, jealousy, tyranny and oppression are all masked by the tranquillity and refinement of an English country house. The vices which grow unchecked and gradually break through this skin to the final exposure and disgrace of three of the protagonists are allowed to breed beneath this surface while outward decorum is preserved; they are felt only in Fanny’s consciousness and expressed only through her unspoken disapprobation. But worse than these is the relationship between Mrs Norris and Fanny, a real instance of one being exerting power cruelly and gratuitously over another. Indeed Mrs Norris, though petty and trifling in the scope of her mischief, is one of the worst characters to be found in English literature.