Filling the gaps – is Jane Austen worth it?

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

Yes, it was worth it to go “back” and read the one Jane Austen novel I had missed. Mansfield Park kept my attention even though it is a long book.

Mansfield Park (and the fact that I hadn’t read it) came to my attention because I overheard part of a discussion claiming that Mansfield Park is about moral education. How do we learn ethical behavior? As usual, Austen creates highly developed characters to carry forward her plot. Their moral standing ranges from passive to rigidly cautious to frivolous and calculating.

Mansfield Park is built around an upper class English family – parents, two sons, two daughters and an impoverished niece. The niece is the protagonist. We see her grow from a shy outsider into a young woman of poise and character.

Spoiler alert! I’m going to discuss the end of the book.

The plot… The father of the family leaves to take care of business at a distant “plantation”. Two young adults, brother and sister, move into the neighborhood and become close to the siblings and niece. Misbehavior and flirtations ensue, followed by disappointment, heartbreak and disgrace.

The father returns, and “order” is reestablished. He ponders the behavior of the young members of his family, trying to determine how he failed them. His conclusion is that he had not really bothered to KNOW his children. He had rewarded good manners and accomplishments, without paying attention to personalities and ethical training. 

So, yes, the book is about moral education. It is delivered with Austen’s sly wit and delightful prose, and makes very good reading.

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