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Why You Should Read Mansfield Park
A Defense of Austen's Most Underrated Novel
If you’re new to this Substack, one of the things I’m offering subscribers in 2023 is A Year with Jane. We’re reading through Austen’s six novels this year and Mansfield Park is our read for May and June.
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In Defense of Mansfield Park
If you joined us for our read of Austen’s Emma, Mansfield Park might be a surprise. The protagonist, Fanny Price, couldn’t be more different from the self-assured, powerful, flawed, and charming Emma Woodhouse. Fanny Price is anxious, shy, and in the awkward position of being beholden to wealthy relatives because her parents are too poor to maintain their giant brood of children. She does not have a sparkling personality. She is no social butterfly. In the words of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in his brilliant book After Virtue, “Fanny is charmless; she has only the virtues, the genuine virtues, to protect her.”
This is a novel about genuine virtue compared to vice masquerading as virtue. It’s about internal goodness versus external charm. Whenever I re-read it, I wonder if it’s Austen’s finest. It tackles huge concepts with impressive nuance. You are in for a treat.
This novel is also Austen’s most in-depth discussion of religious faith. None of her other works consider piety and religious devotion to the degree that Mansfield Park explores them. It’s also Austen’s sharpest foray into moral education and parenting. How do we form children to love goodness? How do we avoid raising children with only the exterior trappings of virtue, put on as a cheap veneer to avoid our displeasure? How do we teach them to pursue the truth and to recognize the lies that might be enticing them?
Join us in reading this brilliant novel!
Sorry that last week’s email had a wonky reading schedule posted! (Must not have finished my coffee before pressing send.)
Week of May 7th:
Gather your books. There are many editions out there, so just grab what’s on your shelf or at the local library. And if you enjoy audiobooks, this is an excellent novel to enjoy with a great narrator. My favorite for this novel is Juliet Stevenson’s audiobook version. Grab Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life from Ave Maria Press (use STEWART20 for 20% off) or from Amazon.
If you didn’t start reading with us in January, you may want to catch up by reading the Introduction and Chapters 1-3 of Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life to set the stage.
Week of May 14th:
Chapters 1-9 of Mansfield Park
Week of May 21st:
Chapters 10-18 of Mansfield Park
Week of May 28th:
Chapters 19-24 of Mansfield Park
Week of June 4th:
Chapters 25-31 of Mansfield Park
Week of June 11th:
Chapters 32-40 of Mansfield Park
Week of June 18th:
Chapters 41-48 of Mansfield Park
Week of June 25th:
Chapter 4 of Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life
TBA: Zoom Discussion with special guests.
On the reading schedule I have suggested reading the chapter about Mansfield Park after finishing the novel. This is because as a reader I hate spoilers. But if you’ve already read the novel or are familiar with the story and want a resource to help you dive deeper as you re-read it, feel free to read Chapter 4 of Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life first.
I’ll be sending out weekly reflections and discussion questions to consider as you read. If you want to read faster or slower, go for it. This is fun, not homework.
If you know someone who would enjoy reading Austen with us for our Year of Jane, please share this post with him/her!
And I postponed our live Zoom on Emma because one of our special guests has had two unexpected deaths in her extended family (please keep her in your prayers). I’ll be in touch about that event when we’re ready to reschedule.
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And if you know someone who would love this virtual book club, please share with them:
Looking forward to discussing Mansfield Park with you!
(Editor of Word on Fire Spark, Author, Former Podcaster)