Just to warn you, I do discuss some of the plot points (not the major ones) and give away who gets with whom in this review. Read on if you want to know which romance prevails.
This is the Jane Austen novel that bothered me the most (of those I’ve read), and it's not because the main guy is the main girl's first cousin. I get that that was something people did back in the day. Let me explain the source of my consternations.
First, a summary. Mansfield Park is about Fanny Price, a young woman from a poor family who is sent as a little girl to live with her wealthy and titled aunt and uncle. Fanny was mostly raised with her older cousins, but it was always clear that she wasn't one of them. She was considered to be and treated like the poor relation, and that's how she felt - an outsider. The only one of her cousins who treated her well was her cousin Edmund. He's the aforementioned cousin with whom she falls in love. Probably because he's the only person who ever showed her any affection.
Eventually, though, Edmund falls in love with someone else. A new curate took residency at the estate, and with the curate came his wife and her brother and sister. Henry and Mary Crawford, the brother and sister, are very worldly people who live by their own moral code - which mostly focuses on money and social importance. Lots of things happen between everyone living in Mansfield Park (which includes the curacy). In case you want to read it, I won't tell you. Well. I will say one more thing: Henry Crawford falls for Fanny and tries to get her to marry him. But, Fanny doesn't want anything to do with him because he's a player. Onward.
Here's what I don't like: Edmund thinks very highly of himself. He's the smart, responsible son, and he knows it. He also sees himself as Fanny's mentor. And then he falls for a chick (Mary Crawford) that really does love him back, but her priorities are screwed up. He wants to be a curate, and that doesn't make enough money or have enough importance for her. She actually gets excited when his older brother gets deathly ill because then Edmund will inherit the title and estate. He doesn't realize until the end that she's totally wrong for him. For the "smart" one, he's pretty dumb. But he's somehow still Fanny's dream-guy, and the fact that he's an idiot doesn't ever interfere with that. She vaguely recognizes the fact, but she doesn't care. Probably because she's just as self-righteous as he is. You know how pride goes two ways - thinking highly of yourself and thinking lowly of yourself? Edmund and Fanny are the two sides of the pride coin. She thinks she isn't important but is always right, and he thinks he is important and is always right. I guess they were meant for each other all along.
Here's what I hate: The Crawfords are somewhat the villains of the story. They throw a wrench in all of Fanny's dreams. But they could have been so much more. For an author known for her character development, she did nothing with this pair. They didn't learn anything, and they didn't progress. Henry Crawford could have gotten the girl if he had only learned that he couldn't have every girl. Mary Crawford could have gotten the guy if she had only realized that money and status weren't everything. But instead, they end the story the same way they started it. They could have been happy, but instead they continued on in their path to misery. Why, Jane? Why did you let these characters flop? I have half a mind to write my own version of this story where everyone gets their character development. I like stories where people learn that they need to change. The Crawfords learned nothing.
Who should read this: Everyone. So that I may not suffer alone. JK. Probably no one unless you want to be a Jane Austen buff. In which case, slog through Fanny's timidity and Edmund's stupidity.
I really wanted to like this book. But I didn't. Instead it just makes me angry. Sure, (spoiler alert) the girl gets the guy she's been in love with since childhood, but it could have been so much better. You dropped the ball on this one, Jane.