Well, we’ve finished the novel, people, so let’s get down to the real work: Mansfield Park 2014, the mega-budgeted star-magnet “romantic” “comedy,” which draws unprecedented, gender-balanced crowds to the multiplex but also woos critics with its profound insights on the human instinct to escape the ha-ha! The Oscar (whichever one you like) shall be ours, and we can all crowd up on the stage in dresses that make us look way worse than any self-respecting famous person, because we have dressed ourselves and are concerned that we may have lost our $4 Target earrings on the way up the aisle! They will probably have to play us off with music, because we are loud and difficult to corral and probably waving at Colin Firth!
Are you with me, Austen Nation?
By which I mean, it’s been well-documented that the most recent adaptations of Mansfield Park have been…odd. To be fair, it’s not an easy story to adapt: there’s a play, and then there isn’t a play, and then adultery, and then some goody-two-shoes get married (goody four-shoes?). The End! We’re just waiting for the agents’ calls to pour in!
But really. I think we can do better. So let’s talk casting.
Fanny Price: I keep coming back to Zoe Boyle, Downton Abbey‘s Lavinia Swire, for no reason I can quite put my finger on. Who can play virtous yet inert, and make us like it? Readers?
(Fun fact: Just this evening, I learned that the 1997 theatrical-release Fanny is, in fact, Frances O’Connor and not Embeth Davidtz, Mark Darcy’s snooty law partner in Bridget Jones’s Diary ["To Mark and his Natasha!"]. For YEARS I’ve thought this. And I’ve seen the movie!)
Edmund Bertram: I have to support the existing choice of Jonny Lee Miller on this one, though it’s primarily because of his performance as Mr. Knightley in the most recent BBC Emma. Handsome and kind, yet vaguely judgmental? He does that so well. (See also: I am trying VERY hard not to suggest Dan Stevens, especially considering the next entry down. But Dan Stevens, you guys.)
Mary Crawford: Hayley Atwell in the 2007 BBC one sounds like strong work to me, and I hate to typecast the Downton crowd—but my imaginary Mary has, since she first stepped onto the page, been Michelle Dockery. (My brain is a nerrrrrrd.) Tell me I’m wrong.
Henry Crawford: Everybody I can think of for this is either Too Much (Ryan Gosling, self? REALLY?) or an infant (Matthew Lewis!). And here I thought brainstorming hot British actors would be my shining moment of usefulness. Help me, readers! You’re my only hope!
Lady Bertram: This really COULD be Embeth Davidtz. I hope she likes pugs.
Readers, who would you pick, for these characters or any other? Let’s hear it!
…and they all lived judgmentally ever after.
We’re done! We finished! We read a very long Jane Austen book, and all we got was this satisfyingly growing Mansfield Park tag! (This is the kind of thing that thrills your average Austen blogger.) And, you know, a string of posts and thoughtful discussion. Which brings me to another thing: You guys are the BEST. Thank you so much for reading along, and chatting it up in the comments, and being hilarious and heartfelt and wonderful. The Austen Nation is the best nation, I think, and I’ve been to Austria, where they have cheese inside sausage inside bread! So.
Having now read every word, I think what makes Mansfield Park hard to swallow isn’t just Fanny’s insistence on being a total doormat (unless, and this is to her credit, somebody’s trying to force her down the aisle); it’s that nothing about her changes. Every other Austen protagonist–and protagonists generally, because this is fiction and there has to be an arc somewhere–learns something. Grows up. Sees the error of her ways. Stops chasing the handsome rogue and falls for the old dude. SOMETHING. Fanny does none of those things. Personal change doesn’t seem to be the point for her, somehow, which begs the question: What IS the point? Mrs. Fitzpatrick suggested that perhaps everybody ELSE is changed because of Fanny’s golden presence, but upon further reflection, I don’t see it; the only character redeemed at the end is Tom Bertram, and that’s thanks to the power of the almighty virus more than anything else. Readers?
That said, I enjoyed it, in a pleasant and immediate kind of way. Fanny and Edmund’s “romance” aside—I’m not sure what “a classic romance” means to the good people at Oxford University Press—Jane’s ear for terrible people being terrible kept me entertained and ready for scandal to strike at any moment. Personal journeys of growth aside…that’s good enough for me, sometimes.
Various and sundry final thoughts:
For all the crap Fanny takes nowadays about her shrinking-violet ways, her dear Edmund is, I think, way worse. He’s controlling; he (I think) knows he’s wrong about Mary, but refuses to pull the plug; he says he loves Fanny, but constantly abandons her; “I could never marry anybody but Mary Crawford,” he moons, twenty pages from the end, and I want him to go to Thornton Lacey AND STAY THERE.
You guys. Maria lives happily ever after (or something)…with Mrs. Norris! I subsequently die of joy.
Sue me; I still like Mary Crawford, “maybe it would be okay if Tom died, because then Edmund could have his money!” comment and all. She’s shallow, but she’s (usually) neither malicious nor clueless—the two great sins of Austenian women. She’s neither rewarded nor truly punished in the end, which seems fair, and I hope she lives to liven up many a party. By which I mean “novel.”
And now, let’s all have snacks (BYO) and read something trashy!
(For those without volume numbers, that’s chapter 26 through chapter 33.)
Well, at least she picks her battles: Fanny may not be able to get past the ha-ha or figure out which necklace to wear, but at least she stands her ground through the Henry Crawford proposal debacle—even when everybody around her is TERRIBLE about it. At least she has a fire* (finally) to sit and brood over. If only someone would get the poor girl a drink.
* HOWEVER. Sir Thomas! Fire or no fire, is that any way to speak to a lady? Or, like, a human being? Get it together, man! It’s the nineteenth century!
Various and sundry thoughts:
The necklace situation was goofy—she gave it to you, and it’s fine, and jeez, calm down—but I did love the way Jane captured the moment of ridiculous relief when something stressful is resolved without the expected amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Fanny’s “darn, looks like your chain’s too big for my cross” moment was like that split second where you think you’re about to be sent to the principal’s office, but the hall monitor’s after the kid next to you. That’s it? The chain’s too big? Well, then.
So sorry to hear about “…that independence of spirit, which prevails so much in modern days, even in young women, and which in young women is offensive and disgusting beyond all common offence.” Somehow I don’t think Sir Thomas would be that excited about the ladies of Austenacious. Whoops.
And finally, I’ve been holding this in for entirely too long and I think it’s time I let it all out: I suspect whoever cast Billie Piper in that BBC version may ALSO have never read the novel. I love me some Rose Tyler—like, a lot—but that? Is a horrendous idea. TAKE IT BACK.
How’s the reading going, people? Fourteen chapters and counting! And where the heck is Edmund? Come back, Edmund. Unless you’re just going to be stupid and marry Mary, in which case…go away, Edmund.
How’s it going, Mansfield people?
I know Mansfield is a lot of people’s least favorite Austen novel, but you guys…I’m really enjoying it (albeit slowly). Yes, Fanny’s a wimp and Edmund is the wettest blanket of all time, but the black (or, okay, dove-gray) comedy of it all is plenty to keep me entertained and reading on. Just as importantly, my mother is reading along—she’s more or less new to Janely things—and is totally into it.
Thoughts on this section:
- Oh, you guys, leave it to Jane to add into the mix that most hilarious and recognizable character: the Theater Guy. Oh, Mr. Yates! You don’t want to intrude; it’s just that some old chick was rude enough to die right in the middle of your rehearsal schedule, so it’s just as well that you found a new group of friends to help you recreate the diverse and exciting world of Glee. You want to be in a play so badly. This is probably so that you can hang around backstage with a headset mike and your hand in the back pocket of your production girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s jeans while the popular kids belt out “Seasons of Love” onstage, and then go out for pizza and probably some underage drinking. Or…so I hear.
- Ugh, Edmund. FINE. You don’t want to be in a play. You’re afraid of the “warm” bits (…hee). Is “The only thing worse than being in your stupid play is having that weird neighbor kid be in your stupid play in my house, so hand over that script” so hard to get out?
(Okay, I know. Different times, theater as place of scandal!, protector of reputation, etc. But really: You must chill. YOU MUST CHILL.)
- I continue my…not love affair with, exactly, so much as deep enjoyment of, Mr. Rushworth. Do we think he could marry his pink satin cloak? I’m pretty sure it would like him more than his fiancee does.
- So, Mrs. Norris’s outburst: is it, or is it not, the climax of Book I? What a revealing moment—of course she considers herself superior to Fanny, but somehow the public announcement makes things a thousand percent worse for everybody, involved or not. It’s just such a turn for the sinister, even if the behavior behind it is the same as it’s always been. But where does this put us with Mary Crawford? Do we love her? Do we hate her? You’re a fickle mistress, Jane.
Next week: same bat time, same bat channel, chapters 17-21. Maybe more.
What do you think, readers?
In which the plot of Mansfield Park actually begins, with much manipulating and private pouting and a whole lot of sitting on a bench, and we get to giggle and say “ha-ha” a lot. I am not going to shut up about this, just so you know.
• Of COURSE Edmund falls for a lady because of her harp. That is not a euphemism.
• I very much enjoyed Edmund and Mary’s exchange about the role of the church (and not ONLY because of the payoff when Edmund busts out with “…I’m going to be a minister; didn’t you know?”)—both as keen character development and an exploration of what might have been going on in Jane’s own head, faith-wise. From a character point of view, this conversation is a rather detailed and neon sign pointing out how ill-suited Edmund and Mary are, even when it comes to the basics of family life—which, of course, does approximately nothing to stop Edmund from abandoning Fanny (“but you’re so tiiiiired!”) and heading out for some hot under-tree-sitting. It’s obnoxious, of course, because we can see what a terrible couple they’d make, but it also rings terribly true—we’ve all been there, willing things to work out with someone who is clearly not the right person. Basically: ugh, Edmund, stop being such a HUMAN.
On the other hand, we have Jane playing dueling points of view on the role of the church, the graves of Scottish clergy, and the wisdom of having a whole chapel just for the family [NB: Terrible idea, obviously]. This interests me mostly because religion is so absent from most of Jane’s work—there’s church, of course, but mostly as a cultural institution and rarely in this much detail, and the devil’s-advocate quality of this passage struck me as a) pleasingly detailed and b) surprisingly modern. Iiinteresting!
• Do you know who I love? I love dumb, rich, earnest Mr. Rushworth. I do hope he gets to spend some quality time with his cousin, Mr. Collins.
• So Fanny sits there, stuck in the park, as everybody streams past her in a collective fit of mildly rebellious fence-climbing (“Oopsy daisy,” says Hugh Grant). We’re supposed to take this as…Fanny’s captivity? Fanny’s self-restraint? I suppose it’s the latter, though not in the heroic Elinor Dashwood sense. Fanny COULD hop the gate, like everybody else. She COULD leave when Mr. Rushworth shows up with the key. She WANTS to visit the knoll and talk about improvements, or whatever; it’s just that she doesn’t want to do any of those things without Edmund, which isn’t as attractive as the kind of restraint that comes from personal virtue or discipline. This, I think, is why we don’t like her—she won’t cross the fence even when the key is present.
• “…in danger of slipping into the ha-ha” may be the most wonderful phrase ever written. I am putting this at the top of my resume as we speak, right below my address and above the part where I list “sorting jelly beans into rainbow order” under my list of skills.
• More than you ever wanted to know about ha-has. So to speak.
For next week: Chapter 15, at LEAST. Possibly further! Or possibly we will be reading this book long into the future!
How’s it going, Mansfield folks?
What up, chapter five?
…yes, five. I know I said chapter ten, but isn’t five a nice stopping place? Also, because this is a place of honesty: I kept falling asleep. (Not Jane’s fault. Mine, for trying to read in bed. At night. In my jammies, while sleepy. And clutching a glass of warm milk.)
So…how’s it going, Mansfield folks? Is it too late to make a “Man’s field” joke here?
All narcolepsy aside, and with the understanding that things might go sour later—turns out an awful lot of you are not fans of Mansfield Park, so I’m sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop—I’m really enjoying it so far. Various and sundry thoughts:
- Fanny is…well, she’s no Elizabeth Bennet, or any other booty-kicking heroine, is she? But she’s not all bad: she likes pragmatism, horses, and her cute cousin, and what’s not to like about any of those things (besides the “cousin” part)? I keep wondering what Jane Eyre would think of Fanny. What’s the opposite of Jane Austen Fight Club? Jane Austen Slumber Party? Where they braid each other’s hair and talk about how they’re surrounded by drama queens (sorry, Rochester)?
- Does it make me a contrarian if I say I sort of wish Edmund would give it a rest? JEEZ. We get it. YOU’RE AWESOME.
- On the other hand, why don’t handsome men ever give ME horses?
- Jane’s little diatribe about who’s out and who’s not out—how it’s so hard to tell and nobody’s raising their daughters right these days—is…basically a blog post, right? It’s gotta be Jane working out the repercussions of some ultra-embarrassing moment. It also assures me that Jane would appreciate this site and our moments of occasional crankiness. Get off Jane’s lawn!
- Mrs. Norris cracks me up despite being Jane’s favorite lady-trope (see: Mrs. Bennet). I assume the connection between Fanny’s embarrassing aunt and Filch’s cat at Hogwarts is intentional.
- The Crawfords have just arrived on the scene, and I have to say: I’m intrigued. If Fanny’s a wimp and Edmund’s a goody-goody, who are these interesting and independent (and possibly evil) people? TIME WILL TELL.
If you’re reading along, how’s it going? If you’re not, what do you think?
Recently I went to a conversation between William “Bill” Deresiewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter, and Karen “Karen” Joy Fowler, author of Jane Austen Book Club. There were about 15 of us there at Books, Inc in Berkeley, and OK, it was almost a month ago (don’t you just love instant reporting on the Internet?), but it was really cool! It was like hanging out with all you dear readers, all of us gabbing about Austen, all of us being surprised at just how differently we see the books. One of those, you know, life metaphors.
Here’s a few of the things we talked about. And because I think of you all as my Jane Austen friends, I’d love to hear what you think about any of them.
- The way that the humor of the books is generally lacking in the movies, and if this could be remedied. I and a few others said, yes, it could, but those movies would not be the rather swooshy pink rom-coms lots of people want from their Austen films. (Talk about irony . . . .) How you would do this I’m not sure, being better at watching movies than making them. Any ideas out there?
- Secularism in Jane Austen—how church and religion are hardly ever mentioned in her books, yet she was the daughter of a clergyman, etc, etc. And how the clergymen run the gamut from Edmund Bertram and Edward Ferrars to Mr. Collins and back again. Now my own take is that church and the clergy were such a ubiquitous part of Austen’s life that she hardly ever thought to comment on them, and that she saw the clergy in particular as just a bunch of guys. What do you think?
- Bill said that widowhood and loss are a theme in Persuasion. I’m not so sure. He pointed out that most of the characters are widows or widowers, which is true. Anne’s loss of Captain Wentworth and other losses do play a role, but as Miss Ball argued, the recovery of love and happiness is crucial to the book (and is significantly lacking in widowhood). And the way Austen treats the widows and losers of Persuasion, other than Anne, is not really very sympathetic. Like the clergy, I would venture to say that they were just more common in an age of earlier deaths. But it is an interesting thought.
- So was Karen’s comment that Mrs. Smith is a rather sinister character—she doesn’t tell Anne how wicked Mr. Elliot is until after Anne declares she won’t marry him. This is a common problem in friendship, though, isn’t it? In my own circle I know of two instances of one person on the brink of a disastrous marriage and their friend deciding whether or not to say something. One friend did, the other didn’t (having already made her opinions known). It didn’t make a difference in either case, and both couples are now divorced. Aside from the fact that it had never occurred to me that Mrs. Smith was sinister, this discussion pointed out parallels in Austen’s books to my own life that I hadn’t even thought of!
- One person asked how reading Jane Austen has enlivened your life. Do you think and act differently because of her? Karen said she suffered fools better than she used to, enjoyed them even! And Bill said she’d made him able to admit the possibility of his being wrong. For myself, I think that I started reading Austen young enough (~13) that she helped shape my entire outlook on life, both my morals and my ever-present sense of irony. Though I also simply felt that I had found a friend.
What about you? How has reading Jane Austen enlivened your life? Has she changed you?
Photo credit: ©2000 by Sean Dreilinger. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
For the first time in a good long while, we have a Disney fairy tale on our hands—a true “Once Upon a Time,” sugar-coated Grimm’s-ripoff fairy tale—and all the buzz over this Rapunzel business has the generic Prince Charming type on my mind. Surprise! But really: his name is Charming. Blame me if you must.
Jane, of course, isn’t in the business of fairy tales. Happy endings? Yes. True love’s kiss? Usually. But Jane is fundamentally a realist, and in her version of Regency England, sometimes perfectly intelligent and likeable ladies end up with guys like Mr. Collins—who never turns into a prince, no matter how many kisses he gets (to be fair: twice, max).
Oddly enough, with a slight change of scene and a good fairy godmother, many of the heroines of the Austen universe would make pretty good fairy tale princesses, or princesses-to-be—think smart, dreamy, plucky, maybe a bit bossy (ahem, Miss Woodhouse), and generally virtuous even in the case of undeserved poverty. The men, however, definitely tend away from the Prince Charming type—probably, to be honest, because Austen took the time to develop her gentlemen in a way that isn’t on the menu for most Disneyfied princes. They’re handsome, those princes, but let’s say complex emotional arcs aren’t exactly their bag (though 30 Rock tells me that Prince Eric, the gold standard for animated hotness, was based on fictional Jon Hamm‘s high school swim team photo—and I’ll take that fake fact to my grave).
Sorry, Austen gents. We’re taking away your…well, whatever it is you call a prince’s little crown (tiaros?), and here’s why:
Mr. Darcy: Prince on the inside, Beast on the outside. Surely in possession of a trusty steed (for that fifty miles of good road) and a true heart, but a bit on the oversensitive side. Definitely doesn’t hold with fairy godmothers; is probably made extra cranky by extraneous acts of the supernatural.
Mr. Knightley: Definitely the most outwardly princely of the bunch—handsome and well-intentioned, and ripe for occasional high-horse unseating at the hands of his lady love, which of course is always a nice touch. Prone to snootiness and angry speeches—theoretically appropriate for the position, but ultimately unbecoming to a man with the last name Charming (who, remember, may eventually need to get it on with a very recent scullery maid).
Captain Wentworth: He’s a pirate, not a prince. I mean, come on.
Col. Brandon – Too old for the Prince Eric treatment. Also, princes don’t have wards or wear flannel waistcoats. Unlikely to burst into song.
Henry Tilney – Okay, cute and clever. He’s the prince’s bookish little brother—sarcastic, and into a good novel and the price of muslin. Possibly too detail-oriented and not take-charge enough for the average dragon-slaying mission, though excellent for an entertaining retelling later.
Edmund Bertram – A clergyman! And not even a first-rate one! Certainly a good guy, but too much in need of a rich princess to bail him out of his own financial duress.
You all remember that Fanny Price and Edmund walked happily off into the sunset or vicarage (admiring the verdure). Julia had run off with Mr. Yates, Maria was disgraced and living with Aunt Norris, and Fanny’s sister Susan came to live at Mansfield Park. The End.
. . .
Ten years later, Sir Thomas Bertram decided to visit his estates in Bermuda once more. And what happened then? In a most unusual burst of energy, Lady Bertram decided the entire family should go with him. Except Maria and Aunt Norris, of course. Edmund and Fanny packed up their two children, Tom and his wife packed up their four, and Susan simply had to come too, even though by this time she was running the village newspaper. Julia and Mr. Yates managed to get out of it, though, by “renewing their vows” in Gretna Green.
And off they went. . .
Did I mention that Sir Thomas, as a cost-saving measure, bunked Susan in with two of her nephews? Also, that the “staterooms” were more like cabins? Here’s one of Tom Bertram’s wee sons, Mustaschio Man, strutting his stuff before forcing Miss Osborne, er, Susan, to watch Beverly Hills Ninja and Cats and Dogs on TV.
Whoever said “you can’t feel a thing when you’re on a big cruise ship” lied lied lied. While Susan turned green and whimpered as the boat rocked to and fro, the boys got pizza and ice cream. Not gingerbread cakes. No one really eats those, you know. They’re for tourists.
At long last, the Bertrams arrived in Bermuda. While Tom and Edmund tried to convince their father that slavery had been outlawed 200 years earlier, and Bermuda was independent, and he had no more estates, the ladies lounged on the beach. That’s Fanny on the left in the pink bikini. Marriage has really lightened that girl up.
Alas, at dinner things turned ugly. The Bertrams, if you can believe it, got into a huge family row about whose estates they didn’t have, exactly, and whether Fanny and Edmund should build a vicarage on the beach. Fanny’s own sweet little daughter broke her Aunt Susan’s arm. With a fork. Maybe she’s in the . . . oh, first rule.
For the rest of the trip, Susan sported an arm sling made with muslin that she had intended to embroider. It made her look rather like the Nutcracker Prince, but that couldn’t be helped.
Susan did allow Edmund (alias Mr. David Osborne) to escort her up on some rocks to take in the beauty of the sun and surf. After he’d apologized for his daughter’s behavior, of course.
The Bertrams, happy and united once more, visited the City Hall and Art Centre in Bermuda’s capital city, Hamilton. All those pictures of men reminded Lady Bertram that her dear niece Susan really ought to find a rich husband.
As a matter of fact, Susan had her eye on a man mysteriously appearing in her magic mirror.
Then one night, Cary Grant traveled back in time, and they had An Affair to Remember. Susan decided that despite the indignities of mass family transit, Bermuda was a very beautiful place to visit. “The beaches are spectacular, the sand is soft, clean and lovely, and the water is delightful!” she wrote in the village paper.
Miss Osborne, on the other hand, has been known to sigh and say, “Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories . . . we’ve already missed the spring.”
We’re glad they’re both back home, safe and sound, if devoid of rich husbands and Cary Grant.
Photo credita: All images ©2010 by Christine Osborne. All rights reserved.
So, how can I put this? Let’s see. Okay, so. Sometimes, it seems to me that Austen adaptations are…shall we say, remiss in failing to offer a satisfying ending? Failing to seal the deal, if you know what I mean? Sure, Lizzy and Darcy end up in the Carriage of Loooove at the end of the 1995 adaptation, but what’s with the little peck as they’re driving off (frozen for effect, even—what, BBC, do you think we didn’t see what you did there, you dirty cheaters)? And, really, nothing for Jane and Bingley? They’re going to get a complex, people. Even Emma Thompson’s Elinor promptly explodes with emotion when Edward turns out not to be married—but does she sweep him off his feet and carry him away, complete with soaring music and distracting crane-shot camera work? Spoiler alert: she does not. And oh, sure, maybe it’s not in the book, exactly, but then neither is a thirty-six-year-old Elinor, a Jane Bennet that looks vaguely like a Greek statue, or that awesome cake on a pedestal (with ribbons!) at the end of Sense and Sensibility. I stand by what I say: more kissing, please! Jane won’t mind.
Thankfully, there are some recent Austen adaptations that seek to remedy the situation, and I think this sort of thing requires some, uh, research. Or, more specifically, a poll. Here are seven ending scenes from relatively recent Austen adaptations, all of them containing some sort of kissy-kissy true-love moment. Inquiring minds want to know: Austenacious readers, which is your favorite, and why? If there’s one that isn’t listed here, what is it (and why couldn’t we find it)?
Pride and Prejudice 1995
Mansfield Park 1999
Pride and Prejudice 2005
Northanger Abbey 2007
Mansfield Park 2007