“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to our tape-delayed evening coverage of the Ladies’ Terrible Sisters, or ‘Bitchiness,’ competition. I hope Twitter hasn’t told you the outcome! Here we are in the third rotation of the individual all-around, and the rivalries are fierce! Let’s check in with a few of the top contenders.”
“Miss Caroline Bingley is the heavy favorite coming into this evening’s rotation, and she’s worked hard for the title of frontrunner. Her bold style and her role in Austen’s most-read novel certainly places her at the head of the pack, but for Miss Bingley, it’s not just a label. We’ve seen that she is especially strong in the ‘direct insult’ and ‘letter of malicious intent’ events.”
“I have seen Miss Bingley stumble occasionally; her periodic lack of subtlety has been known to reveal her true character to the observant viewer, including that famous interaction regarding Elizabeth Bennet’s dirty hem and fine eyes. She would do well to proceed carefully this evening if she wants to keep it under wraps and get the guy. Remember, being terrible without being obviously terrible is key to this sport.”
“Mrs. John Dashwood might be a surprise contender, what with the ‘well, they don’t really need MONEY to LIVE ON’ maneuver—we haven’t seen much of her, but her skilled manipulation of her husband shows skills that might easily take on this field. What Mrs. Dashwood lacks in name recognition, she makes up for in subtlety—just look at the way she talked John Dashwood out of providing for his half-sisters and their mother.”
“She’s so effortless. Just look at that—a picture of grace. And by grace I mean incredible selfishness.”
“You’re so right about that. Now, what you do think about Mary Crawford’s standing in the competition?”
“Mary is something of a dark horse here tonight. Her performance during Tom Bertram”s illness last year really put her on the map—viewers will remember the way she implied that perhaps Tom’s death and the distribution of his fortune might actually be a boon to his family and ‘friends’—but with the tough competition this year, I don’t think she’ll end up on the podium. She might be prettier and more socially adept than Miss Bingley, but I just don’t think she has the killer instinct.”
“So right. And here we have the underdogs of the group, the sister-pair Julia and Maria Bertram. What’s your take on their act tonight?”
“Ooh, Julia and Maria have really been struggling this week—they obviously passed the Trials stage, but I just don’t think they have the consistency to excel in this event. Athletes like Miss Bingley and Mrs. Dashwood make clear that this field isn’t just about mild cluelessness; it really has to be pointed and intentional, and oh, look at that display of compassion. That’s not going to help them at ALL.”
“They have got to be wondering what they’re doing here. I mean, rumor has it they’ve been laughed mirthlessly out of the athletes’ locker room and have resorted to sitting in the corner, eating their own hair.”
“Ooh, that’s not good. For them, I mean. It’s pretty good for everybody else.”
“Well, we’re only twenty seconds from the conclusion of this rotation, so let’s break for commercial. Stay tuned for further coverage of the Shrill Mothers competition later tonight; we guarantee you’ll need your earplugs. We’ll be back in just a minute; don’t touch that remote.”
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.
Eight whole chapters this week, people! We’re basically the Usain Bolts of group Regency read-alongs.
First of all:
- OH NO YOU DID NOT, HENRY CRAWFORD!
Fanny may not be the Austen Nation’s favorite heroine, but going after a lady for sport—especially a lady as prey-like as Fanny, which of course only magnifies her appeal for the huntsman—is not to be tolerated. If there was ever an Austenian “gentleman” who deserved a swift kick in the goolies, I suspect it might be our Mr. Crawford. If only Fanny could get her foot up that high without fainting.
I wonder whether Henry’s fixation on “improving” houses is meant to be a comment on how he views Fanny—so far he’s only into her as a prize, but I wait patiently for the day that he wants to tear out her barnyard (heh) and make her face east, so as to improve her “approach.” Maybe I’m making this up, but my hunt for the mighty metaphor continues. Thoughts, readers?
- Jane carefully points out that Mary puts about five seconds of effort into calling her brother off. I’m still not sure whether this makes her despicable in my mind. Maybe it should, but I’m still not convinced that Mary is bad, per se—I’m more inclined, especially after Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s most recent post, to see her as Personality rather than Character. Maybe she should have used her influence differently, maybe she’s not really ripe for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Minister, but I don’t necessarily think failing to corral her douchey brother is her great moral failing. Jane, I suspect, may have disagreed.
- So, how about that Sir Thomas? Talk about wait until your father gets home! Is “sorry we put on a play in your study and moved the bookshelf” the Regency version of “no, those red Solo cups in the recycling aren’t mine, honest”? Not gonna lie: the fatherly smackdown on the whole Lovers’ Vows situation was a relief. Even Lady Bertram put aside her pug for a moment (a whole moment!) to welcome him home! Aww, ROMANCE.
- And in case I forget, readers, don’t ever let me go on my honeymoon without my emo sister.
- Psych! I don’t HAVE an emo sister, and it doesn’t say anything about weirdo brothers, so. Home free all the way to Brighton!
- (On the other hand, who is the less lucky one here? Is it the disappointed bride who married the rich moron, or the single tag-along sister who gets to laugh at her?)
Talk to me, readers.
So, I just read a new book that I think might explain a little bit about Jane Austen and Fanny Price—QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. (Here’s a good article summing up the book: The Rise of the New Groupthink.) No surprise that Fanny’s a world-class introvert; I think we can all agree on that. But part of Ms. Cain’s point is that extroversion has become much more important over the past few hundred years, and something called the Culture of Character gave over to the Culture of Personality, in which we live today. Here’s the ideal self the Culture of Character self-help books described:
- Golden Deeds
That doesn’t [hint hint] sound familiar at all, does it?? Anybody we know? Not little Miss Price, sitting in the corner?
And what about the ideal self from the Culture of Personality? Here’s what her self-help books describe:
Hmmmm….. Is there anyone in Mansfield Park who embodies those traits? And might she just coincidentally be Fanny’s rival just a teeny bit? I think Jane Austen actually uses at least half those words to describe Miss Crawford.
Now, the odd part is that Ms. Cain and “influential cultural historian, Warren Susman,” who she gets all this from—they both say that this switch from admiring Character to admiring Personality happened roughly at the end of the 19th century, when people were moving to cities and working with people they didn’t know, and having to sell themselves. And yet, here we have Mansfield Park almost 100 years earlier, and Jane Austen seemingly talking through Character vs. Personality. (That’s not foreshadowing in any way, Miss Ball.)
In a way, this makes Fanny more believable to me; that Our Jane would write a heroine like her makes sense if those qualities were more important. And yet, everyone in the book clearly finds Fanny awfully trying—they don’t hold her up as an ideal, no, they’re all over Miss Personality Crawford. So… maybe what Jane Austen is doing is looking at books that idealize the Fanny Price type and saying, “You pretend you like this girl, but in real life you think she’s a drip. See, I’ll prove it.”
When you think about it, that’s what Jane Austen does. Take stereotypes and look at them in real life: Catherine Morland vs. the Gothic novel. Marianne Dashwood vs. Ro-mance. Elizabeth Bennet vs. Prejudice . . . Wow, looking at it like that, Mansfield Park actually makes sense to me. And are we surprised that Jane Austen picked up on how people really thought of each other years before the self-help books did? No. No, we are not.
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?
It’s rainy and muddy in Austenland right now, and the good people there were thinking of passing the time with a little amateur dramatics when, lo and behold, a wormhole opened up and a copy of the Harry Potter series dropped back in time and into our heroes and heroines laps! While Fanny Price looked on in horror, a fantasy casting frenzy commenced.
Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley: All the heroines wanted to be one of these two. Hermione has the best brains and get the most to do, while Ginny is, of course, the love interest, and feisty in her own right. Emma tried to claim Hermione by pointing out that she read the most, but Lizzie pointed out that making lists of books is not the same as reading them! Also, who sticks up for herself and her friends most in a tight spot? All right, Lizzie, fine, you can be Hermione. Anne Elliot gently reminded the others that Ginny was also a put-upon member of a large family, but Catherine Morland pointed out that she was the only one who played a sport, baseball, so she should be Ginny. . .
Harry Potter: Most of the men made a claim to this, but the ladies agreed that none suited so well as Captain Wentworth. He was dashing, he was a common (not too bright) man who did things, won hearts, stirred up controversy . . .
Ron Weasley: Mr. Darcy disdained being Capt. Wentworth’s sidekick, even for Lizzie’s sake, but Mr. Bingley said he didn’t mind if he did.
Lord Voldemort: Of course, Darcy was attracted by the role. But everyone agreed quietly than it really belonged to his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And she agreed that it was fitting she should play a noble role.
Professor Albus Dumbledore: Mr. Knightley or Mr. Bennet, for sure, the from-the-side-watching know-it-alls.
Professor Severus Snape: Lizzie laughed, and said surely this role belonged to Mr. Darcy!
Draco Malfoy: Henry Crawford, to be sure. Draco doesn’t get much action, poor boy, but Crawford could identify with his halfhearted redemption.
Professor Gilderoy Lockhart: For sheer daffiness, vanity, and ego, everyone agreed, Sir Walter Elliot should have the honor here. (Mr. Collins would have done, had he been handsome.)
At this point, the ladies’ scuffles over who was to be Ginny Weasley became really quite alarming. Mary Crawford was heard to say that Ginny had always had plenty of boyfriends to choose from, and that therefore she should be Ginny. Then Lydia Bennet proclaimed loudly that she had more, and should be. Mr. Bennet went into one of his rages, and took his whole family back to Longbourn, leaving the others to practice riding their broomsticks in the drawing room and casting spells at the card table.
. . .
Obviously, I have merely scratched the surface here! Readers, what do you think? What obvious character connections have I missed?