When a book written twenty five years ago is reissued as confidently as Mansfield Park Revisited: A Jane Austen Entertainment by a publisher who specializes in Jane Austen sequels, you hope that it is laudable. Of all of the past sequels to select, (and there are more than a few), why choose one based on Jane Austen’s least popular novel Mansfield Park? What has the new author created to make this sequel worthy of resurrection?
Published in 1814, Mansfield Park was Jane Austen’s third novel and even though I adore it, it has more than its share of nay sayers. There are several reasons why it is a disappointment (to some), but primary objections fall to its heroine Fanny Price, who some feel is weak and insipid and not at all like Austen’s other popular heroine’s. Author Joan Aiken’s solution in her continuation of Mansfield Park is to resume the story four years after the conclusion and to remove Fanny Price almost entirely from the novel by packing her and her husband Edmund Bertram off to Antigua in the first chapter. Fanny’s younger sister Susan Price has been brought to the forefront, stepping into Fanny’s previous role as poor relation elevated to companion to Lady Bertram now a widow after Sir Thomas Bertram’s unexpected death while attending to his business in the West Indies. Susan has matured into an attractive and bright young woman similar to her older sister, but with a lot more spunk, which will please Fanny opponents. Susan holds her own against her cousins the new Sir Thomas Bertram who often thinks she over steps her position and his sister Julia, now the Honorable Mrs. Yates who resides in the neighborhood and upon Susan’s back, objecting to her every move. We are also reintroduced to other characters from the original novel: cousin Maria Bertram the scandalous divorcee, Mary Crawford estranged from her feckless fop of a husband and now gravely ill, and her brother Henry Crawford still a bachelor having never found anyone as worthy as his last love, Fanny Price. Aiken also adds a delightful array of new secondary characters to the mix supplying interest and humor.
A quick read at 201 pages, Aiken moves the story briskly along with a series of challenging events and resolutions that keep the reader engaged, but sadly never resting to discover personalities or relationships in greater detail. At the conclusion I felt more than a bit deprived of a good love story as Susan comes to the conclusion whom she truly loves on the last few pages. This style not only mirrors Jane Austen’s approach with her hero and heroine’s romance in Mansfield Park, but amplifies one of the main objections to the original novel. Despite this flaw, Aiken is by far one of the most talented writers to attempt an Austen sequel and Mansfield Park Revisited truly worthy of resurrection. She has respectfully continued Austen’s story by expanding her characters, adapting the language for the modern reader, accurately including the social mantle and believably turning our concerns for the two main antagonists Mary and Henry Crawford at the end of Mansfield Park into sympathies, which given their principles and past bad behavior is quite an accomplishment. Packing Austen’s heroine Fanny Price off to another country might seem extreme, but it is sure to please the Fanny bashers and allowed Aiken to develop her own heroine Susan who has enough spirit and resolve for the both of them.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Mansfield Park Revisited: A Jane Austen Entertainment
By Joan Aiken
Trade paperback (201) pages
Sourcebooks Landmark, Naperville, IL (2008)
Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks Landmark © 2008; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2009, Austenprose.com