Mansfield Park: Mary Crawford – that peculiarly becoming temptress with a harp

Lady with a harp, Eliza Ridgely, by Thomas Sully (1818)The harp arrived, and rather added to her beauty, wit, and good-humour; for she played with the greatest obligingness, with an expression and taste which were peculiarly becoming, and there was something clever to be said at the close of every air. Edmund was at the Parsonage every day, to be indulged with his favourite instrument: one morning secured an invitation for the next; for the lady could not be unwilling to have a listener, and every thing was soon in a fair train. 

A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man’s heart. The season, the scene, the air, were all favourable to tenderness and sentiment. Mrs. Grant and her tambour frame were not without their use: it was all in harmony; and as everything will turn to account when love is once set going, even the sandwich tray, and Dr. Grant doing the honours of it, were worth looking at. Without studying the business, however, or knowing what he was about, Edmund was beginning, at the end of a week of such intercourse, to be a good deal in love. The Narrator, Mansfield Park, Chapter 7 

We hear Mary Crawford lament over her wayward harp on rout from London for several pages. It has finally arrived in Northampton, but stalled there for ten days with no cart available to hire for transport during the harvest. This London girl can not comprehend the inconvenient pace of the country. Her haranguing should have been a foreshadowing to Edmund Bertram of her selfish disposition. Instead, he encouragingly tells her that it is his “favourite instrument,” and hopes to be soon allowed to hear her. One wonders at his sincerity since we know from Fanny’s ignorance of ever hearing one before that no harp exists at Mansfield Park. When Mary does finally play for him, it is like a siren song, and within a week, he was good deal in love! 

Wow! What an easy conquest. I’m not sure if this is a complement to her playing, or her skill at the alluring arts. Either way, it is no compliment to his superior judgment. It will take a better woman to straighten out his head so he can discern appearances from reality. Sadly, some men never learn this one! ;-)

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Mansfield Park: Why does Fanny Price Rankle Our Ire?

Illustration by Hugh Thomson, Mansfield Park, Macmillion & Co, London (1897)When her two dances with him were over, her inclination and strength for more were pretty well at an end; and Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely. From that time Mr. Crawford sat down likewise. 

“Poor Fanny!” cried William, coming for a moment to visit her, and working away his partner’s fan as if for life, “how soon she is knocked up! Why, the sport is but just begun. I hope we shall keep it up these two hours. How can you be tired so soon?” 

“So soon! my good friend,” said Sir Thomas, producing his watch with all necessary caution; “it is three o’clock, and your sister is not used to these sort of hours.” 

“Well, then, Fanny, you shall not get up to-morrow before I go. Sleep as long as you can, and never mind me.” 

“Oh! William.” 

“What! Did she think of being up before you set off?” 

“Oh! yes, sir,” cried Fanny, rising eagerly from her seat to be nearer her uncle; “I must get up and breakfast with him. It will be the last time, you know; the last morning.” 

“You had better not. He is to have breakfasted and be gone by half-past nine. Mr. Crawford, I think you call for him at half-past nine?” 

Fanny was too urgent, however, and had too many tears in her eyes for denial; and it ended in a gracious “Well, well!” which was permission. 

“Yes, half-past nine,” said Crawford to William as the latter was leaving them, “and I shall be punctual, for there will be no kind sister to get up for me.” And in a lower tone to Fanny, “I shall have only a desolate house to hurry from. Your brother will find my ideas of time and his own very different to-morrow.” 

William Price, Fanny Price, Sir Thomas Bertram & Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park, Chapter 28 

Of all of Jane Austen heroine’s Fanny Price is more sharply criticized for her character flaws than any other. Lizzy Bennet may be quick to judge, Emma Woodhouse think too highly of herself or Marianne Dashwood over romanticize, but Fanny’s timidity and insecurity garner more objections than any other failing. Why? I have a pet theory that involves her lack of confidence. It causes people around her and the reader to disconnect and dismiss her. Weak Fanny; — we must pity and mollycoddle her. In the quote above, her brother William exclaims “Poor Fanny” when he sees her “knocked up” (tired) after dancing at the ball. She says nothing in her own defense allowing Sir Thomas to speak for her. Now, Lizzy Bennet or Emma Woodhouse would never permit anyone else to answer for them without having the last word. Instead, Fanny is silent and forced to tears of frustration and pain before Sir Thomas will consent to her wishes. This view of Fanny always acquiescing to others runs throughout the novel. As readers it is difficult to see a heroine bantered about and not defend herself. Why Austen chose this type of retreating personality in opposition her pervious strong heroines was long been debated. In the end, Austen redeems our ill opinion of her weaknesses when Fanny turns out to be the strongest character in the novel. A nice twist that some seem to overlook, wanting instead to remember that it took over 473 pages of rankling our ire to get there. 

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Mansfield Park Revisited: A Jane Austen Entertainment, by Joan Aiken – A Review

Cover of Mansfield Park Revisited, by Joan Aiken (2008)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.

Mansfield Park Revisited (1984)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)
ISBN: 978-1402212895

Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks Landmark © 2008; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2009, Austenprose.com

The Jane Austen Survey 2008 Results are Posted at JASNA

Illustration of Jane Austen by Amanda DuffyAnatomy of a Janeite

For those Janeites who participated in the The Jane Austen Survey 2008 created and compiled by Jeanne Kiefer last January, you might be very interested to read the results which have been posted in her report, Anatomy of a Janeite, Selected Results from The Jane Austen Survey 2008 on the Jane Austen Society of North America website. 

It is fascinating reading to know what makes a Janeite tick. I must confess to more than a few non-surprises and a big disappointment. 

My favorite new fact is this. 

Three-quarters of respondents reported that their interest in Jane Austen had a more-than-moderate impact on their lives – 44% chose the highest level, a “strong” impact. Quite an amazing achievement for a spinster who penned a handful of romantic novels 200 years ago! 

Wow! ¾ of the 4,500 participants report that Jane Austen has a more-than-moderate impact on their lives. 

My un-favorite old fact is this. 

Voted least-favorite heroine was Fanny Price (35%). 

Oh dear. More fuel for Fanny bashing I fear. Oh well. Like I said in a previous post, we may all aspire to be Elizabeth Bennet, but in reality, we are Fanny Price. Not such a bad thing really, in my book at least. 

You can read the full report of The Jane Austen Survey 2008 at the JASNA website. What are your surprises and disappointments? Are you an eccentric or average Janeite? Tell all.

Take the Anatomy of a Janeite Quiz based on the survey here.  

Illustration by Amanda Duffy

Mansfield Park Revelation: I am Fanny Price! Are You?

Newby Hall, Yorkshire

In Defense of Fanny Price

Even after the conclusion of Mansfield Park Madness, I am still ruminating over the novel and the characters. In order to put them to rest, I must get one thing off my chest! My journey to understand the novel has lead me to several insights and one profound truth. 

At the end of chapter 46 when Fanny Price, her sister Susan and cousin Edmund Bertram are returning by carriage to Mansfield Park, Jane Austen gives us a beautiful description of the countryside from Fanny’s perspective. 

Fanny had been everywhere awake to the difference of the country since February; but when they entered the Park her perceptions and her pleasures were of the keenest sort. It was three months, full three months, since her quitting it, and the change was from winter to summer. Her eye fell everywhere on lawns and plantations of the freshest green; and the trees, though not fully clothed, were in that delightful state when farther beauty is known to be at hand, and when, while much is actually given to the sight, more yet remains for the imagination. Her enjoyment, however, was for herself alone. Edmund could not share it. She looked at him, but he was leaning back, sunk in a deeper gloom than ever, and with eyes closed, as if the view of cheerfulness oppressed him, and the lovely scenes of home must be shut out. 

At that exact moment in my re-reading of Mansfield Park, I had a startling epiphany — a Catherine Earnshaw moment (the heroine of Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights, — when she ruminates over all of hero Heathcliff’s faults, and then proclaims exuberantly, “I am Heathcliff“, relieved to finally understand herself and know her destiny). I too had my enlightening moment, discovering through Fanny’s eyes as she observes her environment, the people around her, and her feelings that — “I am Fanny Price!” 

Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny Price (1983)

Ok, I heard that collective “ick” over cyber-space. I know — no one wants to be like a heroine that others think so ill of, who is accused of being meek, bland, insipid, passive and, –gulp– a prig!  Heavy faults indeed, which I admit not wanting to be associated with either. However, are these faults fairly applied? Is Fanny Price really as intolerable as some accuse her of being?

Carolyn Farina as Audrey Roguet (Fanny Price), Metropolitan (1990)

Honestly, up until that moment in the novel my impression of Fanny Price had been influenced by the general opinion that she is Jane Austen’s meek and unexciting anti-heroine spawning disparity of opinion to the point of igniting “Fanny Wars” among her advocates and nay-sayers in the Jane Austen community. Amused and baffled by all the controversy, here, here, and here, I had just taken it all in, waiting for my chance to discover the truth, trying to stay objective and unaffected until I could make my own decision. 

Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price (1999)

By Chapter 46, I had been impressed with her sincerity, her kindness and her principles in the face of so much human folly surrounding her at Mansfield Park and at Portsmouth. When her mentor and only friend Edmund attempts to convince her to marry Henry Crawford, her reaction is so profound, so firm, so principled, so honorable that I am amazed that others can discredit her. Who indeed could find fault with such a lovely and virtuous woman who knows herself so acutely that she alone understands what will give her a  happy and fulfilling life? Are money and social position more important than principles and love? She thinks not, and I sense that is also the point Jane Austen wants us to discover and question.

Billie Piper as Fanny Price (2007) 

So, in defense of Fanny Price I present “The Fanny List“, representing some of her amiable qualities that she exhibits in the novel. 

Loyalty, honor, sincerity, attentiveness, virtuous, inquisitiveness, bookishness, quietness, reserved, modesty, kindness, consideration, perception, patience, understanding, and morality  

You might think that this is an impressive list of atributes for a heroine, let alone a real person. Please do not misunderstand me when I say “I am Fanny Price”! I proclaim only an affinity to her, not an exact replica. I can only aspire to attain such an exaulted position!

Further-more, when we analyze all of Jane Austen’s seven heroine’s; Elinor & Marianne Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, Fanny Price, Emma Woodhouse, Anne Elliot, and Catherine Morland,  they all exhibit many of the characteristics on this list. They are personal qualities that society values, and that many aspire to. In my opinion, in a head-to-head throw-down, Fanny Price beats them all, hands down!

Recently, I took an online quiz created by Kali at the Emma Adaptations website which asked “Which Jane Austen heroine are you?” Surprisingly, my result was tabulated as Elizabeth Bennet! Even though I admire the witty and sparkling heroine of Pride and Prejudice, I was astounded that I subliminally thought that our personalities were alike; quite the contrary! On further reflection, we all might admire and aspire to be Lizzy Bennet, — but in reality — we are Fanny Price. Not such a bad thing after all, — in my humble estimation!

*Header photo of the grounds of Newby Hall, Yorkshire where the movie Mansfield Park (2007) was filmed.

Mansfield Park Sequels: Mansfield Park Revisited: Is Fanny Price a Funny Girl? Day 15 Give-away!

THE SEQUELS

A recent review at the venerable on-line periodical Publisher’s Weekly of the re-issue of Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken gave me quite a good chuckle. It’s amazing how a small typo can change the whole direction of a book! It appears on first glance that this reviewer thinks that Jane Austen’s heroine from Mansfield Park is one in the same as Broadway legend Fanny Brice! 

Now, our dear Fanny Price has been called many things; insipid, weak and other unmentionables which have lead to a few heated Janeite debates on Austen-L and elsewhere online, but this is a first. We knew that Mansfield Park was full of theatricals and references to the stage, but if my memory serves, Fanny refused to act in play Lovers’ Vows in the novel, so if she has had a change of heart and I have missed Fanny’s singing, dancing and comedic talents on Broadway, it is quite an oversight! Oh what merriment this typo created! 

Mansfield Park Revisited

Joan Aiken. Sourcebooks, $14.95 paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-4022-1289-5 

Author and scholar Aiken (1924-2004), known for her Jane Austen continuations, has imagined a sequel to Mansfield Park that’ll satisfy some Austen fans while enraging others. Heroine Fanny Brice has married her cousin Edmund Bertram and decamped for the family’s Caribbean plantation, leaving her younger sister, Susan, behind to serve as Lady Bertram’s companion at Mansfield Park. Less timid than her sister, but dismissed just the same by her finer relatives, Susan soon encounters the Crawfords, Henry and Mary, a diverting but amoral brother-and-sister pair who had nearly undone the proud Bertram family. Aiken’s sympathetic vision of the Crawfords’ fate, after their seduction of Fanny and her cousins, may strike a false note for Austen purists, but Aiken ably reproduces the author’s traditional plot twists and social comedy, if not her fluid prose or biting satire. (Oct.) 

Mansfield Park Revisited is being reissued by Sourcebooks on October 1, 2008, and quite possibly Joan Aiken’s sequel to Mansfield Park does contain the character of Fanny Brice, the Broadway and Radio legend, who hoofs her way to the Bertram’s Caribbean plantation to sing and dance and entertain the locals. But I doubt it!  

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 15 Give-away

Leave a comment by August 30th to qualify for a drawing on August 31st for one copy of 

 

Mansfield Park Revisited: A Jane Austen Entertainment, by Joan Aiken

(On sale Octber 1, 2008) Sourcebooks Landmark (2008). Re-issue. Sequel to the novel Mansfield Park in which Fanny’s sister Susan’s story is revealed. Trade paperback, 208 pages, ISBN 978-1402212895 

Upcoming posts!
Only two days left to qualify for the many great give-aways!
Winners announced August 31st.
Day 16 – Aug 30          MP: What People Are Saying
Day 17 – Aug 31          MP Madness Conclusion

Mansfield Park (2007) Movie: Musings & Discussion: Day 13 Give-away!

 

MOVIES

Interestingly, it has been exactly seven months since this adaptation of Mansfield Park aired on PBS during The Complete Jane Austen series last January. I wish that I could say that time has made my heart grow fonder, but a recent re-viewing has not changed my feelings in any respect to my original review, and I am still greatly disappointed in it. It fails as a true adaptation to Jane Austen’s masterpiece for many reasons which I and others have previously pointed out, but I think that I could have overlooked all of its blunders if the screen writer Maggie Wadey had allowed our heroine Fanny Price to have the moral fortitude and principles that Jane Austen had endowed to her in the first place! This Fanny Price is more a flighty Kitty Bennet, ready to follow than act as the moral compass for us to measure the behavior of the rest of characters against, which I believe was Austen’s intension.  

There are some who like this film and there are elements that I enjoyed and appreciated myself. The cast was excellent with one exception. Here are a few images to highlight their performances. 

Fanny Price (Billie Piper) and Edmund Bertram (Blake Ritson) enjoying a ride and discussion on the grounds of Mansfield Park. Piper flopped as Fanny given nothing to work with, and Ritson was not quite staid and moralistic enough, though he was nice eye candy, looking rather like a young Rod Stewart! 

Mary Crawford (Hayley Atwell) was duly devious and alluring and shined in the role. When she was not on screen, I was waiting for her return! Henry Crawford (Joseph Beattie) is a talented actor who I recently enjoyed in Brideshead Revisted, but I wanted him to be stronger and more slippery than the director Iain McDonald would allow. 

Maria Bertram (Michele Ryan) was the ultimate knock-out sultry siren! What man could resist such beauty and charm? Mr. Rushworth (Rory Kinnear) seems to be always portrayed by large slightly pudgy men who are a bit clueless! On this account, the director selected the ideal match to Austen’s intension and Kinnear plays Rushworth perfectly. Julia Bertram (Katherine Steadman) being the second fiddle to her sister Maria is thankless role in the movie and the book. Steadman was, well second fiddle. 

Sir Thomas arrives home from Antigua unexpectedly to discover his children in the throws of a theatrical. The looks on their faces tells all. This part, they got right. 

 

Fanny Price (Billie Piper) in one of her happier moments. Fanny is not given much dialogue with any substance unfortunately.  Piper gives her lots of perk though! 

Mary Crawford (Hayley Atwell) looking at Edmund with impudence and authority. She will make any man who dares to love her tow the line. 

Lady Bertram (Jemma Redgrave) regally lounges on the settee with Pug (Holly). Though not stated in the novel, I often wonder if Lady Bertram is ill or under the influence (as some actors have seemed to portray her). This Lady Bertram actually has opinions and notices her children! 

Henry Crawford (Joseph Beattie) attempts to convince Fanny Price (Billie Piper) to marry him. I never quite felt his intensity and determination as I did in the novel. Austen is so persistent in his pursuit, that at one point, I actually thought that Fanny was wavering and would succumb. This Fanny is not as appalled and repulsed as she should be. 

Edmund Bertram (Blake Ritson) at the exact moment he realizes that Mary Crawford is a fake and rejects her. Ritson is at his best in this scene. 

Fanny and Edmund finally discover that they love each other, all because of the color purple. Go figure! 

Further reading and viewing 

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 13 Give-away!

Leave a comment by August 30th. to be eligible for a drawing on August 31st for one copy of

Mansfield Park (2007)

Adapted by Maggie Wadey, directed by Ian B. MacDonald, an ITV & WGBH production, 92 minutes. Staring Billie Piper as Fanny Price, Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram and Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford. 

Upcoming posts
Day 14 – Aug 28          MP novel discussion chapter 41-48
Day 15 – Aug 29          MP: Sequels, Spinoff’s and Retellings
Day 16 – Aug 30          MP: What People Are Saying
Day 17 – Aug 31          MP Madness Roundup & Conclusion