Jane Austen and the ‘father of the novel’ – Samuel Richardson

Gentle readers: Last week I reviewed Lynn Shepherd’s new Austen inspired mystery Murder at Mansfield Park. Not only is she an accomplished novelist, she is a distinguished Samuel Richardson scholar with a new book Clarissa’s Painter: Portraiture, Illustration, and Representation in the Novels of Samuel Richardson, published by the venerable Oxford University Press. Richardson was Jane Austen’s favorite novelist and I could not pass up the opportunity for Lynn to chat about his impact on her writing and the English novel. This is her generous contribution. Enjoy!

What influence did Samuel Richardson have on novels like Mansfield Park?

Jane Austen’s biographers often have to resort to guesswork and speculation about many aspects of her life, but there’s one thing we do know, and that’s who her favourite author was. According to her nephew, James-Edward Austen-Leigh, her knowledge of Samuel Richardson “was such as no one is likely again to acquire . . . Every circumstance narrated in Sir Charles Grandison, all that was said or done in the cedar parlour, was familiar to her; and the wedding days of [characters like] Lady L. and Lady G. were as well remembered as if they had been living friends.”

Richardson is a literary hero of mine, too, and I always think it’s sad that so few people read him nowadays. Not only because Clarissa, in particular, is one of the great masterpieces of European literature, but because it’s only by reading Richardson that you really understand the tradition Austen was writing in, and where she got some of the inspiration for her books.

So who was Samuel Richardson?

Academics and critics have been arguing for years about who wrote the first English novel. Some argue for Defoe and Robinson Crusoe, others for Fielding, but I’ve always been a firm supporter of Pamela, which Richardson published in 1740.

Pamela is a novel-in-letters, written by a young serving-maid to her parents, in which she describes her master’s attempts to seduce her. But as the subtitle (‘Virtue Rewarded’) suggests, all’s well that ends with a wedding. It sounds pretty standard stuff now, but at the time it was a publishing sensation.  There were 5 editions by the end of 1741, with an estimated 20,000 copies sold. It was also the first book to have what we would now call a ‘promotional campaign’. As a printer himself, Richardson employed all the tricks of the book-trade, including newspaper leaders and celebrity endorsement, and may even have encouraged the publication of a pamphlet that denounced the novel as pornographic, which certainly had a predictably healthy effect on sales!

But if it was Pamela that was ground-breaking, Richardson’s next novel, Clarissa, is the one that really established a new kind of prose fiction in English. This, like all Richardson’s books, is an epistolary novel, and it’s worth remembering that when Austen first put pen to paper seriously herself, she chose exactly this form – first in Lady Susan, and then in Elinor & Marianne, the first version of Sense & Sensibility. Clarissa is the story of a young woman who’s tricked away from her family by the libertine, Robert Lovelace, and eventually raped. The story evolves through two parallel correspondences – Clarissa’s with her friend Anna, and Lovelace’s with his confidant Belford. The depth and subtlety of the psychological characterisation is extraordinary, and you can see immediately why Henry Austen says his sister was such an admirer of “Richardson’s power of creating, and preserving, the consistency of his characters.” However, Clarissa is undeniably a very long read, so if you’d like a taster first, I recommend the BBC adaptation starring Sean Bean. It’s quite old now, but really worth taking a look at.

Sir Charles Grandison

The interesting point about that last quote, though, is that it’s actually about Sir Charles Grandison, Richardson’s last, longest, and least interesting book. All the same it was undeniably Austen’s favourite, and the one that had the most direct influence on her literary technique. As the critic Marilyn Butler has said, “Sir Charles Grandison contributed more than any other single book to the tradition of social comedy… which Jane Austen inherited.” Again and again, you can see Austen using characters and episodes from Richardson, and re-working them for her own purposes. If you’re interested there’s an excellent book on this whole subject by Jocelyn Harris called Jane Austen’s Art of Memory.

The parallels between Grandison and Mansfield Park, in particular, are especially interesting. Both books deal with similar themes, like marriage, education, and the relationships between parents and children, but there are also some striking similarities between many of the characters, notably the respective heroes and heroines – Fanny Price and Harriet Byron, and Edmund Bertram and Sir Charles. For example, both Fanny and Harriet are either literally or effectively orphans, who are adopted by a much richer family: as a result they both acquire two ‘sisters’ and a ‘brother’ they rapidly fall for, even though the man himself is in love with someone else entirely.

There’s no question that Austen loved Sir Charles Grandison, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t prepared to send it up gently. Isabella Tilney famously calls it an ‘amazing horrid book’, and sometime in the 1790s Jane and her niece Anna worked together to turn Richardson’s million-word novel into a ten-minute comic play for the family to perform. Though that’s rather easier than it sounds, because so little actually happens in Grandison: Sir Walter Scott recalled an old lady telling him she always chose to have that book read to her, because “should I drop asleep in course of the reading, I am sure, when I awake, I shall have lost none of the story, but shall find the party, where I left them, conversing in the cedar-parlour.”

One reason I mention this is because it’s something I always say to people who say you should never tinker with a literary classic like Austen, whether by writing sequels or pastiches, or creating new versions based on her works, like my own Murder at Mansfield Park. It’s useful to remind ourselves that Jane Austen did exactly the same thing, using Richardson both as the source text for a youthful skit, and – more seriously – as an important inspiration for her mature novels.  On that basis I think she’d be flattered that nearly 200 years after her death, so many of us still turn to her books to find inspiration for new work of our own.

Fast facts about the ‘Father of the Novel’

  • Born near Derby in 1689, Richardson was married twice and had six sons and six daughters, of whom only four girls survived.  His education was limited, but he became an extremely successful printer in London, not putting pen to paper on his own account until he was 50.
  • At the age of 13, Richardson was making money writing love-letters for young women he knew, an experience he claimed gave him his knowledge of the female heart.
  • When the villagers of Slough read of Pamela’s wedding in the newspaper they ran the church bell in celebration.
  • You can actually read Clarissa in ‘real time’, starting on January 10th, and finishing on December 18th.

They said…

“This Richardson is a strange fellow. I heartily despise him, and eagerly read him, nay, sob over his works in a most scandalous manner.” Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

“If you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment”.  Samuel Johnson

He said…

“I thought [if Pamela were] written in an easy and natural manner… [it] might possibly introduce a new species of writing, that might possibly turn young people into a course of reading different from the pomp and parade of romance-writing”

Want to find out more?

There are good basic introductions to Richardson and his novels here:

The site below is also really interesting. Richardson didn’t just publish the first English novel, but the first illustrated novel too. He took advantage of Pamela’s runaway success by issuing a lavish ’collector’s edition’ two years later (though there were pirate illustrated versions before that). Richardson went to great expense to commission his own illustrations from two of the leading book engravers of the time. It’s fascinating to see him using these images as a way of ensuring that readers only saw ‘his’ version of Pamela the demure and virtuous heroine, and not – like many of his contemporaries, including Henry Fielding – “a pert little minx, whom any man of common sense or address might have had on his own terms in a week”!

Lynn Shepherd studied English at Oxford, and later went on to do a doctorate on Samuel Richardson, which has now been published by Oxford University Press. She’s also a passionate Jane Austen fan, and has just published Murder at Mansfield Park. You can visit her website and follow her on Twitter as GhostingAusten.

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for May 2010

The Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that Jane Austen inspired books are heading our way in May, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.  

Editor’s note: This month’s selections are comprised of re-issued, re-titled and re-written selections. Shocking! Has the economic recession finally hit Austen bookland?  

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired) 

Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley, by Linda Berdoll 

Based on sales, Linda Berdoll may be the most successful Austen sequel writer ever. Inspired by the 1995 BBC/A&E mini-series of Pride and Prejudice, her first novel Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife was published in 2004 by Sourcebooks and continues the story of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy after the conclusion of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. The second book in the series Darcy & Elizabeth continues the passionate story of Jane Austen’s famous romantic couple after the birth of their twins. Both books in the series have ardent fans who adore them and others who detest them. There does not seem to be any middle ground. Obviously the yays have outweighed the nays. This reissue of Elizabeth and Darcy by Fall River Press by arrangement of Sourcebooks is a beautiful new hardcover edition printed on quality paper and expertly bound. The text is identical to the Sourcebooks edition, but you can not beat the incredible quality and price at $8.95. Why they did not begin with the first book in the series is beyond comprehension. Publisher’s description: It is several years since the felicitous union of Elizabeth Bennet and the dashing Fitzwilliam Darcy at the conclusion of Austen’s novel, and the couple are settling down to a life of domestic bliss, raising their twin infants at the Pemberley estate. All should be happy at home and hearth—but dark clouds loom on the horizon of Derbyshire. On the continent, the Napoleonic Wars are raging, and Wickham, Lydia Bennet’s despicable husband, has returned miraculously from his presumed death with vengeance in his heart toward Darcy and all whom he holds dear. Meanwhile, haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh, still stung by her nephew’s betrothal to Elizabeth, schemes scandalously to unite their families’ bloodlines. Fall River Press, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-1435123908. 

The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice: A modern love story with a Jane Austen twist, by Abigail Reynolds 

Previously published in trade paperback in 2008 as Pemberley by the Sea, Sourcebooks is trotting out yet another re-issue and changing the title, cover and size to (what one assumes) appeal to a larger audience? This modern take on Pride and Prejudice was well received by Austen genre readers who found it by word of mouth and not by its unappealing first cover. Unfortunately there is no mention of the previous title in the publisher’s description and unsuspecting buyers will be miffed when they discover they already own the first edition. Publisher’s description: A modern love story with a Jane Austen twist. Marine biologist Cassie Boulton has no patience when a modern-day Mr. Darcy appears in her lab on Cape Cod. Proud, aloof Calder Westing III is the scion of a famous political family, while Cassie’s success is hard-won in spite of a shameful family history. When their budding romance is brutally thwarted, both by his family and by hers, Calder tries to set things right by rewriting the two of them in the roles of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride & Prejudice…but will Cassie be willing to supply the happy ending? Sourcebooks Casablanca, Mass market paperback, ISBN: 978-1402237324. 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Graphic Novel, adapted from the original novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith by Tony Lee and illustrated by Cliff Richards 

The infectious and unexplainable unmentionable P&P&Z franchise expands to a graphic novel format for art lovers and those who really do not want to read a work of world literature. Of all of the monster mash-up’s I still favor P&P&Z,  whose claim-to-fame is that it launced the mash-up genre. The graphic illustrations are, er, graphic, and should appeal to zombie fans everywhere. Publisher’s description: The New York Times Bestseller – Now An Eye-popping Graphic Novel of Manners, Morals, and Brain-eating Mayhem! It is known as “the strange plague,” and its unfortunate victims are referred to only as “unmentionables” or “dreadfuls.” All over England, the dead are rising again, and now even the daughters of Britain’s best families must devote their lives to mastering the deadly arts. Elizabeth Bennet is a fearsome warrior whose ability with a sword is matched only by her quick wit and even sharper tongue. But she faces her most formidable foe yet in the haughty, conceited, and somehow strangely attractive Mr. Darcy. As the two lovers meet in the ballroom and on the battlefield, they’ll soon learn that nothing—not even bands of ninjas, hordes of flesh-eating zombies, or disapproving aunts—can stop true love. Del Rey, Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-0345520685. 

Sense & Sensibility (Marvel Comics), adapted by Nancy Butler from the original novel by Jane Austen and illustrated by Sonny Liew. 

Last year Marvel Comics issued their version of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice. It was a big hit. So now they are moving on to what they describe as Austen’s second most popular novel Sense and Sensibility. Butler did a great job pairing down P&P and converting it into comicese, but the illustrations were out of sync. Sonny Liew, who had created the five covers for the P&P version has taken over the interior illustrations as well which is a huge improvement visually. He is quite talented so the combo of Butler and Liew make a great team. As with P&P, the comics will be published in five issues and hopefully combined into a hardcover edition after. This is issue number one. Publisher’s description: Award-winning writer Nancy Butler, adapter of Marvel’s best-selling adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, returns to Marvel with another Jane Austen classic: Sense and Sensibility! Alongside incredible artist Sonny Liew (My Faith in Frankie, Wonderland), Butler brings to life the world of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two daughters without parents or means, forced to experience hardship, romance, and heartbreak, all in the hopes of achieving love and lasting happiness. Marvel Comics, available online at www.marvel.com or your local comic shop. 

Lady of Quality/Charity Girl: Two Novels in One, by Georgette Heyer 

Another re-issue of a re-issue. Regency romance Queen Georgette Heyer is hot again thanks to Sourcebooks’ dedication and commitment to reissue her classic novels originally published between, 1929 – 1975. This re-issue of Lady of Quality and Charity Girl by Fall River Press by arrangement of Sourcebooks is a beautiful new hardcover edition printed on quality paper and expertly bound. The text is identical to the Sourcebooks’ two editions, but you can not beat the incredible quality and price for two novels at $8.95. Publisher’s description: Lady of Quality is the story of Miss Annis Wychwood, a proud and independent young woman living on her own in Bath in the early nineteenth century. Bored by the few suitors who have called on her, Annis is resigned to a future of serene solitude until adventure enters her life in the person of Miss Lucilla Carleton, an heiress seeking to escape an arranged marriage. Opportunity follows in the person of Mr. Oliver Carleton, Lucilla’s guardian. Oliver is the rudest man Annis has ever met—and the only one who has ever provoked strong feelings from her. Sparks fly from the friction between them, and neither is prepared for the romance they ignite. Charity Girl is the tale of another runaway, Miss Charity Steane, who is in flight from her aunt’s household when the Viscount Desford encounters her on the road to London. Chivalry dictates that Desford help the naïve Charity, and propriety demands that he lodge her with his dear friend Henrietta Silverdale. With Charity in the picture, Henrietta’s feelings toward Desford warm, and the Viscount soon finds himself torn between two women in a gentle comedy of manners and mishaps. Full of charm and delight, Lady of Quality and Charity Girl are two jewels in the crown of the writer regarded as the Queen of Regency romance. Fall River Press, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-1435123960. 

Austen’s Oeuvre 

Mansfield Park (Enriched Classics), by Jane Austen 

This interesting new Enriched Classics edition by Simon & Schuster of Austen’s dark horse Mansfield Park could lift the black veil of complexity for readers looking for additional information and notes on MP. I find these expanded editions the best for new students and veterans alike. One can always learn something new by supplemental material and see a new perspective on Austen’s novels with these annotated texts. Let’s hope it sheds some light upon the misunderstood heroine Fanny Price to subdue the discordance in the Austen community about her merits. ;-) Publisher’s description: In Mansfield Park, considered Austen’s darkest and most complex novel, the wealthy Bertram family’s social and private worlds are revealed through the eyes of Fanny Price, a poor relation residing with them. This edition includes: A concise introduction that gives the reader important background information, a chronology of the author’s life and work, a timeline of significant events that provides the book’s historical context, an outline of key themes and plot points to guide the reader’s own interpretations, a detailed explanatory notes, critical analysis and modern perspectives on the work, discussion questions to promote lively classroom and book group interaction and a list of recommended related books and films to broaden the reader’s experience. Simon & Schuster Enriched Classics offer readers affordable editions of great works of literature enhanced by helpful notes and insightful commentary. The scholarship provided in Enriched Classics enables readers to appreciate, understand, and enjoy the world’s finest books to their full potential. Simon & Schuster: Mass market paperback, ISBN: 978-1439169438. 

Nonfiction 

Jane Austen and her Predecessors, by Frank W. Bradbrook 

Ok, even the venerable Cambridge University is jumping on the bandwagon and re-issuing their back list. In this well-deserved reprint of the 1966 edition, readers will be enlightened by Dr. Bradcock’s critical analysis of art and culture’s influence on Austen’s writing. This is scholarly stuff, but well worth a peek from your local library edition. Kudos to Cambridge for making the price accessible at $19.99. Publisher’s description: This is a study of influences on Jane Austen’s art and views of life. She assimilated and transformed certain writings of earlier essayists and novelists; she was herself a potent influence. Dr. Bradbrook provides the literary critic with a fresh position from which to inspect the novels. He isolates several kinds of influence that had affect on Jane, which he inspects one by one. First there are the periodical essayists, the moralists in prose and the writers of conduct books. These were sources of general reflections on moral and social behaviour: and especially interesting to Jane Austen when they touched on the position of women. Dr. Bradbrook sketches her knowledge of and taste in the drama and poetry of the eighteenth century. In the second half of the book Dr. Bradbrook analyses the influence that earlier novelists had on Jane Austen. Useful appendices reproduce some of the rarer sources. Cambridge University Press, Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-0521148252. 

Ephemera 

2011 Jane Austen Companion to Life mini wall calendar, by Sourcebooks 

I know. It’s hard to think about next year’s calendar in May – but here you have it. If you order it now you will not be stymied in January when you realize you forgot to buy your Jane Austen calendar and everyone is sold out. This mini-wall calendar was inspired by Sourcebooks’ new gift book Jane Austen Companion to Life and includes great quotes and Brock color illustrations. I have to hand it to Sourcebooks. Their designers are the best in the book biz. Publisher’s description: This title includes charming original four-color illustrations created by well-known illustrators of the time, Charles Edmund Brock and his brother, Henry Matthew Brock. Austen fans will adore this year-long celebration of Jane’s world. This is the only wall calendar on the market celebrating Jane Austen. Austen books constantly sell well, and fans are always looking for more. It is perfect as a gift or self purchase for this audience. It features original illustrations and font from Jane Austen’s handwriting. Sourcebooks, Inc., Mini-wall calendar, ISBN: 978-1402244308. 

Until next month, happy reading! 

Laurel Ann

In Which We Rant and Rave in Favor of Mansfield Park

Needlepoint book cover of Mansfield Park by Leigh-Anne Mullock (2009)Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park really gets a bum rap from critics and readers. Sometimes I think that I am its only advocate, campaigning to an empty room. Granted, it is not as emotionally charged as Sense and Sensibility or as light, bright and sparkly as Pride and Prejudice, but it does have an admirable heroine in gentle Fanny Price and two viper-like antagonists in Mary and Henry Crawford, that other authors just dream about creating.

I find the arguments against it are thin. Some say MP is overly moralistic, dismally dark, and the hero and heroine are wimps. (So harsh)  I say they are not reading the same novel that I am. All this remonstrance was prompted by a conversation I had today with a customer at work. As a bookseller, I recommend books all day long. Today, when I offered Mansfield Park to a young lady who loved P&P and S&S, her mom flatly said no, pronouncing that she would not like it. Inwardly, I cringed at such parental reproach. Give the kid a chance to make up her own mind. So Mansfield Park was eliminated because mom didn’t like it when she read it thirty years ago. Geesh.

So for all those parents out there that think they are doing your kids a favor, let them make there own decisions and mistakes with the classics. Just be HAPPY they want to read them.

On a more upbeat note, here are a few of my favorite quotes from Mansfield Park to remind skeptics that there are some grand one liners.

But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them.” The Narrator, Chapter 1

Do not let us be frightened from a good deed by a trifle.” Mrs. Norris, Chapter 1

Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 7

Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 7

Everybody likes to go their own way–to choose their own time and manner of devotion.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 9

Oh! Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 9

To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” Fanny Price, Chapter 9

It was a quick succession of busy nothings. The Narrator, Chapter 10

Where an opinion is general, it is usually correct.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 11

Those who have not more must be satisfied with what they have.” Mrs. Rushworth, Chapter 12

Let your conduct be the only harangue.” Edmund Bertram, Chapter 15

Oh! you can do nothing but what you do already: be plagued very often, and never lose your temper.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 22

A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 22

A woman can never be too fine while she is all in white.” Edmund Bertram, Chapter 23

The enthusiasm of a woman’s love is even beyond the biographer’s. The Narrator, Chapter 27

I am worn out with civility,” said he. “I have been talking incessantly all night, and with nothing to say.” Edmund Bertram, Chapter 28

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” Fanny Price, Chapter 42

Nobody minds having what is too good for them.” The Narrator, Chapter 48

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can. Narrator, Chapter 48

So there!

Murder at Mansfield Park: Fanny Price Now an Outrageous Gold-digger in a new Austen Re-imaging

Mansfield Park (Barnes & Noble Classics), by Jane AustenJane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park will be next up for a literary mash-up. 

Bookseller.com reports that Beautiful Books, a London based publisher announced today that they have purchased Murder at Mansfield Park, a whodunit by Lynn Shepherd. 

Based on Jane Austen’s classic novel Mansfield Park, the murder mystery re-imagines Austen’s classic story re-casting gentle and principled heroine Fanny Price as “ambitious, scheming and relentlessly focused”, while anti-heroine Mary Crawford “suffers great indignities from her mean neighbour”

And now, a bit of self hype by the publisher. 

Simon Petherick, managing director of Beautiful Books, described the book as “fantastic” and “tremendous fun”. He added: “The really good thing about it is that linguistically, it’s very accurate, and she picks up on all the key themes that appeared in the original . . . But whereas Fanny is quite a pain in the arse in Austen’s version, Lynn’s Fanny is an outrageous gold-digger.” 

From what we can gather, this is an original manuscript and not a true mash-up inserting new bits into Jane Austen’s original text like we saw in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Calling Fanny Price a pain in the arse is a bit crude, but honestly, we are just relieved that there are no monster or alien invasions in it.

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