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Mansfield Park Revisited: A Jane Austen Entertainment (original 1984; edition 2008)
by Joan Aiken
Mansfield Park Revisited: A Jane Austen Entertainment by Joan Aiken (1984)
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Set several years after [book: Mansfield Park], this book follows Fanny's younger, bolder sister Susan. Four years ago she came to stay as a companion to Lady Bertram, and has bloomed into a handsome, intelligent teenager. Aiken has a good feel for the Regency--her book has none of that feeling of stiffness that most modern authors stumble into. The plot and romance, however, are disappointing. Fanny and Edward go off to the far-off plantation, leaving Susan at the mercy of her indifferent relations, the fallen Maria, and the Crawfords, who conviently return to Mansfield. None of these possible plot points come to anything. Lady Bertram and Tom think she's inndispensible and wonderful. Maria, whose ruin and iminent return to Mansfield are discussed at length, never speaks and in fact, is only seen from the distance once. Her bad reputation does not make any trouble for the Bertram family. Mary Crawford has inexplicably transformed into a saint who helps Susan get together with her one true love. And most odd of all, the author spends at least half the novel making it clear that Henry Crawford is at worst a mild flirt, is in fact devoted to Fanny, Susan and his sister, and would never dream of having an affair with anyone. There's no tension, no suspense, and absolutely no drama. There is certainly no romance. Even ten pages from the end Susan doesn't seem to be even remotely attracted to anyone, and then abruptly she says, "of course I'll marry you! I've always loved you!" and the book ends.
A disappointing read.
I was pleasantly surprised by Mansfield Park Revisited. Admittedly, Mansfield Park has never been my favorite of the Jane Austen novels and so my bar was somewhat lower than it would have been for say, Persuasion. Still, I was impressed by the voice and how easily it slipped into Jane Austen's tone without feeling archaic and in how Aiken managed to create believable new characters while carrying the original characters forward four years. For someone who does not like most Austen adaptations this was, if not a treat, a pleasant way to spend several evening hours.
I'm not sure what made me read this when I did. It certainly wasn't a deep devotion to either Mansfield Park or Fanny Price that made me long for a continuation of the story. I know I acquired the book a good ways back because Joan Aiken is on my List, and because I was curious about her continuations of Jane Austen… it just slotted itself into my reading schedule, I guess.
So. Four years after the end of Mansfield Park, Fanny and Edmund are happily married and growing a family (MP spoiler! Well, but it's in the book description); Edmund's father has died and someone has to go to off to see to things on the plantations, and since every time anyone says "someone" everyone turns and looks at Edmund, off he and Fanny go. And with them neatly out of the way, the focus is free to shift entirely to Fanny's sister Susan, brought to Mansfield at the end of the book to take Fanny's place as Lady Bertram's companion.
It was almost comical how briskly Fanny was ushered out of the book. After all, though, what's to tell? She's happy, and having children – how boring. On to Susan, who's much more interesting anyway. There are new folks in the area – Edmund's replacement as minister and his sister – and it's almost comical how much they resemble the Crofts from Persuasion. They're wonderful people, and bond with Susan, and even make a good impression on the Bertrams, fight though they must against their prejudices; I liked them – but then, I loved the Crofts, so I would do. And there are folks returning to the area: Mary Crawford, for one, who is ill and has fled her life of dissipation. Which of course now, as she begins to build a friendship with Susan, turns out to have been not so very dissipated, and she was wronged, and anyway she's probably dying now so it's all right. And then, of course, where Mary goes eventually Henry Crawford shows up – and you know, he's not such a bad fellow, either. He was awfully in love with Fanny … but she's married and not here anyway, and hey look here's her little sister! It's Fanny Lite! Maybe I have a shot with her … And of course as soon as it becomes clear that Crawford is sniffing around Susan, Cousin Tom Bertram wakes up to the fact that she's of age now and no longer the uncouth plaguey nuisance of a child.
I don't know. I have a great deal of respect for Joan Aiken, but this just seemed ill-advised from start to finish. All of the inconveniences from Jane Austen – Fanny, Mrs. Norris, Maria – have been surgically removed, and inconvenient aspects of other characters have undergone extensive plastic surgery, and really why not just write a whole new standalone novel? It was very hard to swallow the rehabilitation of two selfish, thoughtless, amoral characters. And the ending was … abrupt, and felt disjointed. It just didn't work.
Joan Aiken continues the story of Mansfield Park as the Bertram family deals with the loss of Sir Thomas Bertram. The family determines that Edmund and Fanny should go to the Antigua to oversee the family's interests. Susan is thus elevated to be Lady Bertram's companion. The lives of the Price, Crawford, and Bertram families continue to intertwine in new and surprising ways. Mansfield Park Revisited continues the original story in a genteel country setting and with true love triumphing in the end.
Aiken has written a number of other Austen sequel novels, including: Eliza's Daughter (extending Sense and Sensibility), Emma Watson (completing The Watsons), Jane Fairfax (sequel to Emma), and Lady Catherine's Necklace (continuing Pride and Prejudice).
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In Aiken's sequel to Jane Austen's complex and fascinating novel, after heroine Fanny Price marries Edmund Bertram, they depart for the Caribbean, and Fanny's younger sister Susan moves to Mansfield Park as Lady Bertram's new companion. Surrounded by the familiar cast of characters from Jane Austen's original, and joined by a few charming new characters introduced by the author, Susan finds herself entangled in romance, surprise, scandal, and redemption.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)823.914Literature English & Old English literatures English fiction Modern Period 1901-1999 1945-1999
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An edition of this book was published by Sourcebooks Landmark.
Mansfield Revisited was a pleasant surprise, although I can't say I truly loved the end. Aiken has a careful turn of phrase, such as Mary Crawford saying "I married to disoblige myself" or Julia Yates, upon hearing of her cousin's engagement, offering "a cool minimum of insincerities." Very Austenian. There were one or two small spots that felt a touch modern, but nothing too jarring. The characters are beautifully drawn, especially Julia Yates who behaves just as one might expect: pettishly, selfishly, and with a propensity toward her Aunt Norris' officiousness. Mary Crawford is spot on; truly a character masterfully truthful to the ambiguity of the original. And there are other similar triumphs, like the indolent Lady Bertram as vague and sleepy as ever.
There is a definite twist with the "redemption" of Henry Crawford's character. Aiken would have it that he did not in fact run away with Maria and that she bruited the story abroad when she fled to him and was rejected. Susan, whose story this is, becomes Henry's new love interest and just when the reader is getting used to the idea (and even warming to it a bit), Aiken tries to pull off a rather unconvincing transformation of Tom Bertram. We are also to believe that Susan has been unwittingly in love with her cousin since she came to Mansfield at the age of fourteen. Oh dear. Early in the story she compares Edmund to Tom, finding Edmund to be infinitely superior to his rather average, thoughtless brother. Not that one dislikes Tom in this tale, but he's hardly the romantic hero. Henry Crawford with his brooding heart seems to fit that part much more neatly, but I do agree with Susan's objection of how she could never be entirely sure of him. But I still find it hard to buy the Susan-Tom romance, along with Mary Crawford's profound influence on the slightly selfish young lord of Mansfield.
Still, I don't know how I would have ended it. With all the work that went into rehabilitating Henry Crawford into a semi-respectable character, I probably would have made him the happiest of men with Susan's hand. I would reread this and see if my sticking-points were any smoother the second time around. And I think I'll take a look at some of the other Austen continuations that have been awaiting my pleasure on the shelf for so long. ( )