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Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

2010/04/03

“Mansfield Park” is one of Austen’s less popular novels — probably due to the fact that the heroine is a shy, modest, retiring girl and the hero is a clergyman, neither of which is particularly appealing to the modern audience. Still, it seems that even this novel is set to be torn apart by zombies or werewolves or some other monster of night in popular fashion as a recent Amazon search for a link resulted in this atrocity. IMO, if these adapters actually sat down and attempted to do some creative, original writing, we might have a chance at some half-way decent dark fantasy instead of this sudden influx of historical and regency rip-offs. (*steps off soapbox*)

This has long been my favourite of Austen’s novels, because frankly, not everyone can be the lively Elizabeth Bennet, bold Emma Watson, or romantic Marianne Dashwood. Many of us are the awkward, bookish Mary Bennet, reserved and careful Elinor Dashwood, or in this case, shy and modest Fanny Price. Fanny is born into a large, robust family, and at the age of ten, is sent to live with her wealthy uncle and aunt Bertram, and their four children, who are kind but impersonal. The two girls, Maria and Julia, are only happy to have another girl to serve as their foil; the youngest boy, Edmund, is the only one who shows any real kindness to Fanny as she grows up in this unsettling environment.

Another reason why this novel fails to engage modern audiences is that much of the plot hinges on ideas of propriety and conduct which are now considered obsolete. For example, the potential scandal to be found in the engaged daughter of the family acting in a play with a man not her fiancee seems almost laughable compared to any of the stories coming from Hollywood today. Many readers will side with Mary Crawford when she suggests that the scandal is not in the act itself, but rather in being caught. But despite cultural and societal differences, the story is still a sweet and charming novel.

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