Category: Reviews


Murder at Mansfield coverAs a murder mystery, this stands up, though we don’t realize it’s a murder mystery until halfway through the book. The problem is, it also tries to be a takeoff on Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park, and the two themes clash. I found myself constantly confused by the fact that while the characters have the same names as those in Mansfield Park, their characters and relationships are totally different. It was hard to remember which set of characters I was dealing with.

Like Mansfield Park, Murder at Mansfield Park deals with three sisters and their offspring, plus several outsiders. But the families are different, though unfortunately some of the names stay the same. The oldest of the sisters, Maria, marries sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park. He is comfortably off, though not so rich as the Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park. She has two sons, Tom and William, and two daughters, Maria and Julia.

The second sister, Julia, marries a widower Mr. Norris. He is quite well off, with properties in Antigua, and a young son, Edmond, but the older Mr. Norris dies before the story starts. Edmond, here the widowed Mrs. Norris’s stepson, seems to share only the first name of the Edmond of the original Mansfield Park.

Francis marries a Mr. Price, but this Mr. Price is the heir to a considerable fortune. His parents do not approve of the match, and Francis dies quite young – apparently in childbirth with Fanny. By the time the story starts, Fanny’s father and grandparents have died, and while Sir Thomas, as her only surviving relative, does take her in, she is by far the wealthiest of the characters.

The most important of the outsiders are Henry Crawford and his sister Mary, with Henry being recast as a professional improver.

Lady Bertram is still indolent, and Mrs. Norris is still an interfering busybody. The other characters were totally different from those in Mansfield Park, though they have the same names.

As I said, the book stands up as a murder mystery, and it does have a good deal of Jane Austen’s style, obtained all too often by cribbing from other books. (Julia despairing when William is sent to sea owes a lot to Marianne pining for Willoughby, for instance.) But for those of us who genuinely like the original Mansfield Park and feel we know the characters, it is simply confusing.

Mansfield Park Rev coverJane Austin’s Mansfield Park is 200 years old this year, and I’m celebrating by reading and watching a number of re-tellings, re-imaginings, and sequels. For this book, possibly the least popular of Jane Austin’s novels, the main problem is simply finding enough books and DVDs for one review a month!

I happen to like Fanny Price, and think in many ways she is among the strongest of Jane Austin’s heroines. Many people, however, consider her far too insipid to be interesting. As a result, the stories based on Mansfield Park almost without exception try to “improve” her, or (as in the current story) leave her out entirely.

Yes, leave her out. Mansfield Park Revisited starts with the death of Sir Thomas Bertram in Antigua, followed almost immediately by the departure of Edmond, Fanny, and their infant son to straighten out the Antiguan property. From that point on it is essentially a retelling of Mansfield Park with the somewhat more forward Susan replacing Fanny. There are bits brought in from other Austin novels; Mrs. Osborne seems taken from Mrs. Croft in Persuasion, for instance. But on the whole it is a retelling of Mansfield Park with the names changed.

The book was originally published in 1985. It was reissued in 2008, 4 years after the author’s death. At some time at or after the reissue, it was also released on Kindle, and this is the version I have. Unfortunately it was never formatted for Kindle, and my major criticism of the book is just that: the e-book formatting is a mess. Words and sentences have odd breaks, and from having formatted a book for Kindle myself, I suspect that the PDF of the print book was simply transferred over to Kindle. It doesn’t work.

Manfield Ranch CoverJane Austin’s Mansfield Park is 200 years old this year, and in celebration I’m reading and reviewing as many spinoff tales and DVD’s as I can find, as well as tweeting quotes from the original book. This month it’s Mansfield Ranch, one of the Jane Austen Diaries by Jenni James.

The Austen Diaries are re-tellings of the Austen novels with the protagonists re-imagined as modern teenagers. If Mansfield Ranch is a good example, they are effectively high school romance – not a genre I normally read, and not one I particularly care for. That said, the story is well-written and well-edited, and the Kindle edition (the only one Amazon lists) is properly formatted.

The parallels with Mansfield Park are definitely present, though Mrs. Norris and Tom are missing. Lily (Fanny) is a foster child rather than a cousin, and the play (a high school play) is The Music Man rather than Lovers’ Vows.

I had a hard time getting into the book, largely because of a total disinterest on my part in high school doings. Two-thirds of the way through, when Lily is sent to live with her previously-unknown grandmother on the Reservation, I found my interest rising, but if I hadn’t promised myself to write this review I’d never have gotten that far. The ending was much better. But there are two points that bother me.

First is Princess Buttercup, the mare Sean gives Lily. Has Lily fallen in love with the horse from seeing her online? Could a 3-year-old possibly be as well trained as this horse is projected as being, or even a good mount for a 16-year-old’s first horse? If Lily is knowledgeable enough about horses to continue her training, would she challenge her cousin to an immediate race on a strange horse?

The second lies with the definition of incest.

Lily, the Benallys and Lily’s grandmother are all said to be Navajo. The Benallys (including Sean) may have assimilated to the point that Sean sees Lily, his foster sister, as too much a sister for romantic thoughts, but the grandmother, at least, is likely to be more concerned about Mrs. Benally’s clan affiliation. The point is that traditional Navajo society is matrilineal, and the definition of incest is based on not marrying someone of the same clan (which is determined by the clan of the mother) or of the same clan as one’s father.

Over all, however, I think it would be a decent read for someone who likes YA romance.

Mansfield DVD 2007This is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park, and I’m celebrating it by reading or watching (and reviewing) as many spin-offs, re-tellings, and dramatizations as I can find this year. This DVD, the 2007 Masterpiece Theater version starring Billie Piper and Black Ritson, is the third DVD I’ve watched. I’m afraid I have to say that it comes in third to the other two (reviews here and here.)

I think my major problem with this version of Mansfield Park is that it’s very difficult to follow the plot if you haven’t read the book, and you are constantly confused by the changes they’ve made if you have. Two examples:

In one scene, Fanny is playing some kind of game (hide and seek?) with a much younger girl who never appears anywhere else. Susan? What is she doing at Mansfield Park? But she is left a mystery.

Instead of sending Fanny to her family in Portsmouth, Sir Thomas leaves her at Mansfield Park while he takes Lady Bertram and Aunt Norris to visit their mother. Never mentioned is the fact that this mother must also be Fanny’s grandmother. In fact, all of the scenes are set at Mansfield Park. This may have made filming easier, but it is very unlike the original, where Henry Crawford appears much different against the background of Portsmouth.

While the DVD had its moments, I found it a little disappointing overall. Certainly it does not come up to the older BBC version.

Mansfield&Mummies coverAs a general rule I’m not a fan of Jane Austen + paranormal, but this book is an exception. In fact, I may get more of the author’s pastiches, as the reviews on Amazon suggest she had not quite hit her stride on this one.

I rarely laugh out loud at books. But I read this one with a broad grin on my face, and at times found that the muscles at the corners of my mouth felt tired when I took a break. Pastiche? Yes, and a large part is actually taken directly from Mansfield Park, and Jane Austen is given as a co-author. It is also a parody of the whole paranormal genre.

To start with, Lady Bertram is somewhat less than rational were Egypt is concerned. Mansfield Park is overrun with Egyptian artifacts, including mummies, some of which are alive (after a fashion.) Familiar characters show up as werewolves (with a tendency to howl or bark at inappropriate times) and vampires. Other familiar characters have odd peculiarities and interests. (I still haven’t figured out just what the Brighton Duck is.) Poor Fanny is given a Pharaoh’s mummy as a third would-be lover, though a relatively polite one. Edmond is somewhat obsessed with exorcisms.

I happen to like the original Mansfield Park, and as a tribute to its 200th birthday, I am trying to review one connected novel or DVD each month. This one was better than I expected from the title, but it’s not Jane Austen.

MMansfield Park, the novel by Jane Austin, will be 200 years old on May 9. In celebration, I am reviewing as many spinoffs and DVDs as I can find, and today I am reviewing the second DVD,  based on a screenplay by Patricia Rozema, who also directed the shooting.

Fanny is not the Fanny written by Jane Austen. The basic plot elements are the same, and the three interlocking love triangles are still there: Fanny-Edmond-Crawford, Edmond-Mary-Fanny and Maria-Rushworth-Crawford. But Fanny becomes a combination of the Fanny of the original Mansfield Park and Jane Austin herself. She is a storyteller and writer, and many of the lines she is given were actually written by Jane Austen, in the juvenalia as well as the novels.

Ms. Rozema’s research into Jane Austen also turned up the fact that she greatly admired abolitionist writings. The original Mansfield Park has several veiled references to slavery, which was the ultimate source of the wealth Sir Thomas derived from his estates on Antigua. Ms. Rozema has brought the problem of slavery to the foreground of her adaptation, and made it the source of all the problems Sir Thomas has with his children.

As an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (which I like as it is) this did not work for me. As an independent movie looking at the interrelationship between the horrors of slavery (some of which are portrayed in Tom’s sketchbook) and the wealth of the landed gentry of England, it is excellent. But it is not Mansfield Park.

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Matters at Mansfield coverMansfield Park probably has fewer spin-offs than almost any other novel by Jane Austin, so during this 200th anniversary of its publication I’m going to be pushed to find one a month. This one, however, was already on my TBR shelf and I’m glad I decided to go ahead with it.

The full title is The Matters at Mansfield (Or the Crawford Affair) a Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery, and to be honest there is more Pride and Prejudice than Mansfield Park in it. Edmond barely appears (as a local pastor) and Fanny is only mentioned as his wife. Henry Crawford, Mrs. Norris, Sir Thomas, Maria and the dowager Mrs. Rushworth appear, but the main characters (aside from the Darcys) are Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter Anne, for whom she is seeking a husband since Darcy has married elsewhere.

I’m not sure what the word is for someone who is forced into invalidism by an over-protective parent, but that’s the way Anne is portrayed here. Understandably desperate to get away from her controlling mother, she meets Henry Crawford. From there, the book is a tale of bigamy, elopements to Scotland (3!) murders (multiple) which fall in Sir Thomas Bertram’s duty as local magistrate, duels and general confusion. But my favorite moments are those involving the three controlling harridans: Lady Catherine de Burgh, Mrs. Norris, and the dowager Mrs. Rushworth.

I’ve read two of the other Bebris books (Pride and Prescience and Suspense and Sensibility) and left this one on the shelf because I was turned off by the conjunction of mystery and the paranormal in these two. Half the fun of a good mystery is trying to figure out the clues, and the paranormal adds a deus ex machina feel to the books. This one, I am happy to report, does not fall into that trap and I really enjoyed reading it.

Next month I’ll be doing the A to Z blogfest, and will be reviewing another DVD of Mansfield Park for M.

All of Jane Austen’s completed novels have been made into films. This includes Mansfield Park, though I get the impression from reviews that in some the original plot is unrecognizable. The DVD I am commenting on here, however, is the only one I’ve watched, though I’ve ordered two more recent ones.

One of the things that came up during the Pride and Prejudice bicentennial was that as far as video was concerned, most people tended to like best the first video they saw. For me, that was the BBC version with Colin Firth as Darcy. That may be part of the reason I find the 1986 BBC video of Mansfield Park so much to my taste – it was the first I saw. Quite aside from that, it is very close to the book, with much of the dialog taken directly from Austen. The characters are very much true to those originally drawn by Miss Austen, and I particularly like Mrs. Norris, who is almost a caricature.

In reading reviews, I get the impression that people who liked the book like this video. People who find Fanny Price boring (I don’t) often preferred film versions that changed Fanny considerably from the way Jane Austin created her. I look forward to the arrival of other versions, but I doubt that I will like them any better.

I had hoped to find a film trailer for this DVD, but instead I found that the entire DVD is up on YouTube, chopped up into short segments. So I selected one of the shorter sequences, a conversation between Tom and Edmond Bertram and Mary Crawford, to give you a taste of the style. (NB: The YouTube episode says 1983, but it is clearly taken from the movie I am reviewing.)

Mansfield Park (Review)

Mansfield Park CoverLast year was the bicentennial of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice. I took part in the celebration hosted by austenprose.com, which involved reading or watching (and reviewing) a number of spinoffs and DVD’s based on the book. I also added Pride and Prejudice to the books from which I put short quotes on Twitter @sueannbowling, and then explained the contexts on Wednesdays on this blog.

This year another of Jane Austen’s books has its 200th anniversary: Mansfield Park.

This is a book many critics tend to put near the bottom of Jane Austen’s works. Certainly it has far fewer spinoffs, retellings, or adaptations than Pride and Prejudice, and many readers tend to dismiss it because the heroine, Fanny Price, is merely good, rather than spirited and a bit kickass, like Elizabeth Bennett. This is particularly true since Fanny is set up against Mary Crawford, who seems everything that an Austen heroine should be.

I don’t agree.

Yes, Fanny is a quiet, modest girl who adheres to the mores of her time. But she does not lack a kind of quiet heroism of her own, as when she refuses the outwardly eligible Henry Crawford. And her observations of the other characters, and Jane’s drawing of those characters, is wonderful. I’ve read and reread many of Jane Austen’s books, and I would group Mansfield Park with Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion as far as the number of re-readings gives a ranking.

I’ve heard that Jane’s intention was to give Fanny only goodness, and to purposely show the contrast between the quiet, principled Fanny and the far more engaging but less scrupulous Mary Crawford. Yes, her uncle, especially after his return from Antigua, thinks her “very pretty,” but she is not set up as a great beauty, nor does that seem to be nearly as important, in the marriage market Austen describes, as are wealth and social position.

In fact all of Austen’s heroines are basically good, principled people. They may be naïve in various ways, but there is not a one of them who is not careful of the feelings of others or who would not view adultery (in either sex) with horror. Mansfield Park is the novel in which this characteristic appears in its purest form.

Pride and Prejudice blogfestPride and Pyramids, by Amanda Grange and Jacqueline Webb, is a sequel to Austen’s masterpiece, set some fifteen years after the wedding. It’s been a pleasant fifteen years, and fruitful – there are now six little Darcys. But with peace in Europe and the youngest children old enough to read and benefit from travel, they are tempted into a family trip to Egypt by Col Fitzwilliam’s younger brother, Edward. Elizabeth asks Charlotte’s younger sister, Sophie, along as a companion, as well as an artist, Paul Inkworthy, to record the trip. Mrs. Bennett invites herself, as fond as ever of her wayward daughter Lydia and Lydia’s even more wayward husband, Wickham. Those two aren’t included in the party, but they sneak after the Darcys and Wickham is as always the villain of the piece.

Pride and Pyramids coverAs a general rule I like my Austen sequels without paranormal trappings, but the fantasy elements in this one, based on ancient Egyptian curses, work as a part of the storyline. You can treat them as superstition (as the characters generally do) or as the real results of an ancient magician’s curse, and the story works either way. It’s not Jane Austen, but it is true to the characters she wrote while being an enjoyable read.

I read Mr. Darcy’s Diary near the beginning of this challenge, and frankly I much prefer Pride and Pyramids. The Diary was pretty much a rehashing of the original book; this one has a life of its own and some enjoyable new characters.

Might add I’m about halfway through Linda Berdoll’s Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife and while I enjoy some of the humor, I tend to side with those who prefer to keep the bedroom door shut.

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