Category: Reviews


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.

Pride and Prejudice blogfestThe engagement of Elizabeth Bennett to Mr. Darcy must have had some rocky spots, especially considering Mrs. Bennett’s partiality (and willingness to express it) toward Lydia and her husband. Ms. Bedford has written a book covering the time between Elizabeth’s acceptance of Darcy and the actual wedding (if it takes place at all) in which the truths of Darcy’s first proposal and those expressed by Lady Catherine de Burgh, and the possible effect of the marriage on Georgiana, come home to both Elizabeth and Darcy. Georgiana cannot bear to hear Wickham’s name; how will she react to having him as a brother-in-law, especially when Mrs. Bennett is so fond of him and completely oblivious to the pain she may be inflicting on others?

Cover, Betrothed to Mr. DarcyMrs. Bennett is wonderfully drawn, and if possible even more difficult than she was in the original book. Elizabeth, Darcy, and Georgiana remain true to their characters also. Mr. Bennett I am not so sure of. In the original book he is if anything relieved to be indebted to a “violent young lover who will carry everything his own way;” in this he is more jealous of his own pride.

The story perhaps has a tendency to quote too much from the original Pride and Prejudice, and the ending is a little abrupt. But on the whole it was an enjoyable read.

(I should mention that I was introduced to this book by a blog hop in which I regularly participate: the Weekend Writing Warriors. I first saw it eight sentences at a time, and was intrigued enough to get the book on Kindle when it came out.)

Pride and Prejudice blogfestUnlike most of the books and DVD’s I’ve reviewed for the Pride and Prejudice Challenge, Jane Austen, Game Theorist is not an easy, entertainment-oriented read. It is a scholarly book, published by Princeton, complete with a long reference section and an index. Nevertheless, it is a complement to Pride and Prejudice (and Jane Austen’s other books) from a somewhat different point of view than the usual literary approach.

Jane Austen, Game Theorist CoverI am not a game theorist, and after reading this book I suspect I am a very poor strategist as well, being highly numerate and paying attention to details of my surroundings rather than how other people think and what they want. The book starts with a quick analysis of game theory principles in folk tales such as Br’er Rabbit, which illustrates both some of the pitfalls (thinking the tar baby is sentient) and manipulating the opponent by understanding how he thinks (please don’t throw me in the briar patch.) In fact it appears that most good character-driven fiction has a strong game-theory component, but the author argues that this is particularly true of Jane Austen, and gives numerous examples.

One of the things he particularly emphasizes, especially in Pride and Prejudice, is the handicap of the inability to get inside another person’s skin, to see things from their point of view. Certainly neither Darcy nor Elizabeth start out understanding each other. Some of the reasons have more general application: a superior is often clueless about how an inferior (in social standing, chain of command, or merely in his own mind) thinks, simply because he is unable or unwilling to degrade himself to think like the other person. Darcy, a male and in his mind superior to females, cannot understand a female. Lady Catherine is even worse, thinking that her orders will automatically be obeyed.

The principles and be and should be expanded to such fields as international relations, though all too often it seems they are not. And this unfortunately seems also to apply to corporate managers and politicians. This morning’s news, for instance, and an interview decrying the game of “chicken” our political leaders are playing.

Pride and Prejudice blogfestWhen I first saw this title (by Emily Brand) in a BBC catalog my immediate response was, which Mr. Darcy wrote it? After all, the proud, status-conscious male chauvinist Elizabeth starts by despising would hardly have written the same advice as the man whom she eventually married.

Cover, Mr. Darcy's GuideI was curious enough to get the Kindle edition for my iPad, and decided at once that it had to have been written very early in Pride and Prejudice. Darcy is, frankly, every bit as conceited, proud, and aware of his social position as Elizabeth first imagines him.  On the other hand, he has met the Bingleys, actually allows Caroline to write a chapter of advice to women (a chapter which would have had Elizabeth giggling) and is beginning to interfere in Charles’s affairs. Certainly he sees no place for any mixing of classes, and he puts himself very near the top of those not actually royal!

He starts with the assumption that “An eligible gentleman not in possession of a wife is assailed from every quarter with a fervour bordering on  derangement.” He clearly regards himself as so far above the average that he may wed any woman who comes up to his exacting standards – an attitude that he retains in Pride and Prejudice until Elizabeth refuses him. (His stricture that “there should be no ‘falling in love’ except with suitable persons” seems to have been discarded somewhat earlier.)

In fairness I must say that his advice is not toward seduction as leading to a light affair; his advice is clearly toward finding a wife who will produce the next generation of a noble family. But I cannot help but imagine how he himself would have reacted to much of the advice in this book a year later in his life.

Death Comes to Pemberley: Review

Pride and Prejudice blogfestI have to admit that some forms of the sequels to Pride and Prejudice just don’t attract me. Zombies and the supernatural do not appeal to me as part of the Austen genre, and some of the mysteries are little better. One mystery that has come out recently, however, struck me as interesting because it is by a well-known mystery writer whose other works I have enjoyed. I refer to Death Comes to Pemberley, by P. D. James.

Most of the characters come directly from Pride and Prejudice, and the initial setting – Lady Anne’s Ball and all the preparations required – is very much in period. There have been some changes, of course in the six years of the Darcys’ marriage. The Darcys have two young sons, Wickham has been a hero in the Irish wars and then quit the Army, and Col. Fitzwilliam’s older brother has died, leaving the Colonel Viscount Hartlep and his father’s heir.

cover, Death Comes to PemberleyThen on the eve of the ball which Lydia has plotted to attend, Wickham and Denny have left the carriage conveying her, and gunshots are heard in the woods of Pemberley. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, in response to her frantic entreaties, have found Wickham over Denny’s body, crying out that he is responsible for his friend’s death.

Needless to say, things are not quite as they seem. Darcy is cleared by the circumstances and timing of the murder, as is the lawyer, Henry Alveston, though Col. Fitzwilliam is not. But the clues are well hidden, and the anxiety of the trial is sustained both by the possibility of Wickham’s hanging and by the real uncertainty of what happened, as well as the effect on Elizabeth and Darcy.

All in all, I found this one of the better mystery sequels to Pride and Prejudice.

Fitzwilliam coversThis is a reread rather than a first-time read, but my favorite (so far) of the re-tellings of Pride and Prejudice from a different point of view is Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman. Pride and Prejudice itself is not entirely from Elizabeth’s point of view, though Jane Austen is famous for never writing a scene with no women present. There are parts that suggest Darcy’s point of view, especially during the period when Elizabeth is nursing her sister at Netherfield. But we are only given hints, and Darcy’s change of heart is never explained.

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman is entirely from Darcy’s point of view. Here we see a Regency gentleman who, as he finally says to Elizabeth, was “given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit.” Here we see him in his natural mileau, torn increasingly between his feeling that Elizabeth offers what he most wants in a wife, and what he sees as his duty to society and his family. We are introduced to new characters, the most important of whom are Darcy’s valet, Fletcher, and an old school friend, Lord Dyfed Brougham.

Pride and Prejudice blogfestThe parts with Elizabeth are amusing, as the same happenings and dialog are presented from entirely different points of view. But the most enjoyable parts of the trilogy, from my point of view, are of Darcy away from Elizabeth.

The first book of the trilogy, An Assembly Such as This, for the most part follows Jane Austen’s book. My favorite part, however, is the end, when Darcy is trying to use the enticements of London to distract Bingley from Jane and gets a bit more than he bargained for! Beau Bummel and a scandalous new dance called the waltz are too much for Darcy!

In the second book, Duty and Desire, Darcy tries to forget Elizabeth by going wife-hunting at a Regency house party. This section is delightfully atmospheric, but the possible wives on display make Carolyn Bingley look like a bargain. This section of the trilogy has no direct relationship with the original Austen book, though it occurs during the time Jane is in town. Elizabeth appears only as a memory, but a memory that keeps Darcy safe in this “den of vipers.”

The third book of the trilogy, These Three Remain, starts with Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam’s annual visit to Lady Catherine. Here Darcy agonizes over his relationship with Elizabeth and manages to misinterpret everything she says, leading up to his first, disastrous proposal.

I’ve always wondered at the change in Darcy between Rosings and Pemberly. In this book it is natural, though not easy. Initially Darcy is angry, though still obsessed by Elizabeth. It takes a near-entrapment into blackmail and a drunken evening to begin his reformation, but he eventually determines to strive towards “a conduct of his life that would have gained Elizabeth Bennet’s approval,” even though he recognizes that the chances of ever actually making her his wife are slim, if not non-existent.

Probably my favorite scene of this third volume is the descent of Lady Catherine de Burgh on Darcy’s town house, with the news that eventually sends him back to Hertfordshire.

I am sure there are many books from Darcy’s point of view I have not read, and which I cannot compare with this trilogy. But of those I have read, this is my favorite.

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