Can I just say, AGAIN, that with it being so close to the release of Mansfield Parsonage on the 28th, that I am a mass of jitters?
I am so hopeful that you all will enjoy the book, and that will delight Austen fans. But why did I chose Mansfield Park, out of all of Jane Austen’s works, to retell? I explain it in the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book ….
Why retell Mansfield Park? It is Jane Austen’s least-loved novel. Only confirmed Janeites or academic Austenites bother to read it, let alone reread it. Casual readers who adored Pride and Prejudice tend to toss Mansfield Park aside half-way through it, disgusted by the lack of searing wit and rapid pacing that marks Austen’s other books. So why bother telling Mary Crawford’s tale?
Simply put, I wanted to tell the story from Mary Crawford’s point of view because she was the most amusing, most vital, and most Lizzy Bennet-like character in the book. The delight of most Austen’s characters, for good or for ill, is in their flaws. Whether they are comic relief or fodder for scathing social commentary or beloved protagonists, they were imperfect. Austen’s strong-willed heroines are particularly relatable for the reader because they are not pure paragons. Elizabeth had her prejudice, Anne was too persuadable, Marianne was too romantic, Elinor was too pragmatic, Catherine was naïve and overly imaginative, and Emma was subject to vanity. They are loved because they are inherently decent people, and lovable because they aren’t revoltingly perfect models of submissive 18th century feminine ideals. Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park, stands alone as the main protagonist who was unable to make a mistake. Fanny Price is an apotheosis of delicacy, modesty, and tenderness. She is so meek, mild, and righteous that it is almost impossible not to hate her. Mary Crawford is the sharp one in the book. Mary Crawford is the one with uncongenial character traits to be overcome. Mary Crawford is interesting.
Miss Crawford is one of my favourite literary creations, and I’ve pondered her situation a great deal. In my opinion, the loss of Edmund Bertram – who was nearly as revoltingly faultless as Fanny Price and every bit as judgmental and prudish – was a ultimately a stroke of luck for Mary. She loved Edmund because he was handsome and a Good Boy and if she had married him, I think she would have been bored to tears and miserable within a year. Losing Edmund to Fanny Price was an unintended kindness to Mary by the author. Let Edmund and Fanny have each other; Mary deserved better.
Furthermore, the treatment Mary Crawford got from Fanny and Edmund appalled me and I wanted to both castigate the protagonists for their shoddy behaviour and defend the antagonist’s alleged transgressions. What did Mary do that was so wicked? She was no worse than any of protagonists whom Austen rewarded with a happily ever after in other novels. She planned to marry well, and considering the fate that befell Austen’s characters when they married imprudently, one wonders why the author doesn’t applaud this. She wished Edmund Bertram were richer and the eldest son, but all of Austen’s heroines except Catherine Moreland married the eldest son and even the “poorest” of the happy couples in Austen’s novels were incredibly wealthy by Regency standards. Was Mary willing to marry without love? Yes, but Marianne Dashwood married a man she didn’t love and Austen assures us she lived happily ever after with Colonel Brandon. Mary had no more vanity than Emma, no more hubris than Elizabeth Bennet, and no more practicality in matters of the heart than Elinor Dashwood. Mansfield Park would have been vastly improved if Mary Crawford, not the indigent epitome of womanhood Fanny Price, had been Austen’s object. Since Austen did not use her genius to do that, I have to make a stab at it. Considering I have the audacity to rewrite Austen, a stab is exactly what some people may wish to give me.
There are only two other things I wish to tell you, gentle reader, before you dive into the narrative. The first is that there are excerpts of the original Mansfield Park manuscript in this work, albeit those sections are also peppered with sentences of my own making. This is a technique used by other authors before me and is legal inasmuch as the copyright on the book expired long ago. I thought it would be helpful to those who had not read Mansfield (recently or at all) to follow the plot, which I was careful not to change, and to see that I did my very best not violate Mary’s original characterization in my quest to make her the protagonist. It should be fairly obvious which sentences are the products of Austen’s genius and which are my own scribblings; if it is not then I shall develop an unbearably swelled head from the compliment.
Secondly, I think I have an explanation for Fanny Price’s weak constitution. She shows every sign of having severe anaemia. Without the appropriate amount of iron and haemoglobin in Fanny’s blood, she would experience shortness of breath, become easily fatigued, suffer more from the cold, have a decreased appetite, headaches, and remain unnaturally pale. Additionally, because her heart had to labour more intensely to oxygenate her body, her heartbeat could be thrown into arrhythmia by any exertion, explaining her fluttering pulse. She probably had compromised fertility as well, although a child or two in her future is certainly possible. If Fanny was kept in a genteel environment and pampered, which she would have been as Mrs Edmund Bertram, she could easily live to an old age despite being sickly and infirm.
I sincerely hope you enjoy reading the book.
Warmest regards – Kyra Cornelius Kramer