Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review: Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken

But there were still occasions when her tongue betrayed her and moved more swiftly than her wiser sense; when impatience brought in a reversion to that earlier, sharper way of speaking; these moments were becoming less and less frequent, for Susan herself could not have been more conscious of their impropriety; at each lapse she would blush inwardly and castigate herself for her loss of control, resolving to be infinitely more careful in future, to let no unbidden word leave her lips.  In nine cases out of ten, the cause of these little roughnesses of manner would be an argument with her cousin Tom.  Somehow, with neither side particularly intending it, the two cousins contrived to irritate one another.  Tom had always, if only half consciously, felt Susan as an intruder at Mansfield, and never troubled himself to try and overcome this sentiment, irrational though it might be; while Susan had strong, though unexpressed objections in regard to Tom's rather lordly air of patronage towards herself.  (from Mansfield Park Revisited, page 20)

I read Jane Austen's Mansfield Park in 2008, so the book wasn't fresh in my mind when I picked up Mansfield Park Revisited by the late Joan Aiken, though I did remember enough to follow the goings on in Aiken's sequel.  When Mansfield Park Revisited opens, four years have passed since the events that transpired in Mansfield Park.  Austen's heroine Fanny Price has married her cousin Edmund Bertram and moved to the parsonage, and her younger sister, Susan, has taken her place as companion to the brainless and basically helpless Lady Bertram.  Sir Thomas Bertram has died, and his eldest son, Tom, assumes the role of head of Mansfield Park.  It is decided that Edmund, Fanny, and their infant son will travel to the Caribbean to see to Sir Thomas' business affairs, leaving their toddler daughter in Susan's care and staying out of the picture for pretty much the entire book.

When reading Mansfield Park, I found Fanny to be a boring heroine.  She's made to feel unwelcome at Mansfield Park, and (from what I remember) she just accepts her status as a second-class citizen, being too good-natured to speak up for herself or think ill of the Bertrams.  Thank goodness her sister, Susan, while much like Fanny in terms of goodness and compassion, is more lively and a bit more willing to speak freely because she is the main focus of Mansfield Park Revisited.

Although Fanny and Edmund are largely absent, Aiken does revisit several of the characters from Austen's novel.  Lady Bertram is still weak and clueless, and Tom and his sister, Julia, both are still arrogant and critical of those deemed socially inferior, i.e. Susan.  She introduces several new characters, namely Mr. Wadham, the minister who takes Edmund's place during his travels, and his widowed sister, Mrs. Osborne, who becomes a close friend of Susan's and steals the show with her boisterous personality.

However, several of the more interesting (though annoying) characters from Mansfield Park are missing, though mentioned in passing -- Maria Bertram and Aunt Norris.  Of course the notorious Mary and Henry Crawford return to Mansfield Park, much to the chagrin of Tom and Julia.  Four years prior when the Crawfords were staying at Mansfield, they befriended the Bertrams, with Mary winning the affections of Edmund and Henry flirting with the married Maria and setting his sights on meek Fanny.  Needless to say, the Crawfords are not welcome at Mansfield, but when Susan is given a letter addressed to Fanny and learns that Mary Crawford is ill and hoping to recover at Mansfield, Susan welcomes them with open arms.  Their appearance causes some tension between Susan and Tom.

While I enjoyed the book and think Aiken had a great command of scene and a good grasp of Austen's characters, I wish the Crawfords in Mansfield Park Revisited were more like the Crawfords in Mansfield Park.  If they were up to their old antics, there would have been more humor, more drama, and more tension throughout the book.  Of course, a sequel wouldn't be true to Jane Austen if there wasn't romance, and one of Aiken's pairings, seemed to come out of nowhere, meaning there was no satisfactory build up to the moment in which their love for one another was expressed.  And at the same time, it's fairly predictable.

Overall, I recommend Mansfield Park Revisited if you like Austen sequels.  Although it lacks the tension and the humor I'd anticipated and true fans of Mansfield Park might lament the absence of Fanny and Edmund and be disappointed by Aiken's handling of the Crawfords, it was an acceptable sequel to one of Austen's lesser loved novels.

Mansfield Park Revisited is my first book for the Jane Austen Challenge hosted by the Life (and Lies) of an Inanimate Flying Object.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Mansfield Park Revisited from Sourcebooks for review purposes.


Serena said...

sounds like I have something to look forward to after reading mansfield park...assuming I get there!

bermudaonion said...

I'll probably skip this one since I haven't gotten into the Austen sequels yet.

Aarti said...

Mansfield Park is my least favorite of Austen's writings, mostly because I don't much care for Fanny. So will probably skip this one!

DCMetroreader said...

I haven't read Mansfield Park yet, but when I do I may check this out.

Ti said...

I haven't read any of the Austen novels! I will take care of that this year. I promise. I know for me, I would want to read them before going into the sequels.

Stephanie said...

I didn't know that someone started another Austen Challenge - cool!!

Staci said...

This is on my list of Austen sequels to read sometime...

Care said...

Do the women on the cover have no heads? do I need glasses? I thought this was going to be a zombie book, no?

Stephanie said...

From what I remember about Mansfield Park, Fanny wasn't one of my favorite Austen heroines either. And I remember being irked by her romance with Edmund -- it didn't ring true to me. So I'll probably skip this novel. :-)

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

The cover looks great on this one. Unfortunately, I have some Austen catching up to do first!

Suko said...

I've only read one Austen spin-off, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, which I really enjoyed.

Happy weekend!

Wrighty said...

I don't think this is a book for me but you wrote an excellent review!

Arielle said...

I read Mansfield Park last year and really liked it. I never read an Austen sequel though, I'm sort of hesitant to do so for some reason.

Ladytink_534 said...

I've never read Jane Austen so this book wouldn't do me much good but I wish they would do sequels like these on some other classics!

Dana said...

Mansfield Park is the only Jane Austen book I couldn't get through - all of her others I can zip right through, but I got bogged down in Mansfield Park. Interesting to see a sequel to it though, I feel like Mansfield Park is one of the less often touched works of Austen.

Kristen said...

I do like Austen sequels and I don't think I have this one on my shelf yet. Sounds like it is decent enough.

Hazra said...

I'll probably skip this one too. I'm having a lot of difficulty with Mansfield Park itself, and I'm not sure I could bear a sequel.

Anna said...

~Serena: I hope you're planning to read Mansfield Park for the Jane Austen Challenge. It's not my favorite of the Austen novels I've read so far, but I think it's worth reading.

~bermudaonion: That's probably a wise idea, especially if you haven't yet read Mansfield Park.

~Aarti: I didn't care much for Fanny either when I read Mansfield Park, and it, too, is my least favorite of the Austen novels I've read. Still, I enjoyed it and this sequel.

~DCMetroreader: I hope you get a chance to read them both at some point.

~Ti: You should at least read Pride and Prejudice! I haven't read all of Austen's writings, and that's something I plan to remedy this year!

~Stephanie: This challenge is different in the you have to read Austen and some of the sequels. I do hope you host the Everything Austen challenge again this year. I would definitely sign up!

~Staci: I hope you get to it at some point!

~Care: LOL! It certainly looks that way, especially with my dark monitor.

~Stephanie: I could buy Fanny's feelings for Edmund, but after his flirtation with Mary, I didn't really buy his feelings for her, at least not at first.

~Diane: I hope you get a chance to read some Austen this year!

~Suko: Glad to hear you enjoyed it, as it's on my shelf somewhere. I probably should dig it out and read it for the challenge.

~Wrighty: Thank you!

~Arielle: There are some hits and misses when it comes to sequels. I enjoyed this one.

~Ladytink: I've seen some around recently, but it seems Austen sequels are the most popular for some reason.

~Bored_D: I must admit that it took me quite a long time to finish Mansfield Park. Parts of it dragged, but overall, it was pretty good for a classic novel, and I'm not sorry at all that I read it -- even though it's not Austen's best, in my opinion.

~Kristen: I thought it was a fairly good follow up to Mansfield Park. Hope you give it a try.

~Hazra: I can understand that, since Mansfield Park wasn't my favorite Austen novel.