Mansfield Park Revisited: A Jane Austen Entertainment by Joan Aiken
I first read Mansfield Park in my early 20s. A co-worker let me borrow her copy. It was my introduction to Jane Austen and, perhaps as a result, it has always been my favorite Austen novel. Although I’m not much of one for sequels to significant novels when they are not written by the original author (don’t even get me started on what’s happened to Gone With the Wind…), the thought of heading back to Mansfield sounded very pleasant. I was hoping it would prompt me to re-read Austen’s classic. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but I was quickly reacquainted with Mansfield Park and its inhabitants and neighbors through Aiken’s Mansfield Park Revisited.
This novel picks up with Susan Price, Fanny’s sister, living with Lady Bertram and her cousin Tom. Tom, as the oldest son, has recently become the Lord of Mansfield Park after the unexpected demise of his father. Edmund and Fanny, married with two children, live at the Parsonage. Maria Bertram, disgraced after leaving her husband for Henry Crawford, a man who abruptly showed her the door, is not discussed. Julia, who made an equally impulsive and regrettable match, has two unruly sons and is constantly at Mansfield Park conniving to make a match between her sister-in-law and the new Sir Thomas. Lady Bertram, who mourns her husband only as much as is required, has even less interest in her children now than she did before they lived with her. The story gets started when, after Edmund and Fanny leave to tie up lose business ends for the late Lord Bertram in Antigua, an extremely ill Mary Crawford returns to rent the White House in hopes of improving her health. Her arrival raises what would be considered an uproar in an otherwise sleepy Mansfield Park.
At just 201 pages, Mansfield Park Revisited is not a lengthy novel, but there were portions that felt long. This can be attributed to a rather tame story line and the amount of inner dialog that could have been better conveyed through action. Julia and her sister-in-law Charlotte could have made a winning foils if only they did something other than gossip or complain. Susan equally could have been a stronger character had her struggles been more difficult to overcome. Lady Bertram also would have been more fun had she a little of her old bite back. When a hair covering lent to Susan by Mary did nothing to create drama, I started praying that Maria would come back to spice things up a little. This would have been a better novel had the author spent more time on the Roman excavation picnic and all that transpired afterward. The story line would have been better suited for a shorter novella.
Although it was not what I had hoped, it was a relaxing read. I would compare it to fan fiction, so the subtitle “A Jane Austen Entertainment” fits it very well. As the novel became more engaging toward the end and I found the conclusion satisfying, I would recommend this to other Jane Austen fans who like having something around the house or in your purse to read off and on as the mood strikes.
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