The Complete Jane Austen "Mansfield Park" by Lori Smith
Fanny Price is a ninny. (Forgive me, dear Jane.) I've tried to like her and I can't.
When I was first asked to blog about Mansfield Park, the editor mentioned that she saw "such similarity" between me and Fanny. I had to stop to consider whether or not that was an insult.
Fanny is terribly good, but that's really the only good thing you can say about her. She lacks spirit, she lacks warmth. In the book, she does not smile or run. She doesn't have fun. Her moral compass is incredibly accurate-annoyingly so at times (does she always have to be so right?)-and she is strong enough to always stick with it, and we can admire her for that. But my admiration is hesitantly given. I wish she had just the tiniest bit of spark, some kind of energy.
Of course, that's not the only problem with Mansfield Park. One of its key conflicts is around the play Lover's Vows-which, while admittedly risque and inappropriate, feels like a very pedantic moral conflict around which to build a plot. And then, of course, in the end, Fanny marries her cousin-ugh-the one she's grown up with like a brother.
So, the great triumph of this adaptation, to me, was that I actually liked it, and I liked Fanny. The screenwriter took liberties to make her run around, flirt a bit, smile all the time. Her energy makes her more attractive. They managed to do that without sacrificing any of her goodness, which is crucial.
The way the Lover's Vows scenes were handled helped me understand why it would have been so scandalous, which made the whole book make more sense. If it's a very shortened story, you get the sense that pug-loving Lady Bertram is ridiculous for her indolence, that Edmund is kind and conscientious, if tempted, and that the Crawfords are charmingly deceitful.
I was curious to know exactly how closely the screenplay stuck to the book, but that would have required me to actually read the book again, which, for reasons described above, I was not anxious to do. I should perhaps warn modern viewers, though, that there aren't any kisses at all in Austen's novels (are there? I don't think so)--even engagements then were sealed with simply conversation, as difficult as that is to believe. There would not have been quite so many bosoms on display, Fanny's hair would have been up rather than being all helter-skelter, and the waltz at the end was, I believe, rather anachronistic and would have been scandalous. (And dancing outdoors?) But these are liberties I can overlook.
There are many reasons to delve into Mansfield Park. I believe Edmund represents many of Jane's ideas about what it meant to be a good clergyman (to live out love among one's parishioners, particularly), ideas which were not at all fashionable and that she learned from her father and brothers, who were men of the cloth. And more than any other novel, I think this one holds up Jane's ideals of Christian virtue. If nothing else, Fanny is virtuous, and for Jane, that's what makes her attractive.
I'm glad to have Billie Piper's Fanny to help me begin to like Jane's Fanny again. And of course, I'll go back and re-read it soon, hoping to discover that I am wrong about the book. It's Austen, after all, and I'm devoted to everything she wrote.
The cousin thing is still creepy, though.