I just finished reading Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken.
As you know, I love Mansfield Park, although I do understand why it’s generally considered to be Jane Austen’s least popular work. I did not appreciate it until I was around 40, even though I’d first read it at age 18. I like and respect Fanny Price and, even though Edmund is not anywhere near the top of my list of favorite literary heroes, I really do think he’s right for Fanny. An acquaintance of mine likes Henry Crawford and thinks that Fanny would have been better off with him. She and I have had some spirited discussions on the subject, and we agree to disagree.
But I digress.
MPR takes place 4 years after the events of Mansfield Park. Edmund and Fanny have 2 young children. Mrs. Norris has died. Sir Thomas has died and Tom has inherited the title. William Price has just been promoted to Captain. Susan Price still lives at Mansfield Park and her lazy, selfish Aunt Bertram still relies on her.
The book was OK. Fanny and Edmund are packed off to Antigua to clean up another mess on the family’s plantation. Julia (the Honourable Mrs. John Yates) is in an unhappy marriage, so she and her children spend a lot of time at Mansfield minding other people’s business. In essence, Julia has turned out to be a lot like Mrs. Norris. She treats Susan like the hired help and does everything she can to convince her brother, the new Sir Thomas, to marry her sister-in-law, Charlotte Yates, who is a whiny, annoying woman.
And then there are the Crawfords. Mary has made an unfortunate marriage and is now in very bad health. She decides that the only place for her is Mansfield Park. So she writes to Fanny to ask her advice about moving into the White House, but since Fanny is in Antigua, Susan gets the letter instead. Susan’s only knowledge of the Crawfords is based on what she’s heard from Fanny, Edmund, Julia and Tom, and it’s not good. Before she has a chance to speak to Tom about Mary’s letter, Tom announces that the White House has been rented. Of course, we soon find out that Mary Crawford is the new tenant.
Anyway, it’s obvious that Aiken likes Henry and Mary far better than I do because a new character (Mrs. Osbourne, sister to the man who’s taking over Edmund’s duties at his two parishes) says that all of Maria’s troubles with Henry were her own fault, and that he’s innocent. Mary and Susan become fast friends. Tom gets thrown from his horse and has to recuperate at the White House and he starts singing Mary’s praises. As for Mary herself, she is now close to death, and tells Susan that her dearest wish would be to see Susan married to Henry.
Sounds familiar, right?
It gets even more familiar because, after Mary dies, Henry leaves the area when Susan doesn’t say yes to his proposal, and Tom — out of nowhere — declares his undying love for Susan. And she says she’s loved him since she first arrived at Mansfield Park when she was 14. We’ve never even had a hint of this love on Susan’s part, and certainly not on Tom’s. I went into the book thinking she’d end up with the visiting clergyman. But to have her end up with Tom in the last few pages just had me rolling my eyes and being glad the end was nigh.
I might have recommended it (even with Henry turning out to not be a slimeball) if Aiken hadn’t been so derivative towards the end, but now I can’t. If it’s in your library, OK, go for it. But don’t waste your hard-earned money buying it. I’ve read amateur fanfiction that was more creative than this.