Gill Tavner has rewritten all six of Jane Austen’s novels for children. In the Real Reads Mansfield Park, she did an excellent job of capturing the personalities, strengths, and weakness of the characters in a way that is accessible to young children. As she writes in the “For Further Information” section, “nothing can beat the original”,1 but she manages to keep the most important events and details. One omission, or change, that I didn’t like so much was the lack of Sir Thomas’s offer to release Maria from her engagement to Mr. Rushworth. Instead, he is portrayed as wanting her to marry “as soon as possible”.2
The opening, with its portrayal of Mrs. Norris shaping her nieces minds, followed by her injunction to young Fanny to be grateful was presented well. The Crawfords are portrayed as more overtly evil than they really were (I was reminded of their portrayal in the 2007 movie adaptation of ‘Mansfield Park’). Henry Crawford views Maria as a “particularly enjoyable challenge” because of her engagement, while Julia, he tells his sister, “will love me only too easily”.3 Jane Austen’s novel is much more subtle, but this would be difficult to get across in a children’s story. Fanny’s brother William is mentioned, though he does not visit her at Mansfield. The ball is portrayed as a farewell ball before Edmund leaves to be ordained. Fanny’s visit to Portsmouth was removed. Most of the changes and omissions are explained in a section in the back of the book called “Filling in the Spaces”.
As I said before, Gill Tavner does a good job of depicting the personalities of the various characters in the story. Mrs. Norris is just as spiteful as she is in Jane Austen’s novel, Edmund as kind, Sir Thomas as generous and dignified, though they are all simplified. Although the Crawfords are more blatantly unscrupulous, their actions do not go beyond what is presented in the novel. This story lacks Jane Austen’s complexity, of course, but does well for a children’s story.
In the back of the book are several interesting and informative sections. I’ve already mention the “Filling in the Spaces” section. Also included is some “Background Information” which tells that “Mansfield Park is a controversial novel. … Responses to Fanny Price herself differ …. She is considered by some readers to be Jane Austen’s least interesting heroine, by others the most complex of them all.”4 The practice of adoption at that time period is discussed, along with wealth, marriage, clergymen, and, inevitably, the slave trade. The activity of playacting is also mentioned, though I’m not sure I agree that “Jane Austen clearly disapproves of the pastime”.5 Some notes on Jane Austen’s style of writing are included in a “Food for Thought” section, along with some interesting “Critical thinking questions”. One complaint I have about the additional information in the back of the book is the mention of Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of ‘Mansfield Park’, which should never be recommended to children.
The illustrations by Ann Kronheimer are quite simple and pretty and suit the style of the story. I thought it odd that, although the text includes the story of Fanny’s cross and necklace (in part, at least), the illustration of her at the ball does not show her wearing it. There are a couple of cute illustrations of, not one, but two pugs (see pages 6 and 52).
For a book attempting to introduce young children to the story and complexities of Jane Austen’s novel, I think this does well.
1 Tavner, Gill, Mansfield Park (New York: Skyview Books, 2010), p. 55.
2 Ibid. p. 37.
3 Ibid. p. 16.
4 Ibid. p. 58.
5 Ibid. p. 60.