Audiobook Review

“All her attention was for her work. She seemed determined to be interested by nothing else. But taste was too strong in her. She could not abstract her mind five minutes: she was forced to listen; his reading was capital, and her pleasure in good reading extreme.” (Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Ch. 34)

LibriVox currently has three complete, free, public domain recordings of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen — one with various readers, one read by a full-cast, and a third read by Karen Savage.

LibriVox (Savage, Karen)Karen Savage’s reading of Mansfield Park is quite good. She speaks clearly and not too quickly or too slowly, has a pleasing voice, and reads as if she understands what she is reading. She does skip, add, or change words from time to time, however. For example, in chapter 19, instead of reading “Why do not I see my little Fanny?” she says, “I do not see my little Fanny.” When, also in chapter 19, Mr. Rushworth complains of Mr. Crawford, she deletes the second “not” from his speech, “I do not say he is not gentleman-like, considering; but …” In chapter 47, during Edmund’s final summarization of Miss Crawford, she reads “Hers are not faults of principle” — the “not” is not in the book, for Miss Crawford’s faults are faults of principle. Still, I think the meaning remains clear throughout the reading. The biggest flaw, I think, is the way Karen Savage chose to read Miss Crawford’s voice — it is much too drawling for such a lively character.  Then, she pronounces “Miss Sneyd” as “Miss Snayd”, and “Cowper” as “cow-per” (like the animal). These may not be faults, but I am used to hearing them pronounced otherwise. With few exceptions, however, Karen Savage does an excellent job of interpreting each character and differentiating between them. And, of course, there is the added benefit that her audiobook is free!

Real Reads Mansfield Park

1 Real Reads Jane Austen

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”.

2 Fanny and Edmund on the stairs Ann Kronheimer Mansfield ParkAs 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).

3 Two pugs! Ann Kronheimer Mansfield Park

For a book attempting to introduce young children to the story and complexities of Jane Austen’s novel, I think this does well.

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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.

Objections to ‘Mansfield Park’ (1999)

8I have not watched Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of Mansfield Park myself, so I cannot discuss it thoroughly. As an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, however, I have a few remarks to make concerning it.

In her guest post for Sarah Emsley’s blog, in honor of the bicentennial of Mansfield Park’s publication, Judith Thompson writes,

I’ve always suspected that there’s more to Fanny, and her creator, than there appears. One need not turn Austen’s mousy heroine into a cheeky ironist (a la Patricia Rozema) or a sullen rebel (a la Billie Piper), to find something appealing in her introverted independence, unshakeable integrity and undemonstrative opposition to the follies of her cousins. One need only recognize that, like her author, she takes in a lot more than she lets on.

— from “Adopting Affection” by Judith Thompson.

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“Sullen rebel” is a good description for Billie Piper’s rendition of Fanny Price (in the 2007 adaptation), and I suspect that “cheeky ironist” is as apt for Patricia Rozema’s version of Mansfield Park’s heroine (played by Frances O’Conner). In this adaptation, Fanny is portrayed as an exuberant young writer. Her stories are taken from Jane Austen’s own juvenilia. An incident from Jane Austen’s life is also used. At one point, Jane Austen accepted a marriage proposal from Harris Bigg-Wither, an acceptance which she rescinded the next morning. Imitating this, Fanny is made to actually accept Henry Crawford’s proposal when he comes to visit her in Portsmouth, subsequently withdrawing her consent. Even apart from this incident, involving as it does very un-Fanny-like behaviour, Fanny’s character suffers a complete makeover in this movie. She is given a snarky, spirited personality, resembling Miss Crawford much more than she does Jane Austen’s Fanny Price. I submit that, if you especially dislike the main character of a novel, as Patricia Rozema obviously did, you should find a different book to adapt.

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Another distressing change from Jane Austen’s novel is this movie’s presentation of Sir Thomas as a hypocrite — holding his children to a strict standard while he himself is lecherous and self-indulgent. The slave trade was made into a theme in this movie, and Sir Thomas is made into a wicked slave owner — cruelly punishing and sexually abusing his slaves. In Jane Austen’s novel, whatever Sir Thomas’s dealings with the slave trade, they were nothing he was ashamed to discuss publicly, as shown by the single (for there is only one) mention of the slave trade in the book:

Edmund: “You are one of those who are too silent in the evening circle.”

Fanny: “But I do talk to [my uncle] more than I used. I am sure I do. Did not you hear me ask him about the slave-trade last night?”

Edmund: “I did — and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.”

Fanny: “And I longed to do it — but there was such a dead silence! And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at all interested in the subject, I did not like — I thought it would appear as if I wanted to set myself off at their expense, by shewing a curiosity and pleasure in his information which he must wish his own daughters to feel.” (Ch. 21)

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Obviously, if Sir Thomas was the kind of man Patricia Rozema made him into, he would not have been pleased to be asked about this subject, or wish his daughters to be curious about it. That abolition was a respectable position among such circles is shown by its brief discussion in Emma:

Jane Fairfax: “When I am quite determined as to the time, I am not at all afraid of being long unemployed. There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something — Offices for the sale — not quite of human flesh — but of human intellect.”

Mrs. Elton: “Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition.”

“I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade,” replied Jane; “governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on …” (Ch. 17)

A lot of quotation shuffling occurs in this adaptation. In case you were wondering, in the book it is Mary Crawford who refers to marriage as “a manoeuvring business”, not Fanny. It is Mrs. Grant who says that, “If one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another.” It is Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland who comments about history books that “the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all … and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention” (ch. 14). I believe that in this adaptation, all of these lines are given to Fanny.

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There are many other significant changes from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Fanny’s beloved brother William is expunged. Instead, Fanny writes satiric letters to her sister Susan, who tells her at one point, “Your tongue is sharper than a guillotine, Fanny.” Lady Bertram is turned into an opium addict. Instead of being a care-free pleasure-seeker, Tom Bertram is presented as a disturbed artist. At one point, Fanny comes across his drawings of his father’s abuse of his slaves. These drawings along with a scene of Maria Rushworth and Henry Crawford committing adultery (at Mansfield Park itself, no less), make this movie fully deserve its PG-13 rating.

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All of these changes (and there are more) do disservice to Jane Austen’s masterful novel. The new story may not be bad, but it is not Jane Austen’s — though, no doubt her name gave it more publicity. But, whether or not this movie is good independent of its connection to Jane Austen, it does not deserve the title ‘Mansfield Park’.

Review of ‘Mansfield Park’ (2007)

I was not favorably impressed with this adaptation of Mansfield Park. I had not high hopes for it when I first saw it, and it does not improve with re-watching. Where is the gentlemanly, high-minded Sir Thomas? Where the nasty, over-bearing Aunt Norris? But, most of all, where, oh where, is Jane Austen’s gentle, conscientious, retiring Fanny Price? For none of them make an appearance in this movie. Instead, they are replaced with a mean, ill-tempered man called Sir Thomas; a placid, rather sweet-looking Aunt Norris; and an energetic, confident, sulky young woman, called Fanny Price.

Mansfield Park 2007 1 Mansfield Park 2007 2 Mansfield Park 2007 11

At the beginning of the movie, Sir Thomas practically sneers out how, in receiving young Fanny, they must be prepared for “an ignorant child with vulgar manners”. Aunt Norris (who apparently lives at Mansfield Park) has a manner more gentle than sharp. Lady Bertram is, of course, concerned for her Pug. A voiceover from the adult Fanny tells us to imagine ourselves a young girl removed from her home to live with her aunts and becoming “the poor relation”. She tells about Edmund’s kindness to her while the young Fanny and Edmund play battledore (or some game with shuttlecocks) and then transition to their older selves. Immediately noticeable are Fanny’s hair hanging down to her shoulders (she never wears it up during the entirety of the movie) and her eyebrows which, despite her blond hair, are very dark.

Several of Fanny’s dresses are outdated (as are Lady Bertram’s and Mrs. Norris’s) and very revealing. Her period-correct gowns are quite pretty in general, however. It is a pity Sir Thomas could not afford to keep his wife and niece in the fashions of the period. Perhaps Tom’s extravagance prevented this?

Mansfield Park 2007 4

This Fanny is not above lying to get what she wants. When she wants to go riding with Edmund, but her Aunt Norris has other plans for her, Fanny simply tells her that she has “a very tedious errand to run for my cousin.” The movie moves on at a brisk pace from Fanny growing older to Sir Thomas’s departure to Antigua to the arrival of the Crawfords. At least initially, the Crawfords were overdone. As they walk to visit the Bertrams (the Grants were cut out for the movie), they lay their plans. Mary immediately begins trying to entice Edmund in a far too obvious manner, despite his being the younger son. Probably for reasons of simplicity, the Crawford’s uncle is changed to their step-father.

Mansfield Park 2007 6

Mr. Yates is also cut from the story. His part is given to Tom Bertram — it is Tom who comes “on the wings of disappointment”1 (to use the phrase from the book) after an aborted attempt to put on a play. Edmund objects to Tom’s theatrical plans, but, oddly enough, Fanny is not shown to have any particular problem with them. Julia asks her if she minds being left out, and Fanny’s only answer is, “No. Besides, your father would not approve and I can’t afford to displease him.” When Julia refuses to play, Fanny is asked to take her part, and she agrees. (Later in the movie, Fanny does tell Henry Crawford that she does not wish Sir Thomas had not come back, as “I think everyone indulged themselves enough” during this time.) Sir Thomas comes in on the playacting and throws a copy of the play into the fire in front of everybody (including the Crawfords, people he doesn’t even know at this point), without saying a word. Instead of controlling himself and focussing on being happy to be home, as he does in the book, he makes a display of his anger.

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The scene of Sir Thomas offering to release Maria from her engagement was actually depicted quite well. Sir Thomas is not his usual angry self, but shows genuine concern for his daughter. I must say, however, I don’t see why Maria preferred Henry to Mr. Rushworth in this version. Strangely, Henry Crawford was at Maria’s wedding. Rubbing salt in the wound, I guess. His presence at this time is important, however, because it is after watching the happy couple and Julia off that Henry notices Fanny energetically playing with a random child. She tells him off about the play (something she actually does in the book, though, of course, in different words — this movie isn’t one for using Jane Austen’s dialogue) and he begins to find her interesting.

Mansfield Park 2007 8

Instead of giving a ball for Fanny, Sir Thomas grants her request for a picnic. Aunt Norris is displeased, of course. “A picnic indeed! A picnic for half the county. The nonsense and folly of people stepping out of their rank. Now that you are to move into company, Fanny, you must never forget, whatever the occasion, you must be the lowest and the last.” Don’t feel bad, however. This Fanny has no problem being cheeky back to her aunt — “Oh, I shall never forget that — unless, of course, I’m enjoying myself too much to remember.” Ha! Then follows a scene with Edmund giving Fanny a chain for her brother’s cross, stripped, however, of any particular significance.

Mansfield Park 2007 9

The picnic includes a game of blind man’s buff, a curious dance from Fanny’s brother William (who is, of course, on his visit to Mansfield Park), a dance, and the following conversation between Mary Crawford and Fanny:

Mary: “My dear Fanny, with your cousins gone, you’re quite the center of attention.”

Fanny: “I think I prefer being overlooked.”

Mary: “Oh, no! You must learn to enjoy it. It serves no purpose to blush unseen. Not that you do.”

This is an important conversation because nothing in Fanny’s behaviour would have told us that she prefers to be overlooked — not, as Mary points out, that she does — so we need to be told. Mary torments Edmund in her own lively way during the party, just as she is supposed to. The evening closes with Fanny and Edmund stargazing outside together.

Mansfield Park 2007 10

When Fanny refuses Henry’s proposal of marriage, Sir Thomas gets really nasty again (he had temporarily improved). Of course, he was hard on her in the book, but he never quite got to the degree of nastiness he does in this movie. The level of disgust he portrays throughout the scene is remarkable — “And must I remind you that the luxury to pick and choose is beyond your means!”

Mansfield Park 2007 12

Edmund returns to Mansfield after his absence. Fanny bows extravagantly to welcome him home, showing off her chest to the newly ordained clergyman (his absence was for the purpose of ordination). He is enraptured with Mary’s kindness — coming as it did after her taunting at the picnic — and confides in Fanny about it.

Edmund is fine with Fanny’s decision to reject Henry Crawford’s proposal, but Sir Thomas decides she needs time to consider it. Thus, when they go to visit Lady Bertram’s mother (who is, apparently, still alive) they leave Fanny behind — no Portsmouth for her. (Indeed, the movie never moves from Mansfield Park at all.) Henry visits her at Mansfield while she is alone there. Instead of avoiding any talk of Maria and Julia (bringing to mind, as it would, his behaviour to them), he informs Fanny that they are tireless followers of fashion, and lets loose the rather odd bit of information that his sister Mary is actually living with Maria. Edmund dines there, of course. The last he heard of Tom was that he was “at Newmarket, continuing his giddy career of drinking and gambling.” Thus much for Mr. Crawford’s news, but, as Fanny still won’t accept him (she spent her time alone pining for Edmund and tearing up letters to him faster than she could write them), he goes back to London all melancholy, with the ominous words, “Well, leave me to my own judgment, then.”

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Fanny is not alone much longer. The Bertrams soon return with a very ill Tom. Lady Bertram is so worried and so glad to see Fanny that she tells her, “Oh, Fanny! My dear Fanny, now I shall be comforted” (emphasis mine2). Mrs. Norris is still worried: “I’m sure I daren’t go near him. With my weak chest it could prove fatal.” Don’t worry, though, a bunch of leeches soon bring him round. Unfortunately, Jane Austen was wrong about Tom’s illness improving him. When Fanny offers to take a turn nursing Tom, Edmund tells her, “I warn you, Fanny, illness has brought out Tom’s true nature in all its wonderful ugliness. He’s a tyrant!” But, no matter, this Fanny can take care of herself.

Fanny: “Well, I shan’t let him tyrannize me.”

Edmund: “We’ll see about that. You’ll give way. You’re too kind to quarrel.”

Fanny: “You should not rely on it, cousin.”

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Apart from the change to Fanny’s character and personality, I believe the scene following Fanny nursing Tom is the most astonishing character change from Jane Austen’s story. Mary Crawford arrives at Mansfield Park and Sir Thomas breaks the news of Maria’s elopement with Henry Crawford to her and his family. But, it is the flagrancy of Maria’s act, the scant regard for her family’s honor that Sir Thomas complains of.

Sir Thomas: “Julia is safe with our cousins in Richmond. [Since Mr. Yates was cut, so is Julia’s elopement.] Last week I received a letter from an old friend in London. It contained a good deal to concern me about our daughter Maria. I had no choice but to act immediately. I went to town in the faint hope that my informant might be mistaken, or failing that that I might at least reverse a desperate situation. I need hardly say that I have been disappointed. Maria has left her home and her husband. Flagrantly! Publicly! An utter contempt for her family’s honor, a complete disregard for each and every one of us! She has run away with Mr. Crawford.”

He seems to have taken a leaf out of Miss Crawford’s book. Since she is at Mansfield, her break with Edmund occurs right away. Mrs. Norris decides to devote herself to Maria in her disgrace. So little of her blind affection for Maria and her triumph in arranging her marriage were shown that Mrs. Norris almost seems noble in her choice to leave Mansfield for Maria’s sake. Fanny finds it amusing, “I don’t know who I feel more sorry for — Maria or Aunt Norris.”

With the Crawfords out of the way, Edmund begins to notice Fanny. This is shown in a scene where Lady Bertram asks Fanny whether she should use purple or maroon. Fanny very decisively answers, “The purple, aunt.” And, wow! that sure got Edmund’s attention! He starts looking at her likes he’s never really seen her before. Maybe purple was his favorite color? Then he comes to her bedroom at night while she’s washing her hair in her nightgown! And she lets him in! He’s embarrassed, but she enjoys it. She has to tell him that she must go to bed or he might have stood there goggling at her all night. “You know, I’ve always loved — this room,” he stammers out, before leaving Fanny to giggle by herself.

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The next morning, an agitated Edmund runs after Fanny to the breakfast room, without even bothering to tie his cravat, which remains hanging limply down to his waist, and looking, as a result, very much un-dashing. Luckily, the supposedly apathetic Lady Bertram has turned matchmaker and gets Edmund and Fanny off alone together, so he can stop gaping at Fanny over the tea and get his proposal over with. Well, he doesn’t actually propose to her. He rushes frantically out after her (drooping cravat flying in the the breeze), grabs her arm, starts kissing her, and then says, “I love you. I was blind — forgive me.”

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I must say, it was very perceptive of Lady Bertram to have noticed what no one — no one — else had noticed. She tells Sir Thomas that “Fanny has been in love with Edmund since she was a little girl.” Sir Thomas throws in one of Henry Crawford’s lines from the book, quoting the poet about a wife being “heaven’s last best gift.” 3

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And then they were married — Fanny and Edmund, that is. As the movie is almost over, they must hurry to fit in one last shock. Says Lady B to Sir T, in great perplexity, “Edmund and Fanny have learned a new dance!” Indeed they have, for they are waltzing! However, although waltzing is not correct for the time period, that is scarcely an issue as it goes right along with the out-dated clothes and other incongruities. The new Mr. and Mrs. Bertram decide to make it their business to be happy ever after, and the credits roll.

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The music in this adaptation was oddly upbeat — almost comic — in style for the story. It wasn’t bad, just not what I would have expected to find in Mansfield Park. It suits the style of the movie, I guess. Mary’s harp music was very pretty, however, as was the dance music during the picnic. There was a great deal of jerky camera movement throughout the movie, which I found disagreeable and distracting. There was some pretty scenery and several charming costumes. The dress Fanny wears to her birthday picnic was especially pretty, and had the advantage of being one of her dresses that is actually from the correct time period.

Perhaps, though, this is an accurate adaptation after all, as it does mention the slave trade4 (Tom even remarks, “Our little cousin is a friend to abolition”), something a number of people seem to find very important for a faithful adaptation of Mansfield Park.

Obviously, I didn’t like this movie. Even apart from its value as an adaptation of my favorite novel, I didn’t care for it as a movie. Of the representations, Miss Crawford’s was probably the best. She was pretty, lively, and rather saucy. She was still too much from time to time. I suppose her brother wasn’t terrible, either (his depiction, that is — his character is as bad as it is in the book). Apart from some of Fanny’s and Miss Crawford’s clothes, and a distasteful joke from Mr. Rushworth, there isn’t any bad content that I can remember. That’s about the best I can say for this so-called adaptation of Mansfield Park.

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Despite, or, rather, because of, it’s defects, Janeites have had a lot of fun with this version. See, for example, this post on AustenBlog: “Facts About Fanny Price”.

1 “The Honourable John Yates …. came on the wings of disappointment, and with his head full of acting”. (Ch. 13)

2 The line in the book has a rather different significance: “By one of the suffering party within they were expected with such impatience as she had never known before. Fanny had scarcely passed the solemn-looking servants, when Lady Bertram came from the drawing-room to meet her; came with no indolent step; and falling on her neck, said, ‘Dear Fanny! now I shall be comfortable.’” (Ch. 46; again, emphasis mine)

3 “I am of a cautious temper, and unwilling to risk my happiness in a hurry. Nobody can think more highly of the matrimonial state than myself. I consider the blessing of a wife as most justly described in those discreet lines of the poet — ‘Heaven’s last best gift.’” (Ch. 4)

4 The slave trade is a subject mentioned briefly in passing in the book. Fanny tells Edmund, “But I do talk to him [her uncle] more than I used. I am sure I do. Did not you hear me ask him about the slave-trade last night?” Edmund replies, “I did — and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.” (Ch. 21)

Review of ‘Mansfield Park’ (1983)

Mansfield Park 1983 dvd cover UKThe 1983 miniseries of Mansfield Park, dramatised by Ken Taylor, is quite a faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. While overacted at times, it is for the most part a very well done production. So much of the dialogue is straight from the book — Jane Austen’s own delightful, perfect dialogue with Miss Crawford’s light banter, Fanny’s rhapsodizing, and so on — as to be most gratifying.

The childhood scenes are very good, though a bit too melodramatic from time to time. Young Fanny is properly timid and grateful, and Edmund very kind. I particularly enjoyed the scene where he helps Fanny write a letter to her brother. Tom is shown teasing Fanny and giving her a present. Maria and Julia expound Fanny’s “stupidity” to their aunt, but invite her to join their games when a third would be useful. The change from childhood to adulthood is shown with scenes of Edmund reading to Fanny from William Cowper’s poem “The Task” — a poem Fanny actually quotes from in the book — showing his part in her education and in forming her tastes.

Young Edmund and Fanny - letter writing, episode 1

The actors for the adult characters were chosen well. Bernard Hepton as Sir Thomas is appropriately stately, always the gentleman. Tom and Edmund are very fine young men, Maria and Julia handsome and stylish. Miss Crawford is also pretty and suitably lively, though with rather an odd hair-style. Mr. Crawford has a fashionable air. Lady Bertram and Aunt Norris are well-looking, with Lady Bertram being sufficiently indolent (she plays a comic character, unfortunately exaggerated on occasion — her voice can be rather annoying). Anna Massey plays a deliciously sharp and bulling Aunt Norris, putting in one of the best performances of the film. Fanny herself is pretty in a quiet way, with gentle manners.

Sir Thomas with daughters, episode 1 Lady Bertram Tom Bertram Edmund Bertram, episode 1 Maria Bertram Julia Bertram Fanny Price, episode 6 Aunt Norris Henry Crawford Mary Crawford, episode 2

Fanny’s letter writing to her brother William is used to transition between different parts of the story. Although voice-over narration is generally avoided in films, I believe, I thought it worked well here. Giving Fanny’s thoughts in the form of letters to William was a neat idea, showing at once how close they were and how little others cared for Fanny’s opinion. I was reminded of the passage in the book, “And Fanny, what was she doing and thinking all this while? and what was her opinion of the newcomers? Few young ladies of eighteen could be less called on to speak their opinion than Fanny.” (ch. 5). And giving the film’s ending the form of a letter to William gave it a similar “epilogue” feel to that of the book’s conclusion.

Fanny writing to William, episode 1

Although extremely faithful to the book, this adaptation does take a few liberties. The ages of various of Fanny’s siblings are changed. Henry Crawford and Maria are shown kissing while rehearsing their scene instead of “trying not to embrace” (ch. 18), probably because it was easier to depict. Added in when Edmund comes to fetch Fanny from Portsmouth is Mr. Price insulting Edmund to his face, telling him that “putting to sea” is “a true man’s life” — better than to “skulk indoors” as “a sniveling parson”. On the other hand, an important scene, that of Sir Thomas offering to release Maria from her engagement to Mr. Rushworth, was not dramatised.

Fanny helping Mr. Rushworth, episode 3

As an aside, I would like to point out that failure to dramatise a particular scene from a novel does not make an adaptation unfaithful to its source. Most novels contain way too much material to fit into a single movie — even if it is a miniseries. I mention this because I have several times come across critisisms of this particular miniseries, saying that it is not a faithful adaptation because it completely ignores any mention of the slave trade — a subject which is only mentioned very briefly in passing in the novel itself.

Fanny and Edmund, episode 4

This is not a particularly brilliant miniseries, but there were only a few things that I really disliked about it. For the most part, Sylvestra Le Touzel’s portrayal of Fanny Price is fine. She is sweet, retiring, industrious, and observant. During the scene when her uncle scolds her, however, I thought her crying much overdone — she becomes practically hysterical. I didn’t like the depiction of her brother William — he is too pouty and almost servile at times. And, although amusing, I don’t really like the hairstyles of Edmund, Mary, and Mr. Yates. Edmund’s was too messy and Miss Crawford’s was just plain odd. Mr. Yates’s topknot was an absolute riot, but I wouldn’t take him as a model in fashion.

Mansfield Park 1983 hairdos

The acting in this production was, by and large, quite solid, with a few brilliant moments. I love Sir Thomas’s look at Mrs. Norris when she declares that “dear sister Price must wait” after discovering that she would have to pay her own way back if she visited her. And the cut from Lady Bertram saying on Fanny’s return to Mansfield, “Now I shall be comfortable again” to her snoozing on the sofa was superb!

Compared to the scenes at Mansfield, the Portsmouth scenes are suitably noisy and disorderly. Alison Fiske as Mrs. Price was good — fretful and indifferent. Mr. Price was very loud, coarse, and disagreeable. There was a great deal too much of his raucous singing portrayed, I thought — a very little would suffice! (Julia’s singing as a child wasn’t so great, either. The glee was the only tolerable bit of singing in the miniseries.)

We are to sing a glee

Having Mr. Crawford quoting from ‘Lovers’ Vows’ in his (decidedly successful) attempt to overcome Mrs. Rushworth’s coldness toward him in London was a very appropriate choice, recalling as it does the damage done by the ill-judged playacting. The scene is filmed in an interestingly metaphorical way, with Henry and Maria dressed in black and their lines recalling their behaviour at the time of the Mansfield theatricals. However, the speed with which they are portrayed as becoming entangled with each other, makes Henry’s continued love for Fanny somewhat unconvincing.

Maria Rushworth and Henry Crawford, episode 6

Edmund is depicted as falling in love with Fanny almost immediately after breaking with Mary and their move into the Mansfield parsonage follows very closely after the wedding. But, as the ending is little more than a postscript at the end of the novel, this presentation isn’t too bad. The less time spent on material which was not actually detailed by Jane Austen, the better. And, besides, I do believe that was Fanny’s very own Pug with them at the end!

Fanny and Edmund, The End, pug, episode 6

There are some lovely costumes designed by Ian Adley. Miss Crawford wears some especially elegant, fashionable-looking gowns and Fanny has several very pretty dresses, as do Maria and Julia. The gentlemen’s costumes suit the characters nicely. Mansfield Park is tastefully furnished and has handsome grounds. There is some pretty scenery throughout the film, but most of the outdoor scenes are unfortunately washed out in appearance and lacking definition. Fanny’s East room — her “nest of comforts” — was furnished with beautiful preciseness, including many of the little details that Jane Austen described. The theme music for the opening credits is fine, though in general the music is uninteresting and dated. It is usually unobtrusive, however, and there are a few enjoyable dance tunes along with some pretty harp music from Miss Crawford.

Fanny and Mary Crawford - ball dresses, episode 4

Objectionable content is limited to some swearing from Fanny’s father. There are some kisses between a man and someone else’s fiancée/wife and talk of a married woman running away with another man, but the affair is portrayed as wrong and hurtful.

Although very good and enjoyable, this miniseries is certainly not a definitive adaptation. I would very much like to see a new miniseries of Mansfield Park, with this one’s faithfulness to the novel, but with more brilliance — something, perhaps, in the style of the 1995 adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or the 1999 miniseries ‘Wives and Daughters’. Several of the 1980s Jane Austen adaptations are making way for newer miniseries (e.g. the 1995 ‘P&P’, the 2008 ‘Sense and Sensibility’, and the 2009 ‘Emma’), and I think it is high time for one of Mansfield Park.

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Amazing Grace 2006Trivia: The actors who play Edmund and Fanny, Nicholas Farrell and Sylvestra Le Touzel later played together in ‘Amazing Grace’ (2006) as a married couple — the delightful Henry and Marianne Thornton, who assiduously endeavor to make a match between their indignant friends William Wilberforce and Barbara Spooner.