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!

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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’ (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.

A Review of Edmund Bertram’s Diary

Edmund Bertram's Diary Amanda Grange 3I was particularly interested in reading Edmund Bertram’s Diary by Amanda Grange since it is based on my favorite novel, and I had already enjoyed Ms. Grange’s Mr. Knightley’s Diary, which wasn’t perfect, but enjoyable.  However, going into it with high expectations, I was, naturally, disappointed.

The beginning of Edmund Bertram’s Diary was good. I think that Amanda Grange does a good job of portraying the Bertram family and their treatment of Fanny. Edmund’s love for Miss Crawford is convincing. Henry and Mary Crawford are charming, while still being suitably unprincipled. But, later in the book, Ms. Grange begins to hit some wrong notes.

My first objection is minor. Ms. Grange makes Fanny into a “very creditable” artist.1 I tend to agree with Richard Jenkyns, who, in his book A Fine Brush on Ivory, says, “I suspect that Jane Austen may have been trying to test the limits, to see how far she could go. Deliberately she withdraws from her heroine most of the attractions that might compensate for her timidity: Fanny is made to have no interest in music or drawing; she says that she does not want to learn them.”2 What we are meant to admire about Fanny, I believe, is her beautiful mind and character. Here we are invited to admire her for her accomplishments. But, as I said, this is really a very small criticism. I have others that are not so slight.

Tom keeps a mistress.3 Tom has his vices, of course, but it’s going a bit far to say that he kept a mistress (it is only alluded to briefly during some conversation, but it is still there). Edmund would have been completely shocked by such behavior, not have taken it as a matter of course, as he does in this book.

Edmund Bertram's Diary Amanda Grange 1Edmund spills his guts to some complete strangers — a few of Tom’s dissolute friends, in fact. The scene takes place while Edmund is in London. When Tom tells some of his friends that his brother has a bet on a filly that will bring him twenty thousand pounds (referring to Mary Crawford), Edmund goes right along with it, instead of being absolutely disgusted by it as Jane Austen’s Edmund would have been.4 Later on Edmund again meets Tom with his “party of friends”.5

‘So, how is the little filly?’ asked Langley. ‘Got her into harness yet?’

I shook my head; Tom was sympathetic; and before I knew it, I was telling him my troubles.

‘Women are the very devil,’ said Langley.

‘Not worth it,’ said Hargate.

‘This one certainly isn’t. Why not marry one of the Miss Owens instead?’ asked Tom. ‘Any one of them would make you a respectable wife.’

‘Because it is Mary I want.’

Hargate nodded sagely.6

These incidents take Edmund grossly out of character. You don’t have to be a stuffy parson to find keeping a mistress revolting, and any honorable man would find it distasteful to have the woman he loves referred to as a filly that he is betting on (for the money it will bring him, no less). And as for confiding one’s innermost woes to a party of strangers (and strangers who are not the kind of people that that one would usually associate with, at that), it is simply not Edmund Bertram in the least.

Edmund isn’t allowed to just love Fanny for what she is, she has to change. She is made to become more and more outgoing until she becomes “an assured woman,” “no longer tongue-tied in company, but setting everyone at their ease by talking to them of their own concerns and replying with the same ease to their questions about her own.”7 All of this happens greatly to Edmund’s pleasure, for he’s been waiting for and wanting this to happen all through the book. In fact, it is during this time that he falls in love with her, and right after this particular episode that he proposes to her. Fanny becomes so bold, in fact, that she is capable of advising Sir Thomas himself.

‘I have had a letter from Julia,’ said my father, when we joined him and Mama in the drawing-room. ‘She has begged my forgiveness and she now asks for the indulgence of my notice. I would like your advice, Edmund; and yours, too, Fanny. You have seen more clearly in this business than any of us.’

‘It seems to me to be a good sign,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ said Fanny. ‘If they wish to be forgiven, then I think you should notice them.’8

Edmund Bertram's Diary Amanda Grange 2I don’t have any problem with Fanny becoming a little less shy and more confident (actually, under the circumstances, I think it would be natural), but all that is taking it a bit far a bit fast.

Another criticism of the book is, the ending is too abrupt. Edmund realizes that he is in love with Fanny and proposes to her on the same day. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it would have been more romantic had he been given some time to court her after he falls in love with her (and Jane Austen never suggested that Edmund had been in love with Fanny all along).

Finally, I must add that Amanda Grange is too fond of the word “satirical.” I know this is a trivial complaint, but, still, there it is. She overuses it and it gets annoying. After finishing Edmund Bertram’s Diary, I went on to read Darcy’s Diary by Ms. Grange, and found it also liberally besprinkled with the word “satirical.” Also, as my sister pointed out to me, these two books are generously strewn with “whilst” — a word almost never found in any of Jane Austen’s novels (it is used four times in Pride and Prejudice, but never in any of the other five completed novels). This, of course, does not mean that it should never be used in Jane Austen fan fiction, but, if plain “while” is good enough for Jane Austen, it is good enough for me.

Anyway, all that said, Ms. Grange’s works are mostly clean, mildly clever, and gently entertaining. Edmund Bertram’s Diary has the merit of not being too long for the subject matter, providing an enjoyable read for those who like fan fiction and just can’t get enough of Jane Austen.

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This is a review, though slightly edited, that I have posted before.

Footnotes

1. Amanda Grange, Edmund Bertram’s Diary (New York: Berkley Books, 2007), p. 227.

2. Richard Jenkyns, A Fine Brush on Ivory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), ch. 4, A Park with a View, p. 112.

3. Grange, p. 237.

4. Ibid. pp. 237-238.

5. Ibid. p. 247.

6. Ibid. p. 248.

7. Ibid. p. 286.

8. Ibid. p. 276.