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Mansfield Parsonage: A Mansfield Park Regency Novel Kindle Edition
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I bought the book because I thought the idea was interesting. Fanny Price is a difficult heroine for modern readers to appreciate and I think we all feel some sympathy for the witty and often kind hearted Mary Crawford, but Ms Kramer's defence of Mary in her Prologue - saying that by setting out to marry a rich man, irrespective of love, she wasn't trying to do anything that other Jane Austen heroines hadn't done - completely misses the point. Marianne Dashwood married without actual love, but she did feel respect, esteem and gratitude for Col. Brandon. Mary Crawford feels none of this when she decides that Tom Bertram will make a good husband, and when she finds that she is strongly attracted to Edmund, she fights it because he is to be a clergyman. This is certainly not the attitude of an Austen heroine. Some reviewers hold up Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse as classic Austen heroines, but there is also the naive and child-like Catherine Morland, and the quiet and dutiful Anne Elliot, as well as timid, sensitive Fanny Price. My guess is that, in Mary Crawford, Jane Austen wanted to show that wit, beauty and pleasant behaviour were worthless without strong morals. She was a country woman, daughter of a clergyman, herself, and doubtless despised the morals of town life. She also turned down the offer of a very 'good' marriage - in monetary terms - because she could not love or esteem the man sufficiently, choosing to remain a poor spinster. Ms Kramer says that Austen's heroines are "loved because they are inherently decent people". Mary Crawford is not inherently decent. She wishes Tom Bertram dead so that Edmund could become the elder son, she despises clergymen, and she thinks the only thing wrong with Maria leaving her husband and running off with Henry Crawford is that they were found out. She's not even totally acceptable as a heroine in the 21st century, despite the fact that many people do all this and more and no-one shuns them, but she certainly won't do as a 19th century heroine. And if Ms Kramer were the historian she claims to be, she would understand this.
Ms Kramer has perfectly captured the language and style of Jane Austen but, dare I say it, has increased the level of wit beyond that of Ms Austen's work. I felt this to be a brilliant book, a fine tribute to Mansfield Park but well-written, well-characterised and a wonderful story all of its own. The mores of social life and expectations put on the genders is brilliantly captured and you can tell that Ms Kramer is a historian. She is also a very talented fiction writer, and if you love Jane Austen you will love this book, but even if you don't you will love Mansfield Parsonage in any case. Strongly recommended.
Now to read Mansfield Park again, with a fresh perspective on Fanny Price...
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