Mansfield Park Revisited

I last read Mansfield Park when I was about 19 (20 years ago!) and I was sure I had enjoyed it, but this time round, as much as there are funny and interesting moments, it feels like it has one glaring fault. Fanny Price is not the heroine of her own story. I’ve sat and thought of every novel I can with a main female protagonist, and even when meek and placed in difficult positions, they still have an internal strength and the ability to speak up. I like Fanny, and I understand she has been transplanted from a poor family to a rich one, her security ripped away from her, but I really do wish the girl had some gumption. She seems so different from the majority of Jane Austen’s other leading ladies, Emma Woodhouse, the Bennets and the Dashwoods.

I flicked through two adaptations on Youtube to see what they were like, and unsurprisingly, both have versions of Fanny which are much louder and more confident, and I say flicked, as both were too bad to watch in full. The 2007 one with Billie Piper is more true to the novel, but that Fanny felt especially bold, and the earlier 1999 version was utterly unbearable. Chunks of it were made up, and some were actually upsetting, such as the slightly lecherous way Uncle Thomas, played by Harold Pinter, views Fanny, was actually disturbing. I wonder if it’s possible to make a faithful adaptation which would not seem bland, and make the audience want to reach through the television and give Fanny a shake, and tell her to stop being such a drip.

There are definitely good points, I love her mean aunt, Mrs Norris, who is the awful and makes us hate her with the power of Cinderella’s wicked stepmother. And there is one scene in which Fanny opens her mouth and surprises people, and that is regarding her uncle’s slave holdings, and the moral and legal implications of it. For a girl in the 1810s, these were bold questions to be asked of a benefactor.

Here are the two adaptations, the most dire first, followed by the slightly more watchable. Slightly.

However, hats off to Austen, for letting people live, (beginning of last chapter ‘Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can-) and giving them a happy ending, even though I don’t feel Fanny did anything to deserve hers other than pine for it.

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