Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Anyone for an Online Book Club?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that even die-hard fans of Pride and Prejudice have not read Mansfield Park. Perhaps because it's significantly less frothy than P&P or Emma, or because readers have little patience with a heroine who spends much of her time shrinking away from notice and watching someone make off with the love of her life.

Let me lay all my cards on the table and confess that Mansfield Park has always been one of my favorites. If the Bennet girls operate under the ticking time bomb of the entail, they at least have each other, their looks, and their wits. In MP, Austen isolates Fanny Price from all possible aid. She has no money, she is separated from her dear brother, she has an overbearing aunt, and she loses her favorite cousin's attentions to that delightful siren Mary Crawford. Fanny is on her own.Though not unintelligent, Fanny is no wit, no life of the party. But while she may shrink on the outside, the girl is rock-solid underneath.

Stay away from this woman.
She is, moreover, a keen, keen observer like her creator, and MP boasts some of Austen's most wonderful creations. The bustling Aunt Norris and indolent Aunt Bertram (whose pug dogs deserve a shout-out of their own). The rival sisters Maria and Julia--who recall Persuasion's Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove, without their good nature. And best of all, Henry and Mary Crawford, the worldly brother and sister pair who come to Mansfield and wreak amorous havoc. Mary has the honor of telling the only dirty joke in Austen, and playboy Henry might be arguably Austen's most complex character. That Jane Austen could so fully imagine (and revel in) "wicked" characters while maintaining sympathy for the "good" Fanny demonstrates her remarkable breadth, as well as the divide in her own heart!

Mansfield Park has been on the old brain recently because, among my many writing starts, I've got a few chapters of a novel "inspired by" it, in the same way the movie Clueless was "inspired by" Emma. Tangentially, this book would fit in the Cass Ewan series because the Edmund character gets mentioned at least once by name in Mourning Becomes Cassandra or The Littlest Doubts (I'll have to search on Google Books to remember where!). We'll see how it goes. The draft is a little messy so far, but I'm on Chapter Five. If it makes it over the Chapter Six hump (where my failed novels all go to die, or at least go into limbo), I'll keep you posted.

And this one, with her inexplicably loose hair!
All of which is to say, would anyone like to join me for an online MP book club? Get your hands on a copy (free on Kindle and, I imagine, Nook) and read the first three chapters. We could meet back here next week, or try it "live" on Facebook or Twitter. So far I've gotten two readers to join me. Anyone else?

Warning: DON'T watch the movie adaptations! Apart from the ancient BBC version (in which everyone is oddly hideous), the more recent versions are complete flights of fancy. Okay--not complete flights of fancy, but NOT the book, in any case. They will ruin you.

I warned you about these guys
In the 1999 film version, the filmmakers thought Fanny wouldn't be exciting enough on her own, so they filled her mouth with feisty speeches and scenes lifted from Austen's own juvenalia, after which it didn't make sense for such a spirited creature to be crushed the way she is. In the 2007 BBC blondie version I could not get past the hairdo and sexpot Fanny. And then just take a look at the old BBC cover and tell me if you could spend several hours watching such people. Ay ay ay.

Now that we've cleared that up, let me know if you'd like to join us!

Let's kick off our virtual book club with two general questions (please answer here, so everyone can see and respond):
  1. What is your favorite Austen book, and why?
  2. What is your favorite TV or movie adaptation of an Austen book?


  1. Christina
    To answer you book club questions:
    1. My favorite Austen book is Mansfield Park. The characters are so alive and colorful comparative to her other well known works. You really do end up rooting for Fanny. You want her to end up happy and you want every one else to feel bad about the way that they treated Fanny.
    2. My favorite Austen Adaptation would have to be the long version of the A&E Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. It really does that book some justice.
    I will try to rustle my copy of MP up and I will get on the 3 chapters!

  2. I choose Persuasion, but mostly because I read it first. I love the way that all the characters are silly spinning tops around the solid Anne and Wentworth. I also like the "American" aspect, in that Wentworth is a self-made man. I thought the Film with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds was such a good reflection of the book.

    Still, I am powerless against Collin Firth's Darcy. Powerless against the smolder.

  3. I forgot to say that choosing a fave Austen is like choosing a favorite kid. I love them all!
    Another thing I love about Persuasion when Anne points out that books cannot be trusted because they are all written by men. Yes!

  4. Women after my own heart. I do love MP and Persuasion, and I think that Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds Persuasion is the best version of that book. Maybe my Q should have been, "Which is your fave version AFTER the Colin Firth?"!

    As for liking ALL the books, I have to say Northanger Abbey I did not like. Read it once in college and have never wanted to pick it up since. But if someone wants to stick up for Catherine, speak now!

  5. 1. Persuassion- "hot sailor still pines for over-the-hill woman overwhelmed by familial duties" works for me somehow.
    2. P&P, for everything BUT Darcy- love the crazy parents, the silly sisters, and especially the delightful Mr. Collins. Next is Gwyneth's Emma, mostly because it's beautiful to look at and I'm a sucker for Knightly (tho especially when he's Paul Rudd).
    3. In answer to the question you SHOULD have asked: Knightly, then Wentworth, then Darcy. Or Col. Brandon; I love Col. Brandon.

  6. Hmmm...some good input from She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. We will certainly tackle the hero question later in the book. I thought Jeremy Northam too young looking to play Knightley but otherwise had no objection to him!

  7. Better late than never...
    Hard to pick a favorite, but must admit to Pride & Prejudice since it's the one I've re-read the most...almost memorized it by now.
    Favorite Movie adaptation would be EMMA w/Gwyneth Paltrow & the entire collection of well-cast players...especially Knightly!

  8. Welcome, Marylou! P&P has the most fun, quotable lines, so it's a good one to memorize. I read Gone With the Wind so many times as a teenager that that's the one I've got down...

  9. Yes, I'm late to the game here, but that's only because of vacation-inflicted technical difficulties. These comments have inspired me to track down the "Persuasion" DVD, especially because I have seen the pbs versions of P&P and S&S many times.

    As for film adaptations, I'd like to plug that pbs version of Sense and Sensibility. WAAAAAY better than the big-screen version, with Emma Thompson's furrowed brow standing in for "Sense" and Kate Winslet's heaving bosom for "Sensibility." The two-part pbs version gave a much better feel for the vulnerability of disinherited women. It has a great supporting cast too, though none so good as Jeremy Northam's Knightly (sigh).

    My favorite book has always been Pride and Prejudice, but now that I'm reading Mansfield Park again, I'm intrigued....

  10. Anna, I'll have to check out the PBS S&S. I have no memories of it. So glad you're joining us! No one has weighed in on the three opening chapters yet, but I hope that's because everyone is reading away...