‘Would he have persevered, and uprightly, Fanny must have been his reward, and a reward very voluntarily bestowed, within a reasonable period from Edmund’s marrying Mary.’Revisit Mansfield Park's opening three chapters sum up the happenings of Mansfield Park as a reminder, or for those who haven’t read it, which is a bit dry, but we then get into the substance of this variation. If you’ve read Mansfield Park you may well remember that when Fanny Price goes to Portsmouth Henry Crawford visits her there. When he leaves he asks her to advise him as to whether he should return to his estate or go to London. Fanny declines to advise him and instead replies with one of the most famous quotes of the novel:
‘We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.’Crawford goes to London, and Fanny doesn’t see him again. However, in this book, when Crawford asks for her advice Fanny decides to give him a chance. To test Crawford’s regard for her, she will give her opinion. If he follows her advice then it could be that what he says is true, his interest in her is genuine and she has judged him unfairly. She advises him to return to his estate to settle the matters of business he has outstanding there. Given this encouragement Crawford requests that he might be allowed to correspond with Fanny, and she agrees, subject to her uncle’s consent. Obviously Sir Thomas is happy to agree with this, as the reason he sent Fanny to Portsmouth was to try and change her mind about Crawford’s proposal.
In this book, Fanny is more introspective. She wonders whether she is too guarded, comparing herself against the warmer Miss Crawford, and reflecting that she has opened her heart to her sister Susan, and has been rewarded by a growing sisterly relationship with her. Perhaps she could be less guarded in relation to Mr Crawford too? She decides to try and get to know him and give him a chance to see if she could care for him. As they correspond Fanny and Henry get to know each other better and she comes to see his good qualities – he’s intelligent, successful at things when he applies himself, and he is able to talk sensibly and interestingly with people ranging from William Price, to Sir Thomas to his daughters. Henry is also taken to task on his flirting and writes to Fanny:
‘I assure you that henceforth I will flirt with no one unless I fully intend to make her my wife, or she is already my wife. Therefore, I may flirt with you, Miss Price, when or if you allow it, though it may be that your honest heart knows not how to play that game.’Henry Crawford is a very charming man and I found myself charmed by him in this variation. He says such lovely things, and is very thoughtful towards Fanny. So much so, that she begins to be won over. You may wonder, what of Edmund? Well, Fanny is so much more introspective here that she questions whether she was mistaken in thinking that she loved Edmund romantically. In fact, when Fanny receives a long-awaited letter from Edmund, who is staying in London, she receives a letter from Henry the same day which eclipses Edmund’s epistle:
‘She had meant to write to Edmund that evening, but her thoughts were less of her cousin than of Mr. Crawford, and she deferred Edmund’s letter until the next morning.’I was wondering at this point what effect this might have on other people in Fanny’s family, most notably her cousin Maria, when you consider what happened in Mansfield Park! We catch up with what happened in London while Henry was at his Norfolk estate, and some questions here were raised that I didn’t feel were resolved by the end of the novel in relation to Maria and also Edmund and Mary. Also, the fates given to some of the characters seemed unnecessarily harsh to me and not very Austenesque!
On the whole I enjoyed this novel, however, in parts I felt it fell a little flat. I enjoyed the general tone of the writing, which was quite witty in parts but sometimes it seemed to be lacking in sparkle, with a bit too much telling the reader things rather than showing. This wasn’t helped by the three summary chapters at the beginning. I appreciate why they were in the book, but as they were summaries they were dry reading and sometimes I felt the other parts of the book reverted to this style. I thought the author brought Henry Crawford to life nicely but Fanny was a little too insipid for my liking and she was critical of her relations in some of her letters to Crawford, which seemed out of character to me. Also, when scandal affects Fanny’s family, it seemed unlikely that she wouldn’t worry that it might affect Henry’s plans towards her. However, I was very pleased to see a Mansfield Park variation as most books based on Mansfield Park seem either to be sequels or modern retellings. I also found it interesting to see a scenario exploring a possible variation proposed by Jane Austen herself! I’d rate this book at 3½ stars.