Throughout the process of retelling Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park into the 1930s, I continually realized just how good this book really is. This is something that you might not expect because Mansfield Park is about people who have a truly flawed outlook on life. The negative relationships of the Bertram set superficially look like Austen’s other characters, who socialize a great deal and have a great deal to say about each other’s mistakes. But actually, Mansfield Park is about a different group of people from her other work, so it greatly interests readers even though it has never quite blended with her other books.
In Mansfield Park, Austen ventured out of storytelling that had worked very well for her in earlier novels like S&S and P&P and that she would return to in Emma. Instead of people who are delightfully human and foolish, the Bertrams have a bad way of viewing the world. In short, they really need to rethink their lives. Their motives are different from Austen’s other characters, many of whom are shallow or struggle with the shallowness of others. The Bertrams have a lot more wrong with them than that. There are occasional characters in the other novels to whom a rooted outlook on how to live--essentially a belief system--is important. But they are individuals and don't reflect the entire book. In Mansfield, philosophy is a way of life and it's not a good philosophy either.
Mary Crawford mentions that she’s shocked how interesting she found these people and how relevant they are since they live far from London, a center of intellectual thought and trends. There’s something about the people of Mansfield that locks you into their orbit and their fascinating, but flawed relationships. Even Fanny actually belongs at Mansfield, as she learns when she is sent back to live with her family. It’s not adjusting to a different style of living that’s hard for her. It’s because she has nothing in common with her birth family. She is a part of the Mansfield conversation—just not the same part that the others are.
Challenging a flawed worldview and the people who hold it while not ignoring the complexity that not all bad people are irredeemable (which is hard to show without seeming soft on wrongdoing) is always a courageous thing to do. While this book is generally viewed as only fairish in execution—and so are virtually all movies, remakes, and retellings of it, including mine—the fact Austen tried to write it is one of the things I like about her. It made me have great respect for her and that is why I chose this book to retell.
And there will be more updates.
I almost forgot when I planned this post (1st post of the month will be in the Central Five Series) that it goes out to many of you on the 4th. Independence Day in the US! And that's actually great because the book for this week is a western and that's about as American as it gets.
The Test of Devotion is a story about danger and deception. The setting of the American West during the 1850s was perfect for telling this story of tough people, but behind the general surface of action-adventure are some subtle layers. It’s a surprisingly nuanced book. The Test of Devotion wasn’t the story it seemed to be several years ago and a lot of that goes right back to the people it is about. Its characters rise to the surface in unexpected ways, because in this story about deception most of its protagonists aren’t what they seem to be when you first see them.
So, the Central Five Characters that bring focus to this book are:
Arabella plays a big role in generating the entire plot. A brave and independent girl, she isn’t afraid to head out into the unknown. Although she is pretty and charismatic enough for the job, she finds she’s not quite heroine material just yet. Marrying a man who doesn’t wish her well puts her in danger of betrayal. But she comes through it all and earns the right to be the book’s protagonist.
Benito is an orphan with a delightful bad attitude. All spunk and spines, he takes care of himself although he has no money and no family except one negligent, adopted older brother (Viajero.) Benito always, repeat always, stands up for himself, whether you were challenging him or not, and he can singlehandedly start a rescue.
Governor Wallace achieved much in his past life before coming out to Texas to become a successful rancher. A wise mentor and a good friend, he’s viewed as invulnerable and noble by the young people in the story. He contributes little to the action since the others do so much for themselves, but pitches in when his authority is needed.
Jenny is the daughter of a missionary who bought a hotel in southern Texas. She’s a practical person who is up to dealing with anyone—even criminals like the sinister Hawk who shadows Arabella. She’d probably describe herself as nothing much, just a girl working in a hot, dusty place. And she’d be right—until she got involved in an adventure.
Lanmont brings all the intrigue to the story. As a smart man he is a natural for working in government and he’s a fast learner and takes quick action in everything he does. But he gets a little arrogant, a little full of himself, and starts a situation he can’t handle. Looking for an easy way out is rarely a good strategy—but it makes for a lot of twists and turns.
And there will be more updates.
I haven't posted on A Year with the Harrisons in a while so I'll do so while it's being promoted this month. PLUS, it is currently part of the Spectacular Summer Giveaway. If you missed getting a copy of Harrisons in the Children’s Book Giveaway a couple of weeks ago, you can snag it today. But you should check out this giveaway in any case. It's an all-genre event with romance, fantasy, some short stories, books about cooking, contemporary novels, and adventure. Harrisons is a YA comedy that really brings grownup and younger readers together, so it has been in two pretty different collections this month. This giveaway is more for adult readers than the last one and has a great set of books.
Check it out here. And if you try to download A Year with the Harrisons and it doesn’t work because you're already subscribed, use this link for a direct download. But only for my book. Be sure to check out all the others at the link above.
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A Year with the Harrisons is a story about people who are hiding from their past. A lot of the situations in the book are funny, as the characters' bumbling through relationships is often amusing. But like many dramas, coming of age stories, and women’s fiction, complicated family ties that lead to many plot twists are essential to its structure. The two central plots involve two branches of a Texas family, the Harrisons, who haven’t dealt with things about their past relationships to other family members. The plots parallel through the characters of Joe Harrison, a homeschooling father of three teenage girls, and his first cousin once removed, Betty Harrison, a former celebrity who now works at a local diner. While both of these people quietly move in very different spheres, blending in with their chosen social circles, they really have a lot of connection to each other. A connection that can’t be denied and that never goes away.
They are both tied to Betty’s mother, a famous pop singer. But Betty has left her mother to pursue a separate life and has never dealt with any of the emotions about that painful split. She’s a single mother whose young daughter attends an ordinary small-town school. Joe moved into an unusual lifestyle of home-education for his children and has almost cut himself off from the outside world. The girls are isolated and have few friends except at church, since Joe, unlike Betty, has become very religious. You’d never think to see either Joe or Betty that they even knew each other. But of course that's how the story begins, not how it ends.
This is mostly a very cheerful book, because Betty and Joe do end up making good decisions. There are a lot of young people in the book, with prominent plots focused on teenage girls as well as a bit of mild romance between Joe’s daughter Letty and a football player. But these core relationships among the older people build a foundation for the story. Except for the pastor Dr. Bunsen, a minor character whose effort to change the ministries at his church fails, everyone in the circle of the Harrison family and the Shotgun family (who shadow them throughout the book) end up finding there’s always a solution to things if you just deal with them. Betty becomes close to her mother again, all the young people grow into their budding new lives, Joe proves more knowledgeable than anyone anticipated, and the villain, Mr. Shotgun, conveniently pops off.
Perhaps a bit of a contrivance on that last one, but I’d certainly like to think it was at least a little bit real. Facing things is always the best way because when confronted with a direct accusation of identity almost everything bad will immediately disappear. There’s a reason why light always turns trolls to stone.
And there will be more updates.
Pleasant Fiction in an Age of Noise
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When I set about defining my books, I wanted them to be positive places where a gentleness emanated from the pages. A hopeful safety lies in gentleness and there's also an honesty to it. A whirlwind of pushy book blurbs and hot characters (or whatever type character the author wants you to admire) can conceal a reality underneath. A quiet--possibly even lurking--reality that's more visible if you dial down the volume. That lurking reality isn't necessarily bad, but like anything quiet, it gets drowned out by conflict and angst. Peaceful fiction can help explore the truth that noisy books ignore.
Bellevere House has been featured on Ezvid Wiki video "10 Wonderfully Inventive Retellings That Interpret Classic Stories in a New Way." Click to see the video.