I was aware when I started Bellevere House that Mansfield Park was a dangerous topic. It’s a sensitive book for many Jane Austen fans going back at least a hundred years. By now the old tropes of “the book is so boring, although we talk about it all the time like it’s interesting, and the Crawfords are the ONLY good thing, which is odd because we certainly have a lot of opinions on Sir Thomas and Edmund, and we’ve hated on Fanny for so long that now we’re actually changing it up sometimes and saying we like her, and there’s always the lurking issue of Mrs. Norris, and how Edmund could be attracted to both Henry and Mary, and WHY did Jane Austen even write this book, but it does have a lot of meat in it and some great characters, not that we’re specific about who they are exactly except sort of the Crawfords and kind of Fanny although she’s so problematic too . . .” are starting to feel quite familiar.
Ad infintum. Sometimes people just like to beat an old horse to death and that’s how they show they care about the horse. (Although this does seem kind of hard on the horse!) And I knew going in that it would be almost impossible to create a version of Mansfield Park that people really liked, because disliking it is how they like it. Even Mansfield Park’s many admirers are bound to complain about something that isn’t just perfectly right. Nobody else’s vision for these characters, including Jane Austen’s, is quite absolutely theirs and what they’d prefer to see in the story matters to them. It matters a LOT.
But then, if it matters so much, that means they really love Mansfield Park regardless of what they say about it or how they fuss about the particulars of any version. And they really love almost every movie and fan retelling of it ever made, although all do legitimately have flaws and they acknowledge those flaws. Their concern over every detail is a sign of their intense passion for the story and the conversation would be so much tamer, so much duller, if there weren’t something to argue about. This passion is something that Austen fans are noted for. They feel proprietary about her work as if during the course of two hundred years it had somehow become their work, really written by them.
So naturally, if I do a rewrite of Mansfield Park, as in Bellevere House, and put in any details or exclude any when they would not have made those decisions, they are going to feel pretty personal, as if they and not I had written Bellevere and they would be associated with what I did in the book. As Jane Austen herself might say if she were still alive, so much interest is a great thing, but any book that you took the trouble of investing time and money in is YOUR book, not someone else’s. But in any case, she could rest easy knowing that her world was so fascinating that after centuries, people still get so worked up over those Bertrams.
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.