The Mansfield Side of Life
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.
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Young Adult Fiction Writer
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