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Monday, February 4, 2008

The Complete Jane Austen - Mansfield Park and Miss Austen Regrets

I didn't do a review of Masterpiece Theater's Mansfield Park last week because I felt my judgment was a bit clouded by actress Billie Piper being Fanny. Not that she did a bad job of it, but I am a big Dr. Who fan, and it was simply hard to see her as anyone other than Rose, the Doctor's companion.

Having said that, I'm going to review away. I've seen Piper in other things, and she can portray spunk with the best of them. In this version of Mansfield Park, Fanny seems to fade into the background without much to say. We get a lot of her pining after Edmund, but doing nothing about it. She didn't seem to be a real force in the story. It's more she bumps along a boat from one plot point to another, rudderless and not even trying.

And Edmund falls in love with her because she makes a faithful nursemaid to his brother and companion to his mother? What's up with that? Not your ususal Austen heroine unless you apply more spunk somewhere. Just stamp traditional on her and hand her over for the missionary position.

I also don't understand the waltz at the end. My recollection is that waltzing was scandalous when if first appeared (they were dancing much too close, according to convention). Now we have a future clergyman dancing with a dutiful Fanny. It seems outside the characters they built for this production.

Miss Austen Regrets is another matter.

Of course they fictionalized her life - they do point that out from the start. Some basic events are true - she had a marriage proposal she accepted then broke off a day later, and her niece Fanny did write to her for advice on chosing a spouse.

But you run into trouble any time one person gets to say what Jane Austen really thought about love and marriage. Olivia Williams was very authentic as Jane Austen, and she brings a little harder edge to Jane and makes you a bit uncomfortable for her. Jane makes fun of the foolish a little too well, and you can see how this might put off potential suitors.

I'll go along that given her writing and the times she was raised in, she might have regreted not marrying at the end. But the conclusion left me feeling sorry for her rather than celebrating her accomplishments. It almost gives the very antiquated idea Jane gave up to much for her work.

There's also much talk in the story of her trying to earn money for her family. It looks like they are still in the cottage after her death - was that a result of her earnings or some other reason? It would be nice to know how the money aspect added up at the end. Call me a mercenary modern girl, but I wanted to know.

Overall it was an interesting portrait to add to the many cameos we've created around the myth of Jane Austen. But this picture is a little sad and definitely, regret-filled.

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