Review: ‘Mansfield Park Revisited’ by Merryn Williams

Mansfield Park Revisited by [Merryn Williams]

Jane Austen died two years after the battle of Waterloo, and her fame has increased steadily since. That fame is based on a mere six novels, of which Mansfield Park is by far the longest.

Enthusiasm for Austen’s work continues unabated. Last year brought us the eight-part dramatisation of her final, unfinished novel Sanditon. Gill Hornby has recently published Miss Austen, a fictionalised treatment of Jane’s life with her sister Cassandra. A new ‘complete novels’ was published in May this year, as was a new edition of Mansfield Park made to look like an early nineteenth century original. You can’t move for fresh takes on Jane Austen.

And here is another interesting and innovative addition to the genre. Merryn Williams has form when it comes to reimagining Austen. In 2011 she completed a well-received novella of The Watsons, a manuscript which Austen abandoned in 1805 having written 17,500 words.

For this project Williams has taken the complexities of Mansfield Park, updated them to the present day, and laid them out in a tempting and readable 136 pages. (Mansfield Park runs out at around 525 pages, depending which of the many editions you get.)

Williams declares “the characters are Jane Austen’s but the interpretation is mine.” However, Williams has also recast and slightly repurposed the characters to suit her modern treatment. The Price contingent in Plymouth are splendidly twenty-first century hapless. Lady Bertram is as deliciously vague as a politician, avoiding all tough questions; Sir Thomas Bertram acquires a nationally renowned collection of cacti.

Much of the original upon which this novella is based is so completely of its time (Napoleonic Wars, abolition of slavery) that moving it forward to the present day would seem fraught with potential pitfalls. Williams has found entertaining and plausible alternatives for anachronisms, while keeping the spirit of the original. I hope it is not giving away too much to note that Franny’s eventual success is not marriage, but the freedom to pursue a career she loves (praise be!).

It is notoriously difficult to keep the cast of characters straight in one’s mind with Mansfield Park. Helpfully, Williams has supplied both a list of chapters and what they contain, and a list of characters and who they are related to.

I believe it is intended that Mansfield Park Revisited might be a good introduction to Austen’s original for young adults. This is certainly the case. Just don’t attempt a GCSE exam on the original book from this entertaining update. The Jaguar and the cacti will lead you astray!

There is a persistent error which I must mention. It appears to have somehow become part of the publisher’s house style that punctuation is consistently placed outside closing speech marks, unless the punctuation is a ! or a ?

! and ? indeed …

Published by Judi Moore

Hi there, I hope you find something to interest you here. In December 2017 I published my fourth book – ‘Wonders will never cease’. It’s a satirical campus novel set in the fictional Ariel University in 1985. If you enjoyed Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse novels, Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’, David Lodge’s campus novels or Malcolm Bradbury’s ‘The History Man’ back in the day, you may enjoy revisiting the ivory towers of 1980s’ academe thirty years on. See what you think. “It is December, 1985. The year is winding gently towards its close until Fergus Girvan, a Classicist at Ariel University, finds his research has been stolen by the man who is also seeking to steal his daughter. But which man is, actually, the more unscrupulous of the two? And is there hope for either of them?” In the autumn of 2015 I published a volume of short fiction: 'Ice Cold Passion and other stories'. I am also the author of novella 'Little Mouse', a shortish piece of historical fiction which I published in 2014 and, a sequel to it, 'Is death really necessary?', my eco thriller set in the near future and which, confusingly, I published in 2009. All the books are available from all good online bookshops and FeedARead on paper, and as e-books on Kindle. On a semi-regular basis, and about a month after the event, I post here reviews which I do for Big Al & Pals, the premier reviewer of indie books, based in the States. My interests tend to thrillers, SF, magic realism and other quirky stuff. On this blog are also posted the reviews I did for Leighton Buzzard Music Club over some five years up to the end of 2015. LBMC present annual seasons of eight monthly chamber music concerts at the Library Theatre in Leighton Buzzard, Bucks. They select young musicians just beginning to make their name - and the concerts are usually magnificent. I was very proud to be associated with them. I review other music, books, theatre and exhibitions which I've particularly enjoyed.

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