But there were still occasions when her tongue betrayed her and moved more swiftly than her wiser sense; when impatience brought in a reversion to that earlier, sharper way of speaking; these moments were becoming less and less frequent, for Susan herself could not have been more conscious of their impropriety; at each lapse she would blush inwardly and castigate herself for her loss of control, resolving to be infinitely more careful in future, to let no unbidden word leave her lips. In nine cases out of ten, the cause of these little roughnesses of manner would be an argument with her cousin Tom. Somehow, with neither side particularly intending it, the two cousins contrived to irritate one another. Tom had always, if only half consciously, felt Susan as an intruder at Mansfield, and never troubled himself to try and overcome this sentiment, irrational though it might be; while Susan had strong, though unexpressed objections in regard to Tom’s rather lordly air of patronage towards herself.
(from Mansfield Park Revisited, page 20)
I read Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park in 2008, so the book wasn’t fresh in my mind when I picked up Mansfield Park Revisited by the late Joan Aiken, though I did remember enough to follow the goings on in Aiken’s sequel. When Mansfield Park Revisited opens, four years have passed since the events that transpired in Mansfield Park. Austen’s heroine Fanny Price has married her cousin Edmund Bertram and moved to the parsonage, and her younger sister, Susan, has taken her place as companion to the brainless and basically helpless Lady Bertram. Sir Thomas Bertram has died, and his eldest son, Tom, assumes the role of head of Mansfield Park. It is decided that Edmund, Fanny, and their infant son will travel to the Caribbean to see to Sir Thomas’ business affairs, leaving their toddler daughter in Susan’s care and staying out of the picture for pretty much the entire book.
When reading Mansfield Park, I found Fanny to be a boring heroine. She’s made to feel unwelcome at Mansfield Park, and (from what I remember) she just accepts her status as a second-class citizen, being too good-natured to speak up for herself or think ill of the Bertrams. Thank goodness her sister, Susan, while much like Fanny in terms of goodness and compassion, is more lively and a bit more willing to speak freely because she is the main focus of Mansfield Park Revisited.
Although Fanny and Edmund are largely absent, Aiken does revisit several of the characters from Austen’s novel. Lady Bertram is still weak and clueless, and Tom and his sister, Julia, both are still arrogant and critical of those deemed socially inferior, i.e. Susan. She introduces several new characters, namely Mr. Wadham, the minister who takes Edmund’s place during his travels, and his widowed sister, Mrs. Osborne, who becomes a close friend of Susan’s and steals the show with her boisterous personality.
However, several of the more interesting (though annoying) characters from Mansfield Park are missing, though mentioned in passing — Maria Bertram and Aunt Norris. Of course the notorious Mary and Henry Crawford return to Mansfield Park, much to the chagrin of Tom and Julia. Four years prior when the Crawfords were staying at Mansfield, they befriended the Bertrams, with Mary winning the affections of Edmund and Henry flirting with the married Maria and setting his sights on meek Fanny. Needless to say, the Crawfords are not welcome at Mansfield, but when Susan is given a letter addressed to Fanny and learns that Mary Crawford is ill and hoping to recover at Mansfield, Susan welcomes them with open arms. Their appearance causes some tension between Susan and Tom.
While I enjoyed the book and think Aiken had a great command of scene and a good grasp of Austen’s characters, I wish the Crawfords in Mansfield Park Revisited were more like the Crawfords in Mansfield Park. If they were up to their old antics, there would have been more humor, more drama, and more tension throughout the book. Of course, a sequel wouldn’t be true to Jane Austen if there wasn’t romance, and one of Aiken’s pairings, seemed to come out of nowhere, meaning there was no satisfactory build up to the moment in which their love for one another was expressed. And at the same time, it’s fairly predictable.
Overall, I recommend Mansfield Park Revisited if you like Austen sequels. Although it lacks the tension and the humor I’d anticipated and true fans of Mansfield Park might lament the absence of Fanny and Edmund and be disappointed by Aiken’s handling of the Crawfords, it was an acceptable sequel to one of Austen’s lesser loved novels.
Disclosure: I received Mansfield Park Revisited from Sourcebooks for review.
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