Rational Creatures edited by Christina Boyd
For those of you who might have missed the last post, Rational Creatures is an anthology of short stories on the different women of Jane Austen:
But just not the main heroines-there are a few other side characters like Miss Bates-and of course a couple of bad girls like Mary Crawford and Mrs. Clay. Each story gives us a look at these rational creatures.
So far we have reviewed Elinor and Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility with Self-Composed by Christina Morland and Every Past Affliction by Nicole Clarkston & Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas from Pride and Prejudice in Happiness in Marriage by Amy D’Orazio and Charlotte’s Comfort by Joana Starnes & Emma Woodhouse, Miss Bates, and Harriet Smith from Emma in Knightley Discourses by Anngela Schroeder,The Simple Things by J. Marie Croft and In Good Hands by Caitlin Williams And what have I thought of it so far?
This one is on Mansfield Park:
If Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are often forgotten or ignored Mansfield Park is just plain hated on. Mostly because people think Fanny is “boring” and “spineless”.
But Fanny isn’t boring or spineless. Mansfield Park is a great book and Fanny is a fantastic character! Fanny is a sweet kind girl-niece to the Bertram family, and was sent to stay with them. Instead of being treated as family, she is seen as “less” because of the “bad blood” inherited from the low class, wastrel father her mother married down to.
She is particularly mistreated by her evil aunt and two cousins; all of which take pride in bossing her around and being as cruel as can be. Fanny is the essence of sweetness, taking this injustice in stride and trying to remain optimistic in a bad situation.
The life of the Bertrams are interrupted when a Mr. Henry Crawford and Miss Mary Crawford come to visit their half-sister Mrs. Grant. Mary is set on winning the eldest Bertram, but finds her being struck by the younger. Henry’s sole purpose is to upset the apple cart by going after the Bertram sisters for fun, but having no intent of follow through. Will the Bertrams survive this?
That is not good,
So Mansfield Park is in a unique position. I believe (not quite sure as I’d have to count them) Mansfield Park has the least amount of adaptations. Besides Dangerous to Know the only one I’ve looked at are the films. And I know a lot of people like it, but I could not stand the Mansfield Park (1999) film as they had no concept of Fanny.
Did you even READ the book?!
Fanny is a hard character as society today doesn’t seem to like or encourage this type of character, but want them to be more aggressive, flashy, or loud. So I was a bit anxious, would this go well or would they fall into the same trap?
The Meaning of Wife by Brooke West
We pick up in this story at the end of Mansfield Park. Fanny turned down Henry Crawford’s proposal and was sent home to live with her family as punishment. Then Tom became sick and almost almost died. Fanny was brought back to Mansfield Park. Henry ran off with Maria Bertram-Rushworth. Mary Crawford wished Tom would have died and didn’t see the scandal of Maria and Henry as a big deal so Edmund ended everything.
A lot of people think Mansfield Park is boring but it has quite a bit of action in it. Look at that summary.
Anyways, so Fanny and the Bertrams are hanging out one morning when Tom reads a letter about a friend’s sister who is going to Europe to study philosophy. He makes a snide comment and then Edmund chimes in with a compliment to Fanny, that actually insults her. WOW!
Dude just pulled a Barney Stinson:
“The backhanded compliment is truly an art form – the best will lower the intended target’s self esteem thus making them more susceptible to the power of suggestion.”
Fanny has been crushing on Edmund for years, although I honestly don’t know why. If I had to rank my favorite Austen men, Edmund is on the bottom. I am joyful that Fanny gets her true love, but I think she could have done better.
Anyways, Edmund looks at her with ardor and Fanny should be happy, but he completely just insulted her, again. Ugh.
Fanny shares how she would enjoy such a trip that they discussed and then Edmund says:
“The journey alone would be well beyond your capabilities.”
Ouch! This dude.
The conversation at the table made Fanny think and wonder and she takes a look at the book they were skewering, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and enjoys it.
As Fanny finishes reading, Edmund comes to talk to her. He tries to console her over her heart being broken by Henry. Ugh, men. He won’t listen that she isn’t heartbroken.
But ugh, he won’t listen. He goes on for a while, talks about Mary who he has been mooning over, and then proposes.
He’s been my least favorite and West made him even more so.
So then the story takes a twist. Fanny refuses him!
But I wasn’t upset with this twist. West did this really well as Fanny considers whether or not this will be the best choice as does Edmund really know her? Does he really care about her? Or is she his rebound from Mary. I love how she has Fanny wanting to say yes, the thing she has wished for her whole life is in her grasp, but is it what she really wants?
This is where I was hooked in. I LOVED it. We have Fanny considering is this is what she wants? Will this lead to happiness or a marriage like her mother and aunts have? Could she be happy with Edmund? Should she search for happiness in another person? What does she want to do with her life?
West has set the standard really high for any Mansfield Park adaptations. She really captured the character of Fanny, put her own twist on it, showed how she was the powerful character she is without ripping off Elizabeth or changing her complete personality.
And the ending was so cute. You’ve got to read it. I actually liked Edmund and Fanny together and this whole story made me like him more. We don’t really see Edmund romantically in love with Fanny:
“I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion, that every one may be at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of unconquerable passions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, must vary much as to time in different people. I only entreat everybody to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny as Fanny herself could desire.”
-Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
So it was cute to see him actually romantic. So adorable.
“If an idea takes root in your mind and you find merit in it, then I am persuaded that idea too, is moral and right. Your endorsement is all I need.’ He [Edmund] set his book aside and took her hands in his. ‘You are all I need.”
–Brooke West, The Meaning of Wife
What Strange Creatures by Jenetta James
Mary is living with her uncle, the Admiral. He is a cruel, horrid man and it has become more unbearable living with him since her aunt passed away. Anyways, it seems to be an ordinary day, until a magistrate from Bow Street, Mr. James Hunter, comes calling about her missing friend, Miss Verity Stanhope.
Mary just laughs it off thinking that she probably ran off with some guy. She thinks they eloped and will be back, or took off and now have to elope. But Mr. Hunter assures her that this isn’t a “normal” disappearance. She is the third in a serial kidnapping.
What? A mystery? And a Jane Austen mystery?? You know me…
Mystery, you say?
So where will this story take us? Is she going to become a super sleuth? Will she solve the mystery? Could it be someone she knows? Henry? Her uncle, the admiral? A new character? I’m invested.
Ready for any case
He questions her, but there is no new information regarding her missing friend. Although Henry did leave early. And Verity always liked him. Hmmm….
No, he has an alibi. It is clearly not him.
Mary keeps trying to shrug it off as an elopement as Verity was having a fortune coming her way, but Mr Hunter is not convinced. The two share a brief flirtation, and he is gone. A brief flirtation is all it could be as Mr. Hunter isn’t the type of man Mary is after.
The next morning Mary is at home with the Admiral, ugh. Things are harder with him now that her aunt has passed and Henry is away. She tells him about an invite they received, but he declines as he will be out. He always does that sort of thing, could he be up to something nefarious? Such as…kidnapping?
The admiral doesn’t care about her or what she does, she can go to the party by herself. And he doesn’t care about this Verity business, as he sees her as just a dumb female.
Mary tries to stay away from the idea that it is more than just an elopement, but Mr. Hunter’s words keep coming back. She goes shopping and is enjoying herself, but then thinks how can she be happy and go out when something horrible could be happening to her friend?
“The loss of a person one loves, however so occasioned, can draw a line through happiness as surely as any of life’s misfortunes.”
She continues on her way and then she notices a carriage, it seems that wherever she goes the carriage follows. She goes, it goes. She stops, it stops.
She starts to become alarmed and wants to go into a shop when someone comes out…Mr. Hunter?
He followed her?! Is he the kidnapper?
Yes, he followed her, but just because he was worried maybe she could be next. He wasn’t going to say anything, but she was about to go into the shop of Madam Villechamp, a place where all the women who disappeared went into before they vanished.
Mary never would have gone in there, (except she was being followed), as her aunt always forbid her. Her aunt didn’t like the shop. But Mary must know what is going on and so she makes an appointment. She goes to check it out and when the assistant is out of the room she starts investigating.
She goes through the correspondence and writings There she finds a letter from her uncle! Her uncle’s mistress is Madame Villechamp! And he wants her to move in with him.
She runs to Bow Street and talks to Mr. Hunter, and finds out that Verity was found, it was an elopement. Mary talks with him and leaves to start a new life, going to visit Mrs. Grant and entering the Bertram’s lives.
So…what about the missing women? Their disappearances? Serial kidnapper? What happened? I wanted to solve the mystery.
But that aside, I think Mary was very well-written and I liked how they showed her character. And I enjoyed the view into her dysfunctional family as it really does give a great view into their dynamic.
These stories were really great, even though I didn’t get to fully utilize my detecting skills.
Next time…it has been a while since a Bebris mystery.
So we have had nine incredible stories. Will the next ones be just as good? I guess I’ll just have to wait and see! 🙂
For more reviews of Rational Creatures, go to Rational Creatures: Emma Woodhouse, Miss Bates, & Harriet Smith
For more by Christina Boyd, go to Rational Creatures: Emma Woodhouse, Miss Bates, & Harriet Smith
For more Mansfield Park, go to Once Upon a Time There Were Three Sisters…
For more Austen book reviews, go to Little Literary Classics Mansfield Park Cloth Book