Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fanny Price is a pill!

That is my conclusion after finishing "Mansfield Park." It's part of my maternity leave reading list. Last time around, I read "War and Peace." No, really. It's good. All you ever hear about is how long it is, boo-hoo and wah, but if you can handle the last four or so Harry Potter books you can do this too. Worth the effort.

So I thought, what should I read this time around? Because the thing about nursing is that you spend lots of time sitting down. You can get on the phone, you can watch TV or you can read. You can of course also interact with your baby, but your baby will be feeding for up to an hour, every two to three hours, and no matter how much you want to be Ultimate Mom, you're going to want a diversion after a while.

Now I love "Pride and Prejudice." I've read it over and over. I've seen, I'm fairly sure, every movie version, including the Bollywood one ("Bride and Prejudice," so-so acting but great dance scenes). But I realized that I'd never read Austen's other novels, and she only wrote six (not counting "Sanditon," which was unfinished at the time of her death). Hey, I can read five novels in a few months.

I was surprisingly so-so on "Sense and Sensibility," finding it a little overwrought plotwise. Also I felt like the ending sold out Marianne a little. Which is odd because I didn't remember getting that sense from the movie. Also odd: One scene that stuck in my head from the movie -- a heartbroken Marianne standing in the pouring rain, reciting poetry to the house her lost Willoughby was in -- wasn't in the book at all. When she falls ill, it's solely from Willoughby spurning her ("dumping" doesn't sound right, does it?). People in these novels keep getting sick just from hearing bad news. Delicate 19th-century constitutions?

I liked "Emma" a lot; it has a light, arch tone that makes it a fun read. The heroine is so sure of herself, and so completely wrong about everything, that you sort of want to roll your eyes and hug her simultaneously. Also I developed a new appreciation for "Clueless," which is a surprisingly faithful adaptation, aside from having a pretty good soundtrack.

"Persuasion" is the one you want to read when feeling most cynical about human nature. The satire verges on viciousness. (Occasionally you get the distinct feeling that Austen didn't like most people.) But Anne Elliot is someone you want to root for, getting a second chance at love even though she's a spinster in her late twenties (ancient, I know).

"Mansfield Park," though, has left me a little cold. All the other heroines are likable in their way, from calm and sensible Anne to smart, witty Lizzy Bennet. But Fanny Price is completely reactive. The entire novel happens around her, and she just mopes and cries and waits for her beloved Edmund to get around to noticing that she exists, and gosh, wouldn't they make a cute couple? Which the reader picked up on somewhere around chapter three. I read that Fanny was Austen's favorite heroine, and I really hope that wasn't true.

It's funny how contemporary the novels feel. Frenemies! Lousy parents and spoiled kids! City snobs snarking about the country! (Oh you New Yorkers with your better-than-Jersey holiness.) Not to mention adultery, illegitimate children and the occasional gold-digger. I don't know if it's reassuring that society hasn't changed that much, or depressing.

But this has been a fun read. Just "Northanger Abbey" left, assuming the library has it, and then I think I can legitimately consider myself an Austen fan. For whatever that's worth.


  1. No Northanger Abbey? That was my favorite.

  2. That's next. Recommendation duly noted. :)

    I think "Persuasion" may come to be my favorite.