‘Mansfield Park’ retelling gives a twist to Austen classic



Adrienne Savoldi

When Jane Austen wrote “Mansfield Park,” few people liked her meek, timid heroine Fanny Price. After reading Lynn Shepherd’s first novel, “Murder at Mansfield Park,” you still won’t like Fanny Price but for a different reason.

Austen’s own mother even called poor Fanny “insipid,” and for many, Fanny is the reason “Mansfield Park” is the least-beloved Austen novel. However, Shepherd has put a unique spin on Fanny. She is the heiress to a vast fortune, staying with her aunt and uncle, the Bertrams, after the death of her parents. However, Fanny is cruel, rude and vain. She is engaged to be married to her cousin Edmund Norris, son of her aunt Mrs. Norris, when she is found brutally murdered. Now Mary Crawford, who has arrived at Mansfield Park with her brother Henry, is determined to discover the truth as to who murdered Fanny.

For Austen fans, this book is a true gem because several characters experience role reversals. Fanny is much more like a combination of her cousin Maria in the original novel and Caroline Bingley (from “Pride and Prejudice”), while Fanny’s cousin Julia more closely resembles the original Fanny. Fortunately, Mrs. Norris is still Mrs. Norris (in case you need background on Mrs. Norris’s character, just recall the cat with the same name in the Harry Potter books – J.K. Rowling knew her Austen).

Shepherd did her homework and speckled the novel with quotes and allusions, not just from “Mansfield Park,” but also from Austen’s other novels, as well as her letters. For example, when Julia becomes ill, Mary rushes in to assist with her care, causing Tom Bertram, another of Fanny’s cousins, to say, “There is no-one so steady, so capable as Miss Crawford.” These are the words used to describe Anne Elliot in “Persuasion.” Robert Ferrars from “Sense and Sensibility” and Charles Bingley from “Pride and Prejudice” are also mentioned.

Reading this book is one of the few times it’s been rendered desirable for Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram to marry. Granted, many do like Mary far better than Fanny in Austen’s “Mansfield Park” because she is slightly wicked, playful and, in general, more fun than Fanny.

However, there was one aspect to the novel that didn’t make much sense. William in Shepherd’s version is Julia’s brother rather than Fanny’s, and it is mentioned that Julia and William are close, but William never makes an appearance or receives a mention after the beginning of the book, which didn’t make sense. However, it’s such an insignificant detail that most readers will probably quickly forget about William.

Even if you’re not an Austen fan, you will still find this book amusing and enjoyable. Told in Austen’s style but with a gruesome twist, this book is worth reading for anyone looking for a good book.

Contact Adrienne Savoldi at [email protected].