You know that you’ve possibly read too much on Jane Austen when you seeth and sputter during Gillian Anderson’s introduction to Mansfield Park, the latest Masterpiece Theater adaptation (more on that later).
But back to the book. Jane Austen: A Companion (Josephine Ross) follows similar ground as Le Faye’s Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. You learn about Jane’s life and writing as well as the customs of Regency England and how they were portrayed in her books as well as how to interpret them.
Interestingly, this book took me longer to read, yet I found it easier to read. It’s well-suited for a general reader who has a strong interest in Austen and her novels. It’s difficult for me to decide which Austen book is better (Le Faye’s vs. Ross’) because I liked both of them. In fact, I think they complement each other well. Ross included more information on Jane’s romances than Le Faye did, and I also liked how she integrated her discussion of the novels in separate chapters on Regency elements such as fashion, rank and politics. The plots of the novels were not discussed as deeply as in Le Faye’s book, but I don’t think that was a bad thing since Ross’ actual interpretation of the novels was better. I really appreciated Ross’ discussion of how Jane’s own feeings and beliefs were reflected in her novels, especially her feelings on wealth, rank, and marriage.
My only quibble with the book was that at times, Ross’ admiration for Austen seemed to cloud the analysis she was providing. After reading Ross’ book, though, I feel like I really know Jane and can read her novels with a much better understanding of the author and the period in which she was writing.
Now to MP’s Mansfield Park…I thought it was awful, awful, awful, and it started with the introduction. Jane Austen did NOT admire the character of Mary Crawford. Mary Crawford embodies several characteristics that Austen most definitely did not appreciate or approve of. I know the content of the introduction wasn’t Gillian Anderson’s fault, but even she seemed stiff, cold and uncomfortable as she delivered it.
They butchered the plot and removed anything that made Fanny Price worthy of being called an Austen heroine. I think the actors were a big problem for me. First of all, I don’t like Billie Piper. I didn’t like her on Doctor Who, and I didn’t like her as Fanny. Secondly, I couldn’t look at Michelle Ryan as Maria Bertram without thinking of how much I dislike her on The Bionic Woman. After watching MP, I had to watch Northanger Abbey to reassure myself that MT could do a good Austen adaptation.