Mansfield Park Revisited E.M.Overman
Jane Austen’s stories seem to be as popular today as they were in her own time. The media even launched a new term for the many Austen adaptations that have come up the last few years: Austen Mania. However, one might ask if adaptations of Jane Austen can actually still be seen as Austen’s stories. This essay will look at the changing message in three different adaptations of Mansfield Park, by analyzing the way that the heroine Fanny Price and the bad girl of the story Mary Crawford are portrayed. Before analyzing the three film versions though, it is necessary to devote a few words to adaptations and filmmaking.
In his article “Two Mansfield Parks: Purist and Postmodern”, Jan Fergus quotes Brenda R. Silver, who said about adaptations:
An adaptation is not merely ‘a form of editorializing’ on a particular text: it does more than comment on or interpret an original [...] An adaptation, like a critical essay, claims legitimacy for its perspective, its own political agenda, through the construction of its text’. (70)
This seems a valid reason for adapting a novel: to convey a new message to the public. This has not always been the view on adapting however. When film making just began, much was expected of the educational role that films could have: “critic Stephen Bush, writing in The Moving Picture World in 1911, suggested that the very mission of the new medium of the motion picture might be to introduce literary classics to the masses” (Lupack 3). The idea of adapting a literary classic was to educate the general public. However, ideas about the function of films have evolved over time. When looking at why Austen’s novels are still adapted to film and television nowadays, several reasons can be given next to the idea of conveying a new message to the public. For one, there is the economical aspect. As Fay Weldon commented: “Austen is ‘safe’ because she ‘is not expensive to make.” (Lupack 8). A reason then for adapting Jane Austen’s novel might be that it’s relatively cheap. However, when looking at productions made the last few years this idea does not seem to hold. As Deborah Kaplan states in her article “Mass Marketing Jane Austen”, the 1995 Sense and Sensibility production produced by Columbia pictures: “cost $15.5 million to make” (179). Kaplan continues: “Sense and Sensibility as of July 1996 had crossed $43 million [and] these are only domestic earnings” (179). It seems that Austen adaptations are either cheap to make, or they are so popular they bring up more than they cost.
Of course economics is not the only reason for adapting Austen’s novels. Before an adaptation becomes economically attractive, it has to become popular first. Many arguments have been made why Austen’s novels are still attractive today. As Devony Looser indicates for example in her article “Feminist Implications of the Silver Screen Austen”, there is a “tendency to label the Austen revival as part and parcel of a conservative cultural turn” (160). Looser means that there is a notion that people are tired of all the violence and sex they are confronted with, and seek a way to escape this violent world. Other ideas why Austen might be so popular are stated by for example Valeria Takahama, who mentions the “themes of love, courtship and marriage and her acute sensitivity to social nuances, all of which resonate especially strongly with youthful audiences today, as well as her exquisite use of language” (Lupack 8). Others, like Ronnie Jo Sokol mention elements like: “the moral standards, the fine language, the crisp characterizations, the civility and romance” as reasons for Austen’s popularity (Sokol 102). Thus, there are quite some different views on why Austen is so popular.
One thing that is clear is that some changes are usually made in these Austen adaptations to make them more appealing to the public. These changes are quite often not without consequences. One Austen novel that is adapted several times shows this quite clearly: namely the novel Mansfield Park. This novel has been quite problematic for adaptors, as its main character Fanny Price is not exactly what people would expect from a heroine nowadays. Roughly summarized, Mansfield Park is the story of a poor girl called Fanny Price who is taken in by her wealthy family, the Bertrams. After some time, Fanny falls in love with her cousin Edmund, but he seems to be taken in by a new, fashionable lady in the neighbourhood called Mary Crawford. Mary’s brother Henry is at first busy seducing Julia and Maria Bertram, but after some time he gets bored with them and seems to fall in love with Fanny. Fanny sees through him however, and rejects Henry. In the end, Maria Bertram, who is married, runs away with Henry Crawford. Mary Crawford proves to be a quite immoral person who does not disapprove of the adultery of Henry and Maria very vigorously. Fanny on the other hand has stuck close to her morals throughout the novel, and it is this quality that wins over Edmund in the end. As Kathi Groenendyk argues in her article “Modernizing Mansfield Park: “Patricia Rozema’s Spin on Jane Austen”:
The character of Fanny is the exemplar of morals and stability [...] Fanny’s country values, such as quietness and authenticity, appear dull against Mary and Henry’s energy and talents for amusement. Fanny, therefore, makes an unlikely heroine.
Indeed, Fanny’s overly moral attitude, her fragility and her quietness might not appeal to a modern public. In at least two recent Mansfield Park adaptations the character of Fanny Price has been altered. This can be quite a problematic strategy. By changing Fanny’s character, there often is no clear reason why the character of Mary Crawford is a bad character. As will be shown, Fanny Price in modern adaptations often is attributed some qualities that were originally associated with bad girl Mary Crawford. This means that directors have to come up with a new role for Mary. In changing these characters and assigning them different roles, the message of the story is usually radically different from the original novel. This essay will look into that changed message in the following three Mansfield Park adaptations. First the 1983 BBC series production directed by David Giles will be considered. The second production that will be taken into consideration is the 1999 production by Patricia Rozema, which was a collaboration between The Arts Council of England, the BBC, HAL films and Miramax Films. The last production that will be looked at is the 2007 production by Iain B. MacDonald. This film was made for television and was produced by Company Pictures and WGBH.
The 1983 production of Mansfield Park is, as Jan Fergus put it, a version where everyone is “speaking as they ought” (72). Before looking at this production in more detail it should first be said that being able to adapt Mansfield Park in this manner probably has not only to do with directors choice, but also with the fact that the BBC was the company who produced the series. As Deborah Kaplan puts it:
To put Austen novels on film by means of corporations (Columbia Pictures and Miramax) that produce what is now a global popular culture informed by American tastes is to enter a medium shaped by powerful generic conventions of romance. (180)
What Kaplan comments on here, is that different corporations have different goals. Corporations like Columbia Pictures and Miramax are more commercial than the BBC, which is an autonomous public server broadcaster. The educational and informative element is considerably more important for a BBC production than it would be for a more commercial corporation. This could be one of the reasons why it was possible to keep close to the original novel. It is the old idea of educating the public by adapting a literary classic.
Indeed, this production depicted Fanny as she is described in the novel:
She had no glow of complexion, nor any other striking beauty; exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice; but her air, though awkward, was not vulgar, her voice was sweet, and when she spoke, her countenance was pretty. (Austen 478)
1983 Fanny looks her part. This production depicts Fanny as the moral better of everyone else at Mansfield Park. Fanny comes to Mansfield Park as a little girl. She is raised by her family, where she is always reminded of her lower position. Especially her aunt Norris is giving Fanny a hard time. Fanny’s health is often referred to in the series as weak or fragile. Throughout the series, Fanny shows that she always knows what is the proper social behaviour, and acts on it too. Her family members and the Crawfords are most of the time not as wise. For example, when the others decide to perform a play called Lovers Vows during Sir Bertram’s absence from the house, Fanny disapproves of it thoroughly. Fanny is the only person who does not take part in the play and is therefore entirely blameless when Sir Bertram comes home early and surprises the actors. When later Henry Crawford utters his regret of the interruption of the play to Fanny and asks her if she would not have wished for Sir Bertram’s delay, she exclaims: “I think Sir, I would not have delayed his return for a single day. My uncle disapproved of it all so entirely, that in my opinion everything had gone quite far enough!” (Giles) Fanny is not only commenting on the disobedience of the other children. She has seen Henry’s behaviour towards Maria and Julia during rehearsals of the play and as she said, that has gone quite far enough.
It is for this reason that Fanny refuses Henry’s marriage proposal. Fanny always knows who is right and who is wrong. She says to Henry: “You’re not thinking of me. I know it’s all nothing” (Giles). She has observed Henry’s behaviour, and has seen him flirting with several women. She is convinced that he is an inconstant person who does not really love her. Besides, she does not love him either. When Sir Bertram asks her angrily why she refuses Henry, Fanny cries out: “If it were at all possible for me to do otherwise... But I am so perfectly convinced that I could not make him happy, that I would be miserable myself” (Giles). Not only has Fanny observed Henry’s bad behaviour, she also realizes that no good can come from marrying someone she does not like or respect. This seems a logical decision, but in fact it is quite a hard one to take for Fanny. First of all, marrying Henry would assure her of a fortune of her own. Second, she resists the wish of Sir Thomas Bertram, the man she is entirely depended on, and who she does not want to disappoint. Sticking to her morals here takes courage. However, as Fanny knows she is doing the right thing, she does not change her answer.
Mary Crawford in comparison is the exact opposite of Fanny. She is a playful creature, who is beautiful and more physically active than Fanny. Position and money of the man she will marry are of considerable importance to her. In the series, she has a conversation with Fanny about Edmund. Fanny has just exclaimed that she loves the name Edmund, which makes her think of knights and kings. Mary then replies: “I grand you the name is good in itself. Lord Edmund and Sir Edmund sound delightfully. But sink it under the chill of a Mr. and it’s nothing” (Giles). Mary here comments on the fact that Edmund is a younger son, and will therefore not inherit his father’s fortune. Throughout the film, Mary behaves improper on several occasions. For example, at the end of the series Mary writes a letter to Fanny. She states her hopes of Tom Bertram, the eldest son who has fallen ill, dying so Edmund will inherit his father’s fortune. The thoughts for which Edmund rejects her in the end are her thoughts on the relationship between Maria and Henry. In a conversation with Edmund, Mary states that she thinks Maria and Henry have acted foolishly in running away, but otherwise she does not condemn the adultery. She blames Fanny for the whole affair. If Fanny would have accepted Henry “as she ought”, they would have been married and Henry and Maria would just have had a mild flirtation (Giles). She suggests to Edmund that Sir Bertram should not interfere now, so Maria will not “lose her hold” over Henry, and he will be forced to marry her in the end (Giles). Edmund is shocked by Mary’s view on marriage and relationships, and he sees Mary for what she truly is. Edmund now sees that Fanny has been the only constant person in the whole affair. She saw through Mary and Henry, clung to her morals and was faithful to her own heart. In the end, this is what makes Edmund realize that Fanny is the right woman for him, and they marry. The main idea is that moral values and proper, constant behaviour will eventually triumph over bad social behaviour and improper views. However, there is a subtle ironic twist at the end of the series. At the end of the last episode, Fanny and Edmund are walking to their own house. Fanny has the same dog her aunt Bertram has, and she is shown sitting down next to Edmund. This may leave the viewer slightly uncomfortable. As Jan Fergus argues: “Any association between Edmund, Fanny, Pug, and a seat creates a powerfully ironic visual context, recalling the marital couch and the limited options of Lady Bertram” (77). What Fergus is commenting upon, is the depiction of Lady Bertram as a woman who has no power at all in her marriage, and is doomed to sit around in the house all day, doing nothing. She and Sir Bertram have failed in bringing up the children properly, as they have been largely absent either physically or mentally. Depicting Fanny and Edmund as a repetition of the marriage of Sir and Lady Bertram does not bode well for them. It seems as if the makers of the series couldn’t resist placing a critical note to Fanny’s moral victory. Although the original idea of the novel is not completely altered, a slightly ironic view on the matter seems to be offered here.
A whole different story is Patricia’s Rozema’s 1999 production of Mansfield Park. As stated above, The Arts Council of England and the BBC were involved in this production. However, Miramax was involved as well, which could mean that this production has a more commercial goal than the BBC series production had in 1983. This might have been one of the reasons to alter Fanny Price’s personality and appearance so completely. Rozema based part of Fanny’s character on the life of Austen herself. 1999 Fanny takes emotional rides on her horse called Mrs. Shakespeare, is verbally strong, writes and is beautiful. The character seems to be a mix of Austen, Fanny Price and Mary Crawford. 1999 Fanny is everything but the frail, shy and humble creature Austen described in her novel. When she is introduced to Sir Thomas Bertram as a child, she immediately starts talking to him, saying that she has had a lovely trip and that she had: “no idea that England was so big” (Rozema). This Fanny is not too shy and shocked to answer Sir Thomas’s questions just after she has arrived at Mansfield Park. A few years later, Fanny is seen playfully duelling Edmund. They are running around the house, shouting and laughing. Sir Thomas tells of Fanny for her improper behaviour. She listens to him, but then continues playing. In the next scene, she and Edmund are seen galloping on their horses. No weakness of health for this Fanny Price. She is an active girl, who has her own mind and acts upon what she think is right for her.
However, Rozema exactly shows a Fanny who is not always right in her version of Mansfield Park. Not only does Fanny show improper behaviour for a girl, running around the house and writing stories, she also makes improper decisions. One of these decisions is when Fanny decides to accept Henry’s marriage proposal. After Fanny’s refusal to marry Henry, she is send of to Portsmouth to live with her own family. Live there is hard for Fanny, and it’s Henry’s wealth that proves to be a temptation for Fanny at that moment. She does realize her mistake the day after and decides to call of the wedding, but the mistake has been made by then. Fanny can never be the infallible heroine any more after this bad judgement call. Henry is right when he shouts at Fanny: “Doubt me? And your behaviour today is that of someone trustworthy?” (Rozema). It is moments like this in the film that show Fanny as a girl who is still discovering what is the right thing to do, not as the girl who knows what is right already.
What is important is that Fanny herself makes mistakes when it comes to entering a relationship. Alison Shea remarks in her article: “‘I am a Wild Beast’: Patricia Rozema’s Forward Fanny”:
As a consequence of [the] improvement in Henry’s character, Rozema’s decision to incorporate Jane Austen’s own change of heart about her brief engagement compromises Fanny integrity and makes her seem responsible for Crawford’s return to Maria. (57)
In this light, it could be argued that Fanny does take a more active part in bringing Henry to commit adultery with Maria. Making Fanny act improper in a relationship with a man makes it difficult to condemn Mary’s views on the subject. Mary in the 1999 version must have a different role to play. It seems logical that Rozema decided to change Mary’s main crime. As Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield have suggested in “The Mouse that Roared: Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park”: “Forgiveness for (or even acceptance of) adultery will not do as the ultimate sin for a modern audience” (195). Although generally people would not actually approve of adultery today, there is more acceptance of the phenomenon. Rozema has to find new reasons for making Fanny the heroine and explaining the part Mary plays in the story. What Rozema seems to have decided upon, is to stick to the idea of Fanny being morally right, and have Mary play a totally different role. Rozema decided to change the focus of morality from adultery to slavery. In 1999 Mansfield Park, Fanny Price condemns the slave trade of her uncle Sir Thomas Bertram. She even links slavery to her own position in the household. After refusing Henry Crawford, Fanny rides of on her horse in the rain, shouting at Edmund: “I will not be sold of as one of your father’s slaves Edmund!” (Rozema). There is a shift here from Fanny being morally right which earns her the husband she wishes for, to a Fanny Price who is struggling for freedom. She is the moral better as she condemns slavery. This also means that the person who is most threatening in the film towards Fanny is Sir Bertram rather than Mary Crawford. In fact, Fanny has overheard her uncle saying at the beginning of the film that: “It might not be wise to have her [Fanny] here in the house with the boys” (Rozema). Fanny knows from the beginning that it is her uncle who is her main opponent if she should fall in love with one of the Bertram sons.
However, If Fanny is a woman struggling for freedom, and her main opponent is Sir Bertram, Mary can no longer be considered as a real threat. Especially not since it is quite clear that Edmund seems to love Fanny from the beginning, and it seems to be Fanny who has to become aware of her own feelings for him rather than the other way around. That Edmund already is attracted to Fanny can be seen when Fanny is upset and storms away into the night on her horse. Edmund comments without Fanny hearing: “You really must begin to harden yourself to the idea that you are being worth looking at” (Rozema). A few moments later, Edmund has a miscommunication with Sir Thomas, which reveals his feelings for Fanny. Sir Thomas says: “You could do worse Edmund. She is witty and bright, and I dare say not without worth. Her family is well established, as you well know”. Edmund replies: “The Prices?” On which Sir Thomas answers: “The Crawfords, Edmund!” (Rozema)
This not only shows that Edmund is already thinking of Fanny more than of Mary, but it also shows that it is possible to think of Mary and Fanny as being interchangeable to some extent in this film on basis of characteristics and appearance.
It seems as if Fanny is the one who is not aware yet of her own power over Edmund, which can lead her to marriage and thus being freed from dependence of her uncle. It is here that Mary Crawford comes to play a part. Instead of being a threat to Fanny, she becomes a mentor. She helps Fanny becoming aware of what is means to be a woman, and of the power a woman can exercise over a man. As David Monaghan argues in “In Defence of Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park”: “the two occasions upon which Mary Crawford takes advantage of opportunities to engage Fanny in erotic interaction make a significant contribution to her education in seductive technique” (62). Indeed, there are two moments in the film when Mary seems to be coming on to Fanny. The first moment is when she is rehearsing her lines for the play with Fanny, and puts her hands on her waist in a quite sensual manner. The lines she speaks are enlightening. Mary says: “Why should not I now begin to teach you?’ Fanny replies: “Teach me what?” Mary then says: “Whatever I know that you don’t [...] None but a woman can teach the science of herself” (Rozema). These lines are not in the original Austen text, and it is important that Rozema chooses them. It seems as if they exactly explain Mary’s part in the film. At the end of the rehearsal, it has made Edmund decide that he will take part in the play, while he objected to this at first. It is a clear example of how a woman can make use of her powers to convince a man to do something. That Fanny has learned from this first encounter can be seen in the fact that Fanny changes her dress after this scene. At first, Fanny is wearing a slightly boyish outfit, which hides much of her figure. After the rehearsal with Mary, she starts wearing dresses which are much more flattering. The influence of Mary becomes even more pronounced after their second encounter. When a rain shower surprises Fanny, Mary takes her indoors and helps her undress. Fanny seems not quite comfortable, but she does not draw away either. Mary points out to Fanny that she is beautiful, saying: “Oh, so lovely. Tomorrow evening the ballroom is lit solely by your beauty” (Rozema). After this meeting, Fanny wears her hair loose for a few scenes, and sets her first steps in flirting as can be seen at the ball. As David Monaghan states:
Dressed in a low-cut and close-fitting gown, Fanny [...] makes a voluntary sexual display of her body and is more than happy to participate in what Claudia Johnson calls ‘the circulation of erotic interest between and among the two principle couple’ rather than confine her attentions to her serious love object, Edmund. (In Defence of Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park 62)
Fanny does indeed flirt with other men than Edmund at the ball, and one of them is Henry Crawford. She pays him a compliment on which he replies: “What? A Compliment? Good heavens rejoice, you paid me a compliment”. Fanny then playfully replies: “Only on your dancing Mr. Crawford, keep your wig on” (Rozema). Fanny and Mary both have to laugh after this remark: the women are playing with the men. However, it seems as if Fanny still has to find a balance when putting into practice her newly acquired knowledge. In the end, she has to deal with the consequences of her behaviour towards Henry when she first accepts and then refuses him in marriage. Fanny manages to do this in time however, whereas Mary makes the mistake of thinking that she has more power than she actually has. Until the end of the film, Mary is not such a different character from Fanny. As shown above, Mary and Fanny can be confused on basis of their qualities of wit and beauty, and Mary plays a role in teaching Fanny how to exert a certain power over men. However, Mary still needs to be disposed of in the end for Fanny to be able to marry Edmund. Rozema does this by highlighting the moment that Mary utters her wish of the death of Tom Bertram. In the novel as well as in the 1983 version, Mary mentions this wish in a letter to Fanny. In these versions, it is just one of the many objections against Mary Crawford, not the main reason for her being a bad character. In the 1999 film however, this does become the most important reason for disliking Mary Crawford. Rozema decided to have Mary make a speech in front of the whole family. Mary struts around the room, declaring: “Chance is not always unkind. If Tom is not able to recover, Edmund will be the heir” (Rozema). She seems certain that everyone will accept her propositions, as they accepted everything she did before. Mary can no longer be seen as standing on the same line as Fanny here. She seems to be going to far in her wish for dominance over men. One of Edmund’s remarks after Mary’s speech is that she treats his father “like a lapdog” (Rozema). It seems as if the message here is that all things should be done with moderation. Women may have power, but they should not lose their heads about it. In the end, Fanny has won in her struggle for freedom through learning, and she does not need her former tutor Mary anymore to become aware of her own feelings and power: the pupil has surpassed her master.
The last film version to be discussed is the 2007 production by Iain Macdonald. This production was made for ITV, a commercial television network. Making money would probably have been an important goal of this production. What can be seen in this film is what Deborah Kaplan termed “harlequinization” of Jane Austen novels (Kaplan 178). Kaplan explains the term as follows:
By harlequinization I mean that, like the mass-market romance, the focus is on the hero and heroine’s courtship at the expense of other characters and other experiences, which are sketchily represented. As the tip sheet suggest, the hero and heroines plot should begin in the first chapter – no wasting time even with matters as extraneous as the heroine’s life before she first encounters the hero. (178)
Kaplan stresses further that the looks of the main characters become very important, and that the representations of the desires of the main characters for each other are presented in “clichéd ways” (Kaplan 178). This is indeed the case for this 2007 production of Mansfield Park. First of all, the appearance of Fanny Price is very much altered. Instead of 1983’s common Fanny, or the 1999 beautiful but not standard looking Fanny, this Fanny Price is a blonde bombshell. Her cleavage is probably down by an inch compared to the other two Fanny’s right from the beginning, and most of the time she wears a frown on her face and pouts her lips. Not much of young Fanny’s experiences are shown in the film. Her childhood literally lasts three minutes. She arrives at Mansfield Park, plays badminton with Edmund and then she is a grown up Fanny still playing badminton with Edmund, and stating in the voice-over: “As the years passed, I came to love him [Edmund] as more than a cousin” (MacDonald). Fanny herself is already well aware of her feelings for Edmund at this point.
Again, Fanny is depicted as an active, healthy girl. She plays badminton with Edmund, runs around the house and is shown racing Edmund on horseback. Also, Fanny actively fights the family members that try to put her in her place. There is a difference with the 1999 Fanny here. The 1999 version showed a Fanny who was unhappy when being remembered of her humble origins, but at the beginning of the film she did not dare to comment on her family’s remarks. She cries on one occasion and she quite often looks at Edmund who then speaks for her, or she comments on the situation in her writing. 1999 Fanny only starts retorting to her aunt Norris when she has had the sexually tinted encounters with Mary, and after she made the mistake of accepting Henry in marriage. 1999 Fanny only dares to speak up after she has learned a few lessons in life. 2007 Fanny does not seem to be in need of growing up. Whenever aunt Norris says something to 2007 Fanny, Fanny bites back. When for example aunt Norris says to Fanny: “Whatever the occasion, you should remember that you are always the lowest”, Fanny replies: “No I shall never forget that aunt. Unless, of course, I am enjoying myself too much to remember” (MacDonald). Thus, she does not seem to be repressed by her family members too much. Despite this lack of fear and respect for her family members, Sir Bertram is again posed as the main threat in this Mansfield Park production. He is absent at the beginning of the film and Fanny states in voice-over that: “a cloud had lifted” from Mansfield Park, and she continues: “even for me there was a spirit of new found freedom. I was eighteen, it was summer, and I had never been happier” (MacDonald). It is never made clear why Sir Thomas poses a threat to Fanny though.
Fanny is that summer also not afraid to use her sensual powers on Edmund. Rozema made a point of Fanny learning what power she could exert by becoming more aware of herself. 2007 Fanny does not need to be taught. Right from the start, she is seducing Edmund. When Edmund asks Fanny what she thinks of Mary Crawford, Fanny replies: “She has every virtue, fortune, and a pretty face” (MacDonald). Fanny starts laughing, exclaims: “Oh, a stone in my shoe” and leans heavily on Edmund for support. A similar moment is when Edmund has bought Fanny a necklace, but then sees that Mary has given Fanny one as well. Edmund insists that Fanny should wear Mary’s, but Fanny replies: “Well I don’t want to” (MacDonald). She hands over the necklace to Edmund, so he can fasten it around her neck. There are many more of these moments when Fanny makes physical contact with Edmund. Also, Fanny is quite aware that Mary Crawford is trying to do the same thing. When Mary first arrives, she shows Edmund a lot of leg and Fanny shoots an angry look at Mary.
It is not at all clear what Mary Crawford’s role is in the 2007 version of Mansfield Park. She is not a threat to Fanny, as Edmund is already in attracted to Fanny. When they are first riding together, Edmund hands over a flower to Fanny, and he is constantly alone with Fanny in her room, looking at her. Mary role is not that of a real opponent. However, Mary can’t take on the role of tutor either, as Fanny already seems to know everything when it comes to being aware of her own powers. MacDonald seemed a bit unsure what to do here. He kept in some of the original speeches that Austen had Mary say. For instance, Mary jokes about Edmund wanting to become a clergyman. However, Edmund does not seem to take the remarks seriously, and neither does Fanny. Fanny’s main criticism of Mary is, that: “She really thinks everything can be gotten by money” (MacDonald). What this remark signifies is not entirely clear; it might reflect on the fact that because Mary has money and Fanny hasn’t she is a more likely candidate to marry Edmund, or it might be that Mary wants Edmund to become rich, so when she marries him they have a better position in society. Indeed, in a conversation with her brother, Mary objects to the idea of having to live on 700 pounds a year. It is clear that Mary thinks money important. This makes her going after Edmund a dubious business. It is never made clear why Mary chases Edmund. She sees him, shows her leg and from that moment on they seem to be attracted towards each other. It seems a physical reaction rather than Edward attributing qualities to Mary that she in fact does not have. Also, it is not the case as in the 1983 production that Mary has qualities that Fanny has not which could make her attractive to Edmund. In this film, there is again the notion of mistaking Fanny for Mary. This time however, it is not based on character qualities as in the 1999 production, but on appearance. At a certain point the whole family is playing blindman’s buff, and Edmund catches Fanny. He traces her body with his hands, and first guesses it is Mary. Only when he touches the necklace that he gave Fanny, he realizes his mistake. It is telling that the misinterpretation rests on superficial grounds this time. Important is that Mary again does not have anything better to offer than Fanny has. Mary’s role in 2007 Mansfield Park is unclear. The only thing that can be said of Mary is that she is better dressed than Fanny. To turn Mary into a bad character MacDonald, just as Rozema, relies on a speech that Mary gives about her wishing Tom was dead so Edmund could take his place at the end of the film. It is again the speech that makes Edmund reject her, but nothing more.
If Mary’s role is confusing, so is Fanny’s. Fanny’s behaviour is in fact inappropriate throughout the film. MacDonald tries to make Fanny the moral better of the other family members by copying Rozema’s slavery approach. There is one scene where Fanny remarks: “I hope you won’t mind me asking Sir. But now that you have lived amongst it, do you think that slavery can continue in the same way?” Tom Bertram then remarks: “Our little cousin is a friend of abolition” (MacDonald). This could be an attempt to show Fanny as the moral better, but it misses its target. First of all, this is only a single remark, and not a theme like in the 1999 production. Also, Fanny in the 2007 production never makes the link between her own position and slavery. In fact she takes all the freedom she desires. She runs around, is rude to the people she is depended upon and is unconcerned about displaying her body. She flirts with Henry, which makes Edmund quite jealous. This Fanny does not need to be freed at all. Fanny in this production is just the most dominant, wilful person and she gets what she wants. The message here seems to be that women should do as they please and be aggressive when it comes to getting what they want.
What can be seen when comparing these adaptations of Mansfield Park is how one of the central themes seems to change over the years and what message these adaptations convey to their public. In the original novel, women who stick to social moral values are in the end rewarded with the right men. The main threat is posed by people who lack proper social behaviour and morals. In the novel it is exactly because Mary is so different from Fanny that she is a convincing threat. The reader can imagine Edmund liking Mary more in the beginning, but it is also quite clear that Mary is wrong where Fanny is always right. It maybe does not make Fanny likeable from a modern point of view, but it does make her convincing. The 1983 production follows the novel closely, but with the ironic ending the film gives a sharp edge to the idea of Fanny’s moral victory. In the 1999 version, it can be seen that adultery as a main vice does not work anymore. Also, Fanny is made into a physically active, beautiful and witty person. She is not quite sure of herself yet, and needs to learn what it is to be a woman to win over Edmund and to finally speak her mind to the people who are unkind to her. The idea that Fanny has a good moral sense is still kept in this version by showing a trapped Fanny who longs for freedom and disapproves of slavery. This is a theme that the modern public can relate to. By turning Sir Thomas into the villain, Fanny’s struggle becomes one against patriarchy. She wins Edmund because she has a strong personality, but also because she has grown up and has become aware of her own power as a woman with the help of Mary Crawford. Growing up and getting freedom in the process have become central instead of virtue being rewarded. The 2007 version is confused in its message. It focuses mainly on the romance between Edmund and Fanny, and on appearances rather than character. It flattens the story to an easy digestible harlequinesque romance, with Fanny aggressively chasing Edmund, not showing any inclination towards proper social behaviour. It could be argued that this version has a feminist approach as it shows Fanny as a strong woman, but on the other hand: what message does the public get other than that appearances are important, and women should be as aggressive when it comes to finding love?
Of course, as mentioned earlier, the production company responsible for producing the different versions of Mansfield Park play a role in the way the novel is adapted. However, it still should be an alarming thought that Austen’s multilayered novel has turned into a harlequin romance in 2007, which can hardly be called an Austen story at all. Even the 1999 production can be troublesome when considering how much stress is placed on the heroine being beautiful and sensual in order to get her hero. If adaptations offer new messages to its public, it could be argued that studying the adaptations can serve as self-reflection of our modern society. A conclusion of this self-reflection might well be that it would be wise for a modern public to reread Austen’s novel.
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