Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rollicking Readers - Mansfield Park

Doesn't every woman long for a group of girlfriends she can laugh and cry and indulge with? These women are the ones you can be silly with, the ones who you can confide in, these are the ones who will even make you a cake on your birthday and sing to you!

Well, I am blessed to be part of just such a fabulous group of ladies - it's our Rollicking Readers book club. For the past four months now, we've been meeting every few weeks to eat and discuss one of Jane Austen's books. This month, our selection was Mansfield Park. Those in attendance vary from session to session, but we usually have eight or nine women on any given date.

I enjoyed Mansfield Park more than any of the other Austen works I have read thus far, save Pride and Prejudice. However, I am beginning to think that it's because I am learning to read Austen and becoming more comfortable with her language and style, rather than the plot and characters of Mansfield Park itself.

Fanny Price, the insipid and morally upright heroine, isn't truly very likable, although she is virtuous and loyal. Edmund, our clergyman hero, is even less likable; although he is high-minded and principled, he is too easily swayed by a beautiful face and a crafty attitude. Not Fanny's, mind you! The story isn't as much a romance as it is Fanny's coming-of-age story. Despite all of this, I did find it entertaining and enjoyable.

Our book discussion is always lively - many forthright opinions are given, not always in agreement, but always put forth for consideration with respect. We usually consider six or seven questions of varying degrees of seriousness regarding character, plot, motivation, style, and comparisons to Austen's other works. (Does it all sound very scholarly? It's not particularly. We are not very academic, but we all love books!)

Once we finish the literary conversation, we move on to viewing a film of the novel under discussion that evening. We sometimes forget to warn our newest members that we are not quiet movie watchers. In fact, we are downright cheeky at times! We talk to the movie, make silly comments, discuss the book further in comparison to the movie, and generally have a rollicking time. (Thus our club name!)

Two versions of Mansfield Park have been released in recent years and neither is especially true to the novel. We viewed the 2007 version and enjoying commenting on the historical inaccuracies, the bushiness of Fanny's eyebrows, and the absence or modification of many integral characters and scenes. I have seen the other (1995? 97?) film as well and it seems to perhaps follow the plot a little more closely, but diverges even more in the portrayal of the main characters.

So, we are soon done for this novel, and it's on to the next - Northanger Abbey. Care to join us?

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