Before the rant, let’s rave:
Now we rant:
Dear Miss Austen,
Why, why did you write “Mansfield Park”? And why did I suffer through it? All the way to the end?
Because you tricked me. You tricked me with your other books. You used Persuasion against me, appealed to my Pride and Prejudice, my Sense and Sensibility. So I guess you could say (if you were alive, and boy would you look old) that I’m a fan of your other novels — despite your suppression of oppression, your dismissal of many aspects of real life, of current events in the world outside Society. You know, silly little things like war, and slavery, and more important stuff like going commando, and just where everyone was having a poo, and what they used — or didn’t use, ewww — for toilet paper.
But man! Mansfield Park?
True, some of your trademark wit and insight percolates through its peat-like pages, but it’s purveyed solely by the narrator, and that’s a pity. No witty repartee between the sexes? No misunderstandings to wring our hands over? No pent-up passions worth roto-rooting for? (OK, they’re there — but so pent-up they’d need colon cleansing to relieve them.)
For characters to root for, our choice is between a few good-natured-but-slightly-frivolous theater lovers, and sanctimonious rumps. Sorry, I mean “frumps,” and by that I mean “Fanny” and her male counterpart, Edmund, for whom — despite the fact that they’re first cousins and he thinks of her as a sister — we are expected to wish wedded bliss. (I know first cousins marrying was not unusual, then — but you set up the union as undesirable based on the fact they were cousins and thereby upped the “ewww” factor, and then just said “never mind!”)
Every scene-worthy event, every pivotal plot point worth watching in this novel is played offstage. The reward for plodding through the whole thing was to have the loose ends tied up in an anal afterword, in drier prose than bogged down the previous (seemingly thousands of) pages. Eventually, we are told, Edmund realizes he might as well give good cousin Fanny a righteous poke.
But I forgive you, Jane, not just for dishy Mr Darcy’s sake, but because I see parallels in the universe of my own novel, Hyperlink from Hell. I had my reasons for hiding what was really going on, and for (literally) turning off current events in the book — but only readers can say whether or not I was justified, or successful. I hope so, and hope I’m not a hypocrite. Or hypercrit, as the case may be.
So far, so good. Reviews are raves. I’m still waiting for the Hyper rant. And no one is using its pages for toilet paper — not yet. Not until it comes out in two-ply paperback. It’s still an eBook. (Ewwww.)
It’s marvelous that, 200 years later, your books are still around for me to rant at. So in honor of you, Miss Austen, I have penned a little poem.
(Gentle readers, please read this upwind, then tell me why I am full of shit about Mansfield Park. Change my mind.)
If Miss Jane Austin came to tea,
I wonder what she’d think of me.
She’d see right through a mask, or three,
Of paltry pride, pomposity,
And focus, with her Eagle Eye,
On satire, madness, custard pie.
And when her slated wit had done,
And I, slumped down, the Trodden One,
Raised to my lips a quiv’ring bun,
Miss Austen, with a little nod,
(Tapping a foot, neatly shod),
Would smile and ask me, “Hon?
“You sure you need another one?”
And meanwhile, all about us lay
Humanity in disarray,
A battle here, and slavery there,
While we ate buns without a care
And pondered scandals close to home
(With just a passing nod to Rome).