In the morning we discussed what didn’t work for us in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, some of the same things I talked about in the blog last week. In the afternoon we speculated about alternate endings.
Mary Crawford is reformed and marries Edmund
Henry Crawford is reformed and marries Fanny
Tom is reformed and marries Susan, Fanny’s sister
The basic idea was that the flawed characters were more interesting than the wholly good Fanny or the easily besotted Edmund and that we like to see flawed characters change and be redeemed.
What Would You Change?
This got me thinking about other books or movies that deserve an alternate ending. The main one that comes to mind for me is Little Women. I always wanted Jo to wind up with Laurie. It still bugs me.
What books or movie endings would you change? Gone With The Wind? Wuthering Heights? Almost anything by Nicholas Sparks?
Sometimes as a parent, I need to read books like this one: Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons, which addresses the covert bullying many girls partake in lieu of more overt, physical bullying which is more common in boys. Simmons explains that in many segments of our society where girls are still expected to be “nice” (while boys are encouraged to be competitive), girls do not develop healthy ways to be competitive or healthy and straightforward strategies for resolving conflicts. Instead, they develop alternative forms of aggression: manipulative “friendships”, shunning, gossip, etc.., often carried out under a veneer of “niceness”.
Although many of the cases described are saddening, Simmons doesn’t demonize the aggressors, pointing out that roles often change and that the aggressors’ behavior is rooted in insecurity and the fear of being excluded themselves. There is a high price paid by those who are part of the “in” clique.
On a personal level, I found Simmons’s insights useful, along with some of her suggestions for parents and schools. It also shed some light on behaviors I’ve seen in adult groups that are predominantly female. Not everyone outgrows this stuff.
As a writer, I also found the book interesting in light of fiction and character development.
Diane’s recent post, Mansfield Park Revisited had me thinking about how Jane Austen depicted alternative female aggression in her books. Clearly, it’s not a new phenomenon. Ladies of the gentry and aristocracy were certainly expected to be “nice” so alternative aggression likely flourished. One can see it in the relationship between Caroline Bingley and Jane Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, in the friendship of Catherine and Isabella in Northanger Abbey and definitely between Fanny and Mary in Mansfield Park.
Here’s an image from the infamous scene with lesbian undertones in the 1999 version of Mansfield Park. Although I’ll agree with critics that I never saw anything like that in the book, it does fit in with the model of manipulation, the pressure for the victim to tolerate behavior that makes her uncomfortable, with the underlying threat of loss of friendship.
My second full length Regency romance, The Incorrigible Lady Catherine, was the beginning of my “Three Disgraces” trilogy with heroines who met at boarding school and who, for various reasons, didn’t fit in and formed their own defensive alliance. So I’ve played with this issue before in my writing, although at the time of writing, I certainly didn’t understand the aggressors as well as Jane Austen must have.
Have you read other books, romance or not, where the concept of alternative aggression was used effectively?
To celebrate the recent release of The Incorrigible Lady Catherine in paperback, I’ll give away one copy to a random commenter. Comment by next Thursday (1/17) and I will announce the winner on Friday (1/18).
This past weekend I joined several Washington Romance Writer (WRW) friends at the home of Kathleen Gilles Seidel to watch two film versions of Mansfield Park: The 1999 version with Frances O’Connor and Johnny Lee Miller; and the 2007 TV version with Billie Piper and Blake Ritson. Kathy had invited us to watch the movies with her, because she is scheduled to give a talk about Mansfield Park at WRW’s January meeting next Saturday. Also in preparation for Kathy’s talk, I am rereading Mansfield Park and am about halfway through.
Kathy Seidel’s annual Jane Austen-related talk is a WRW highlight for me. Kathy is an Austen scholar, having written her Ph.D. dissertation on Austen, but she is also hugely entertaining and her talks are always intelligent, stimulating and useful for writers. More on her Mansfield Park talk next week.
We’ve discussed the Mansfield Park movies here at Risky Regencies before, most recently after the 2007 TV version was released, and most of us have generally thought the movies pretty dreadful. The WRW group was no different. The 1999 version was particularly abysmal, having very little to do with the book and having almost none of Austen’s sensibilities included. The 2007 version did not change the story quite as drastically, but when it did, it changed it in incomprehensible ways that made no sense at all. In both versions, the main characters were changed very drastically–except for Mary and Henry Crawford, the worldly brother and sister who come for an extended visit. The Crawfords are often described as the most interesting characters in the book.
The Fanny and Edmund of the book are very unlike the heroine and hero we would expect in a book of romantic fiction today.
Fanny is timid, self-effacing, and long-suffering, but she is the moral compass of the book, the one character who consistently acts in a principled manner. In other words, she doesn’t change in the book. She stands firm, no matter what happens to her. This was obviously Austen’s vision for Fanny, but I think today’s reader wants heroines who strive actively to reach their goals, not ones who merely endure what happens to them.
Edmund shares Fanny’s view of morality, but he is very easily swayed by the manipulations and allure of Mary Crawford. That is not the sort of hero who interests me. I want my hero to be strong enough and wise enough to see through the clever manipulations of others, and I do not want him to be tempted to fall in love with a character who is not the heroine.
At the end of the book (or the movies) you are glad Fanny and Edmund wind up together, but it was hard to feel strongly enough about either of them to actually root for them to wind up together.
I was thinking that today’s romance novelist would probably choose Mary and Henry Crawford as more likely candidates to be hero or heroine. Now those are two characters who could do with a strong character arc. Do you know if anyone has written such a version?
What do you think are the most important elements in a hero or heroine?
I also watched the first episode of season three of Downton Abbey. It occurred to me that one of the reasons that the series is so successful is that all of the characters are interesting and all have ways they can change, ways we can root for them.