My Jane Austen Summer is about the internal struggle of a young woman dealing with a lot of life changes in a short amount of time and the anger under the surface she fails to deal with. The author creates a mutual empathy for the protagonist, Lily, by causing that same anger at the indignity of Lily’s surroundings. I found this frustrating at first because — who wants to be angry while reading? 40% of the way through the book, I took a break to think through the writers’ motivations for presenting the novel using this storytelling method. In doing so, I turned to the source material, Mansfield Park.
When I think of Mansfield Park, I think of Fanny Price, the girl who came from an impoverished background to live in a great house. Her mother, Lady Bertram’s sister, left the wealth of her upbringing to marry for love. Even though Fanny Price then is only a generation away from all that wealth, the stigma of poverty attached to her is permanently affixed to her like a scarlet letter:
“Should her disposition be really bad,” said Sir Thomas, “we must not, for our own children’s sake, continue her in the family; but there is no reason to expect so great an evil. We shall probably see much to wish altered in her, and must prepare ourselves for gross ignorance, some meanness of opinions, and very distressing vulgarity of manner; but these are not incurable faults; nor, I trust, can they be dangerous for her associates.” – Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
Fanny grows up in this family and she’s really a little more than a servant, subject to the whims of her vain and idle cousins.
The social mores made this sort of behavior acceptable in the nineteenth century but in the twenty-first century, especially as an American, it is not. As my husband reminded me, in the twenty-first century there is a sense of entitlement that sways our actions, and certainly, my perspective while reading this week’s #FridayReads.
What I came to understand is that my anger at Bets is because of her sense of entitlement to any of Lily’s possessions — the room, the JASNA bag, the gold cross necklace — violates my own sensibilities. What the author here is achieving is playing upon our 21st century sensibilities like a harpsichord. Were this written in Jane’s day, someone of Bets’ status would make us view her actions much differently, to the point of her having a “divine right” to what she likes as someone in a position of wealth, perhaps the equivalent of an accomplished heiress.
Lily’s transition from anger to identification with her father’s infidelity is the unexpected personal change we find near the end of the novel. Lily, who went from dreaming of living in a novel, then back to reality, discovers that sometimes the fantasy of a romance (in Britain) can be worse than the norm of life in Texas.
Cindy Jones presents a darker shade of Jane for readers who prefer the bittersweet to the vanilla confections of Jane Austen Fan Fiction (#JAFF) so readily available in the market.