Review by Brenda S. Cox
“Had he [Henry Crawford] done as he intended, and as he knew he ought, by going down to Everingham after his return from Portsmouth, he might have been deciding his own happy destiny.” —Mansfield Park
Amelia Marie Logan, an ardent Austen fan and a leader in JASNA*, recently published a delightful variation of Mansfield Park. It is called Fanny, A Mansfield Park Story. She gives Austen’s novel a new ending, one that Austen herself hinted was possible.
Religious Values in Mansfield Park
All of Jane Austen’s books are written from a Christian, Church of England perspective. Mansfield Park, though, has the most references to the church. Characters discuss the calling of a clergyman, the church’s impact on society, the role of the clergyman in the community, and how to best read the liturgy and preach sermons.
Even more significantly, the novel shows what happens when people live out, or don’t live out, what they are taught (religious principles) and what they actually believe. In the last chapter, Sir Thomas Bertram regrets the way he allowed his daughters to be educated. He realizes that “they had been instructed in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice.” Their “understanding and manners” were good, but they never learned “self-denial and humility,” and so went far astray.
Henry and Mary Crawford are even worse off. What Edmund Bertram calls sin, Mary Crawford calls folly; she seeks to cover it up. Edmund finally realizes that Mary’s principles—the religious beliefs governing her behavior—are at fault, and her mind is “corrupted.” She says that the London preachers she hears have no impact on people’s behavior. At least for Mary and her brother, their actions show they do not believe what the church teaches.
Mary’s brother Henry Crawford has been “ruined by early independence and bad domestic example,” Austen says. His mind is not used to making “any sacrifice to [do what’s] right.” And so he loses his chance at happiness.
However, Austen tells us, in an unusual “what-if,” that Henry might have had a chance. If he had made a different choice, and persevered when he started on the right course, things would have turned out differently.
Here’s where Amelia Marie Logan picks up her pen. In Fanny, A Mansfield Park Story, Ms. Logan tells us what might have happened, following the course Austen herself suggests. She starts her story just after chapter 44 of the original novel, just before Maria deserts her husband for Henry. This story keeps Henry on a good path instead.
Because our modern values are so different from Austen’s, many fans today wish that Edmund had married Mary and Fanny had married Henry. Personally, I think Austen’s ending was just right, totally congruent with the values and character of each person. Even so, I was fascinated to see how Austen’s “what-if” might have worked out. Logan does a superb job of telling us that. She starts solidly with the original characters but gives Henry Crawford the opportunity to change and grow.
In many of Austen’s novels, characters come face to face with their own deep flaws. In religious terms, they repent: they change their course, and they begin to grow into better people. Marianne Dashwood and Mr. Darcy are two outstanding examples. My earlier post “A Change of Heart” points out some of those experiences.
In Fanny, A Mansfield Park Story, Henry Crawford gets that same opportunity. In his case, he was not taught religious principles as a child, like Mr. Darcy was. Instead, a clergyman confronts Henry for his selfishness. This parson points out that Henry is pursuing Fanny and making her miserable. He is not showing love to her at all, but only loving himself. After many discussions, Henry has a revelation. He writes, “Till that moment, I never knew myself.” (Yes, that’s a familiar line!) He identifies his own “selfish, cold-hearted, vanity” and says he was a “selfish being” all his life. True enough, if you look at how he treated Maria and Julia.
Henry tells Fanny, “Where, previously, I had every confidence of eventually winning you, I now despaired of ever being capable of even improving your opinion of me. Pain and helplessness followed, and it was these feelings – my own genuine suffering – which enabled me, at last, to see the pain I had caused others.”
Henry changes his behavior and begins to show love in self-sacrificial ways. It reminds me of what Darcy did for Elizabeth after his own change of heart. Seeing Henry’s actions, Fanny begins to think that “his repentance seemed genuine.” Fanny considers that “He had a generous heart and a cheerful disposition. And now he had learned the value of serious reflection.” It takes time, though, and multiple misunderstandings, before she is convinced.
Meanwhile other changes have taken place for Edmund and Mary, but I’ll leave you to discover those in the book, and see how their story works itself out. Austen does indicate that a marriage between Edmund and Mary might have succeeded. She says that if they had married, Mary might have eventually adopted the opinions of a husband she respected and loved. As Fanny thinks in Logan’s novel, “Perhaps she [Mary] would learn better principles from Edmund as Fanny herself had done.” But that no doubt would have taken a long time, and doesn’t happen within the scope of this variation. Maria’s and Julia’s stories also follow possible new courses.
An Interview with Amelia Marie Logan
Here’s what the author has to say about the book:
What do you love about Jane Austen’s novels?
I love Austen’s wit and irony and her ability to capture true human nature. I love that she pokes fun at her characters and even at herself. I love that she recognized much of the unfairness towards women in her own society and promoted the idea of valuing women for their minds.
Why did you write this variation on Mansfield Park?
I wrote Fanny, a Mansfield Park Story to answer Austen’s suggestion at the end of Mansfield Park. I have never felt that Edmund deserved Fanny and I cannot forgive him for his willful blindness towards Mary Crawford’s faults. For the record, I don’t think Henry Crawford deserves her either, but Austen’s suggestion was that Henry could have deserved her and could have won her, so that’s what I wrote. (I would actually like to see Fanny end up with neither Henry nor Edmund and I’m working on a short story now exploring that possibility.) Edmund tells Fanny in Mansfield Park about Henry, “he will make you happy but you will make him everything,” and Fanny rightfully recoils at the idea. I did not want to write a story where Fanny changes Henry or he changes only for her. I felt he had to see the faults in his behavior and change it for his own sake in order to be worthy of Fanny.
What did you find challenging about writing this novel? What did you enjoy about it?
The most challenging part of writing this novel was reforming Henry Crawford while keeping him true to his original characterization. I wanted my Henry to be recognizable as Austen’s Henry, but to fulfill the destiny Austen said he was capable of achieving. I enjoyed trying to come up with the same kind of clever dialogue and witty narration that Austen employs.
Tell us more about yourself.
I am a Jane Austen enthusiast, scholar, and fanfiction author. I am also an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. I have been writing Jane Austen fanfiction stories for over twenty years. I have learned a lot in the process and made some great friends along the way. Fanny, A Mansfield Park Story is my first published novel. It has been a labor of love which has taken me years to complete. I have several ideas for additional novels, which are in various stages of completion. In the meantime, you can find other stories I’ve written on my website at ameliamarielogan.com.
Thank you, Amelia Marie!
I loved Fanny, A Mansfield Park Story. Even knowing the direction it was going, I found it hard to put down. Don’t we all love a story of redemption, of second chances, of people whose hearts and lives change?
Amelia Marie Logan clearly knows Jane Austen and her work well. The characters and their world are consistent with Austen’s characters and world. The text is full of delightful “Easter eggs,” little treats tucked in as we recognize lines and thoughts from Austen’s other novels. The story is beautifully written.
I’m currently reading Mansfield Park aloud to my two oldest granddaughters, ages 12 and 15, and we’re all enjoying it. (We’ve already read most of the other novels, and watched my favorite movie for each. For Mansfield Park, it will have to be the 1983 BBC version. The more recent versions go too far from the book for me.) But now as I read Mansfield Park once again, I’m also thinking of Logan’s story; things could have turned out differently, without Fanny compromising her principles.
I hope you will enjoy Fanny, A Mansfield Park Story. If you read it, I’d love to hear what you think! And of course, so would other readers; it’s always good to put reviews online of the books you enjoy, to help other readers find them.
Do you think there is hope for someone as self-centered as Henry Crawford? In this variation, a minister confronts Henry with truth; in effect, he holds a mirror before his eyes. Do you know people who do that for you; help you see yourself as you really are and not as you’d like to present yourself to others? Let’s be thankful for such friends, and listen to them even when it hurts. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6).
*JASNA is the Jane Austen Society of North America