Jane Austen’s Naughty Bits

As the need to start making concrete moving plans and actual, real contracts for adjuncting are arriving, I needed something to really take my mind off questions of quitting work, taking leave, moving back to the city and taking leaps.

In such times I invariably watch more than I should. Don’t get me wrong, I am a champion of popular culture but there is a difference between viewing for pleasure and viewing to avoid (and I am definitely doing the latter).

During these times it can be rather revealing to consider my viewing choices and today I woke up determined to watch “Mansfield Park”. Now I am not a big fan of period drama, the Bronte’s for example leave me cold but I love. love, love Jane Austen. It’s all about the subtleties of the insults, the flirtations and the general society manners that have me enthralled – no one villain in the history of fiction has ever got on my goat the way Aunt Norris does and although the heroines on Austen are ultimately at the mercy of their social circumstances and yes, everything does turn out right in the end – these girls give everyone around them a few rude shocks along the way and, you gotta respect that.

I actually watched 2 versions of “Mansfield Park”.

The 2007, Billie Piper version and the 1999 version (which is by far my favourite). The reason I love “Mansfield Park” is that it is so naughty! Austen gets as close as she dares to adultery and pre-marital sexual escapades and although we see the story through the eyes of the virtuous Fanny Price, it’s the sexy and exciting Crawford siblings who draw me back every time. I have read the novel maybe 4 or 5 times and it is very true that no version (I have also seen the BBC version) manages to tell the story in its entirety – in fact the 1999 version takes a few liberties in making the slave situation more overtly political than the novel – and I like it for this reason. The rather unlikable heroine Fanny Price (Frances O’Connor) also manages to be pious and judgmental throughout without me wanting to throw a brick in her general direction and the other main characters are all well cast and in the instance of the spoiled Bertram sisters Maria and Julia, are more sympathetic than Austen originally intended.

One of the tastiest aspects of the Mansfield storyline, at least in the novel, is the slow build-up of Maria’s seduction and subsequent discarding by visiting rake Henry Crawford followed by a scandalous exit from her husband’s roof. All film versions gloss over much of this and the very cheeky play of “Lover’s Vows” that the citizens of Mansfield use as a conduit for the simmering hotpot of sexual attraction is similarly slipped past whereas to me, it is of central importance and maximum pleasure to watch these shenanigans unfold.

What I love about this version is that it looks past Austen’s necessary euphemisms and verbal gymnastics to depict the carnal lust underlying the original words.

This is shown not only through the relationship of Henry and Maria, but also in the character of Sir Thomas Bertram as disturbing questions are raised about English civility and barbarism – sexual and otherwise – in the colonies.

If you have read Austen and haven’t seen this – it is definitely worth it. If you haven’t read Austen but like your dialogue witty – you should definitely watch this. If you need some action and adventure – check out something else.

(NB: In answer to my own question about what the choice to watch “Mansfield Park” reveals about my current viewing needs, I suspect that I am looking for strong women with strong convictions who are unswayed by popular opinion and who stand up to male bullies – irrespective of the circumstances and yes, get to live happily ever after).

Get your own at Amazon: Mansfield Park (1999)

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