Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, March 07, 2008

More Memoir Madness and it's connection to Mansfield Park

The big scandal this week on the literary circuit has been the outing of Margaret B. Jones aka Margaret Seltzer,who recently published a memoir called Love and Consequences which claimed ,among other things, that she was a half Native American foster child who wound up being a drug runner for the Bloods. Turns out that was a total fairy tale as Seltzer's sister busted her after reading about the book in the papers and informing the publisher that none of it was true.

This comes on the heels of another fake memoir being exposed last week,by a woman who put out a phony Holocaust survivor story. The usual shocked reactions are going around but the only one I was concerned about was Janice Erlbaum's. As some of you may remember,I reviewed her newest memoir Have You Found Her and she is currently out on book tour to promote it. It's a wonderful book and unlike Love and Consequences,is completely verifiable.

I checked on her blog Girlbomb and she's not shy about her disapproval over this whole sorry mess. Who could blame her? It's hard enough to expose your inner feelings and personal experiences out on paper,for everyone to see and judge for themselves without the additional burden of folks like Seltzer and James Frey casting ginormous shadows of doubt over the entire genre. Of course,there's one question that everyone asks when stuff like this happens and that is "Why? Can't they just put it out as fiction instead of pretending to be a true story?"

Most folks respond with the typical response of "oh,memoirs sell better than fiction,it's all about the money." I really don't think that covers it entirely ,especially since some of these exposed writers come from privileged backgrounds. The heart of the answer I think lies within the pages of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.

Before your eyebrows are raised any higher,let me explain-in considering this sadly growing trend,Henry Crawford came to mind. For those of you unfamiliar with the book,Henry is a philandering fellow who arrives into the neighborhood with his charmingly snarky sister Mary and plays flirtation games with two of the Bertram sisters,causing not only increased rivalry but extra tension since one of the girls is already engaged to another man.

That whole scenario comes to a standstill,with the engaged Bertram girl marrying the man she was already promised to due to Henry's not wanting to truly commit to her. Later on in the book,Henry comes back into the area and decides to amuse himself by trying to add the heroine of the piece,Fanny Price,onto his list of conquests. During
the course of his attempted romance,Fanny's brother William comes to visit during a break from his duties in the Navy.

William is called upon by his relatives to share his experiences at sea,which make quite an impression on everyone and this in particular to Henry:

"To Henry Crawford they gave a different feeling. He longed to have been at sea, and seen and done and suffered as much. His heart was warmed, his fancy fired, and he felt the highest respect for a lad who, before he was twenty, had gone through such bodily hardships and given such proofs of mind. The glory of heroism, of usefulness, of exertion, of endurance, made his own habits of selfish indulgence appear in shameful contrast; and he wished he had been a William Price, distinguishing himself and working his way to fortune and consequence with so much self–respect and happy ardour, instead of what he was!"

His admiration of William Price only goes so far,however:

"The wish was rather eager than lasting. He was roused from the reverie of retrospection and regret produced by it, by some inquiry from Edmund as to his plans for the next day’s hunting; and he found it was as well to be a man of fortune at once with horses and grooms at his command. In one respect it was better, as it gave him the means of conferring a kindness where he wished to oblige."

My point is that Henry desires to be thought of as a much better person that he is but has no real desire to change or to do the things that would make him so. The appearance of goodness is what he really wants,and to those who have never known any major hardships in their life,poverty and suffering are as glamorous as diamonds and limos would be to folks living in dire straits.

This mindset sounds alot like the ones shared by these false memorists,who when found out,usually boo-hoo about how they didn't mean to lie to people,they just wanted to get"the message out" about the hardships of drugs,gangs,Nazis,etc. You know,guys,that message would go over much better if you didn't resort to telling
lies to do so. You may not realize it,but by thinking that no one will take anything you have to say about a serious topic seriously unless you convince them that you're something that you're not,you have a very condescending attitude towards your intended audience.

So,hopefully,readers looking for a good memoir will not throw the baby out with the bathwater by rejecting smart and honest books like Have You Found Her. As Fanny Price said to Henry at one point,"We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be." and it would behoove some of these potential poseurs to keep that in mind as they prepare to offer up their work to the world.


Robin Brande said...

Lady T, I love this reference to Henry Crawford! Brilliant!

lady t said...