Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Murderous mayhem on the Jane Austen front can come even in a cozy comfort zone

One of my more relaxing reads this summer(on loan from Booksfree) is the latest paperback entry in Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery series, The Matters at Mansfield(or,The Crawford Affair)
,courtesy of Jane Austen aficionado Carrie Bebris.

The chief concept behind the books is that a now married Elizabeth and her Darcy find themselves solving murders and other strange crimes as they run across other Austen created folk such as the Dashwoods and Henry Tilney,plus some supporting players like Caroline Bingley and George Wickam receive a bit of expansion in the story lines.

In this one,Henry Crawford has gotten himself into more than one fine mess in the romance department which happens to involves Lady Catherine's overprotected daughter Anne that winds up leading to that gentleman's untimely demise. The question remaining there is was Crawford's most welcome death by his own hand(as it appears to be) or another?

Seeing as how Mr. Crawford is one of the worst cads ever put in an Austen novel,in my opinion,seeing him as the corpse in question is most amusing. However,things may be more than they seem in this situation,which is oddly appropriate considering all of the romance hi-jinks and intrigues that crop up in Mansfield Park, the most often overlooked novel in Jane Austen's canon:

Part of the reason for Mansfield Park's less than preferred status is strong dislike of the book's meek and mild seeming heroine Fanny Price. Many people would rather rally around Mary Crawford,Henry's sly sister who while may not break as many hearts as her sibling does but is just as capricious in her scruples when it comes to dealing with society.

The Mary Crawford crowd will no doubt enjoy Murder at Mansfield,a new take on the story that has Mary and Fanny in completely different personae. Fanny is a spoiled little rich girl who is found dead on her estate while a kinder,gentler Mary teams up with a disreputable character to find the real killer.

This is a debut novel by Lynn Shepard and while I wish her well,part of me wishes that there was a reinvention of MP that held up Fanny's inner strengths as something to be admired rather than dismissed. Then again,the idea of an evil Fanny is very creative and sounds like a bit of a doppelganger delight there,so perhaps I should give it a fair chance in my future reading:

Despite the current rage for supernatural forces invading the calm Regency waters that Austen set her stories in,murder mysteries upon the same grounds have been building their imaginative estates for years now.

First in that field is Stephanie Barron,who is ready with the ninth book of her Jane Austen Mystery series this fall called Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron. I've tried to read these books but having Jane herself solving crimes never really clicked for me.

In a strange way,it's easier for me to accept Austen's characters acting differently than the lady who dreamed them up in the past. However,I had no trouble enjoying a vampire version of Austen battling it out with an undead Charlotte Bronte in Jane Bites Back this year,so maybe my standards are becoming a little more flexible with time.

After all,Jane was fond of books that,in her day,were just as juicy as some of the fictional fare on many a modern day bestseller list. Even her early writings were full of romantic escapades and touched upon a few subjects that weren't considered suitable for ladies and even when her work matured along with her,Jane did like to add a little spice to her imaginative life there.

Considering the mercenary tone to the marriage market amongst her contemporaries,dealing with that all too serious stress in a darkly humorous way was Austen's best defense and if she could lighten up under such social restrictions in real life, there's no sensible reason why I can't do the same when it comes to any fictionalized depiction of Jane:

With so much emotional violence lying under the surface of Austen's books,perhaps the rising tide of physical terror towards her leading ladies in fiction these days was inevitable. While the zombies,vampires and other things that go bump in the night have been fun to see go toe to toe with Jane's girls,the scariest force they may soon face is humanity itself.

It's a contest that Austen heroines have been training all of their existence for and have won in polite circles,but I wouldn't be too surprised to see the next round of re-imagined Austen force a few of them to get more than just a bit of mud on their petticoats. We shall see and smirk,while placing our bets on who would win in a fight(my money's on Fanny):


Laurel Ann said...

I am a Fanny Price fan too, but Lynn Shepherd's book is not your average Austen sequel nor is it a mash-up. It it almost completely original. I really enjoyed it.

Two other Austen inspired mysteries in the queue are Phantom of Pemberley, by Regina Jeffers and Murder on the Bride's Side, by Tracy Kiely. So much to choose from. It's a mystery fans free for all.

Thanks for the shout out on the 'Celebrating Georgette Heyer' event in August. Look forward to your comments.

Cheers, Laurel Ann

lady t said...

You're welcome,Laurel Ann and thank you for the other Austen related recommendations. Looking forward to your Heyer salute quite a bit-August can really be a fun month there!