Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Fanny is the oldest girl in an impoverished family of many children. Her rich aunt and uncle offer to give her a home with a good education and a proper upbringing. Fanny sleeps in a small room in the attic and mostly acts as a servant, messenger, and companion to her aunts, Mrs. Norris (who is a penny-pincher, an opportunist, and despises Fanny) and Mrs. Bertram (who has her head in the clouds and spends most of her time laying on the sofa with her pug). Fanny has a difficult time because her older cousins, Maria and Julia are blatantly favored over her.

Fanny's cousin, Edmund, is very kind to her and takes time to talk to her and make her feel welcome. Fanny falls in love with Edmund over time, but a wealthy newcomer named Henry Crawford falls for Fanny. Fanny wants nothing to do with Henry. There are a whole bunch of love entanglements in the story but all ends well for Fanny.

I can see two reasons why people say this is their least favorite Jane Austen. One, the story takes a long time to start. You have to read about 1/3 of the book to get all the background and characters established before you can get to the good stuff. People probably lose interest and don't read it all the way through. Two, Fanny and Edmund are goody-two-shoes and nobody can relate to that. They can't even put on a play without feeling guilty and calling off the whole thing. Fanny gets out-of-breath just from taking a simple walk and needs to sit down and rest and be coddled all the time. They are always soliloquizing over moral issues and they can be pretty judgemental at times.

My favorite part of the book is when Fanny returns to her childhood home and is absolutely appalled at the chaos of the home and the brattiness of her siblings. "The boys begging for toasted cheese, her father calling out for his rum and water, and Rebecca never where she ought to be." "The three boys burst into the room together... still kicking each other's shins and hallooing out at sudden starts immediately under their father's eye." Her family offers her tea that never appears because the servant girl always wanders away, her sisters keep fighting over a knife, and there are so many kids in the family that nobody seems to even know who she is or why she is there. Of all Jane Austen's books, this is the only window we get into the life of the poor. The image we get is brilliant - so full of energy and recklessness and hilarity in comparison to the wealthy, stuffy characters her stories mostly focus on.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

It's Tuesday. Where are you?

I am in Moldova, the most depressing place on earth. These people are absolutely miserable to be around. I would rather be in Iceland. (The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner)

I am staying at my uncle's house and he is pressuring me to marry some jerk just because he is rich. I am secretly in love with my cousin but he just treats me like a child. (Mansfield Park by Jane Austen)

I just married my third husband Tea Cake. We have fun harvesting beans and he only beat me that one time. (Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy

A young orphan girl named Maggie goes to live with her great-aunts in a mysterious old house that used to be a boarding school. Maggie discovers a haunted room in the attic where a pair of china dolls calmly invite her to have tea with them. She visits the dolls often and eventually solves the mystery of who they really are.

Maggie's Uncle Morris is like the Cheshire cat, appearing unexpectedly and saying the oddest things that only confuse and annoy the poor girl. Maggie seems to be the only sane creature in the book, even though she is the one hearing voices in the walls and chatting pleasantly with haunted china dolls.

This was a cute book and reminded me of another book I read when I was a kid. It was also about a girl finding a haunted dollhouse in an attic. I think it was called The Dollhouse Murders, but I'm not sure.