Reinventing Fanny Price: Patricia Rozema's Thoroughly Modern Mansfield Park

By Monaghan, David | Mosaic (Winnipeg), September 2007 | Go to article overview

Reinventing Fanny Price: Patricia Rozema's Thoroughly Modern Mansfield Park


Monaghan, David, Mosaic (Winnipeg)


Rozema claims that, in reimagining Fanny Price, she has uncovered a contemporary "Jane Austen." An examination of the movement motif in film and novel versions of Mansfield Park reveals that Rozema's achievement is actually to make a plot based closely on the novel express a world view very different from Austen's.

**********

Academic criticism of Jane Austen's novels has taken a radical turn during the last twenty-five years as scholars have constructed an Austen who is our contemporary in her treatment of gender (Kirkham); sexuality, including incest (Johnson, Smith) and lesbianism (Castle); ideology (Thompson); and colonialism (Said). (1) Recent film and television adaptations of Austen's novels intermittently demonstrate a similar revisionist spirit, as is evidenced by overt sexuality in Pride and Prejudice (1995), explicit ideological conflicts in Emma (1996), and feminist elements in Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Persuasion (1995). In general, though, as White argues, filmmakers have remained stubbornly traditional in their approach to Austen (1-3), with the result that her complex texts have too often been reduced to amusing and romantic stories played out within a mise en scene made up of nostalgic images of Regency England.

Apart from Clueless (1995), Amy Heckerling's postmodern appropriation of Emma, the only film to have been significantly shaped by contemporary critical thought is Mansfield Park (1999), written and directed by Patricia Rozema. The influence of recent scholarship, most notably Claudia Johnson's Jane Austen, is particularly conspicuous in Rozema's presentation of Sir Thomas Bertram as a domineering patriarch and cruel, sexually-abusive slave owner; Mary Crawford as bisexual; and Fanny Price as a committed feminist/abolitionist who suffers the incestuous attentions of both her father and her uncle. Ultimately, though, Rozema, who is, after all, an artist rather than a scholar, takes liberties with Mansfield Park that no critic would contemplate. There is, for instance, no textual evidence to support her decision to attribute Lady Bertram's "disposition," which is, like her sister's, "naturally easy and indolent" (Austen 390), to drug addiction, or, more importantly, for her transformation of Austen's "inhibited, and frail" Fanny Price into the film's "sturdy, self possessed [...], plucky, and physically energetic" heroine (Johnson 5-6).

In adapting Mansfield Park for the screen, Rozema rejected the model provided by the Fanny Price of the novel because she considered her "annoying," "not fully drawn" (Herlevi), and "too slight and retiring and internal and perhaps judgemental to shoulder a film" (Moussa 257). In her place, she creates a character intended to express the "anarchic spirit" (Herlevi) of the Jane Austen who wrote scurrilously satirical juvenilia and chose the life of an artist in preference to the safe option of marriage. The inspiration for Rozema's radical interpretation of Fanny Price is to be found not just in her dissatisfaction with the character as she appears in the novel, but also in her determination to demonstrate Austen's compatibility with modern liberal attitudes. However, there is something rather questionable about an approach that privileges a portrait of the author over her fictional creation, especially when that portrait both conflates the teenage Austen with the mature woman who wrote Mansfield Park and makes highly selective use of biographical evidence (see Wiltshire 136). It is not surprising, therefore, that if we remove the obstructing figure of Rozema's "Jane Austen" from our field of vision, a relationship between film and source text emerges that is rooted in difference rather than similarity. The fundamental nature of this difference emerges with particular clarity from a comparison of the movement motifs that play an important part in the structure of both novel and film.

Regardless of the subversive tendencies that critics have uncovered in her novels, Austen, as Butler and Duckworth have demonstrated, (2) owes a great deal ideologically to the kind of eighteenth-century Conservatism that is most effectively expressed in the works of the philosopher-politician Edmund Burke, particularly Reflections on the Revolution in France.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reinventing Fanny Price: Patricia Rozema's Thoroughly Modern Mansfield Park
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.