Magazine article The Spectator

Annoyed by Fanny

Magazine article The Spectator

Annoyed by Fanny

Article excerpt

So it's Sunday night and I'm lying in bed watching Mansfield Park (ITV), stricken with a chest infection, feeling really rough, writhing at all the hideously tacky Sainsbury's ads which bookend each commercial break, madly worried about the fact that I have to do Start the Week the next day, wondering how I'm ever going to be able to get to sleep, but bravely soldiering on nonetheless because I've got a TV review to write and I know how upset you'd all be if it didn't appear.

We're about three quarters of the way through and frankly I've had enough. It's not an especially bad adaptation, I don't think. Rather, it's that the book on which it is based is so damned tedious. Plain, goody-two-shoes Fanny Price surely has to be Jane Austen's most annoying heroine.

And all the other characters are pretty grisly, too -- stuffy Sir Thomas Bertram, creepy priggish Edmund, vaudeville villains Mary and Henry Crawford -- so that it's really quite hard to care what happens to anyone. You rather wish that this were the book Austen had left unfinished, rather than Sanditon, so that someone else could have been asked to rewrite the final quarter -- e. g. , me -- and come up with something a bit more exciting and a bit less moralistic, like possibly a scene where Sir Thomas organises a shooting party, and Henry spikes the sandwiches with opium and all hell breaks loose.

Unfortunately, of course, in the book Patient Griselda eventually does get her man, for what it's worth, which isn't very much given how disgustingly poor (only £700 a year) he is. And we're all supposed to go: 'Aaah', but, as I say, I don't. It's too pat. In the book, as in the adaptation, we can see it coming a mile off. More importantly I've started to feel promisingly sleepy, so, seizing the moment, I say to the Fawn, 'Can we turn it off now?' And, of course, being female she won't let me because it's Jane Austen and you can't miss the ending of a Jane Austen, can you?

Bloody Jane Austen. I force myself -- just -- to keep my eyes open to the end and then, of course, the second the programme's over, the nerves and adrenaline kick in and I'm as wide awake as you can possibly be. Damn. Do I take a sleeping pill and risk being all fuzzy and at halfcock for Start the Week? Or do I not take a sleeping pill and get no sleep? I take the pill.

The reason I'm worried about Start the Week is that a) it's about the most important publicity thing any writer can do ever, so if you mess it up you've only gone and ruined your whole life and b) David Dabydeen. …

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