Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park

All went well – she did not dislike her own looks; and when she came to the necklaces again, her good fortune seemed complete…

I finally finished Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park or as I’ve affectionately come to call it “A Tale of Two Necklaces”. Of course, it’s not really about necklaces; however, in the middle of the novel when the heroine Fanny Price receives necklaces as gifts before going to a ball in her honor – the gifts being from two critical characters in the story – I couldn’t help but put this small detail in a category of what I would call “a nice touch”.

Before reading this novel, I had heard plenty of general thoughts about it not the least of which were from members of my family. Most of the thoughts (family and otherwise), were not positive. While I understand some of the negativity surrounding it, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I realize that Fanny Price, all meek and mild and timid, can be considered different from other Austen heroines. She doesn’t initially come across as very strong of mind and will.

The reader tends to get most of their understanding of Fanny from the numerous characters around her. They rarely get into Fanny’s thoughts. It seems to always be what others think of her. The reader doesn’t necessarily get Fanny’s own opinion until she shows significant resolve in the face of everyone around her when she refuses the marriage proposal of Henry Crawford. Her rationale proves everyone else wrong even if this part of the story may be a little over the top. I thought it still worked.

Then there is the puzzling aspect of the play that the family and visitors of Mansfield Park decide to perform. As I read this part of the novel, I feel as though most of the characters are wanting to live vicariously through the play – a sort of ‘lets set aside all of the social norms of our day without actually setting them aside.” I wonder if Jane lived vicariously through the characters she created.

Jane Austen Read All

In the end, things work out for Fanny as they have in the other of Jane’s novels I’ve read. I still consider Pride and Prejudice my favorite but I have a high appreciation for Mansfield Park. I read this for the Jane Austen Read All Along over at James Reads Books. Up next for October is Emma. I just started it but I think I will enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed Jane’s other novels.

Even though I refer to other authors by their last name, it just seems right to refer to Jane Austen as Jane.

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Renata Adler: Brownstone (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 40)

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When I wonder what it is that we are doing – in this brownstone, on this block, with this paper – the truth is probably that we are fighting for our lives.

My lack of New York City knowledge made me look up exactly what a brownstone was after I read Renata Adler’s short story “Brownstone”.  I knew it was a type of house but I couldn’t quite get a picture of it. Google images gave me exactly what I needed. And based on the story, it appears brownstones can be divided into apartments.

Wonderful Town

The female narrator of the story lives in a brownstone with a man named Aldo. They both are writers and numerous other people come in and out of the Brownstone of which, as the reader, we get bits and pieces of information. In fact “bits and pieces of information” might be the best way to describe this story. From more or less stream of consciousness, we understand that mental illness seems to play a part somewhere – whether its the narrator herself or one of her acquaintances is difficult to say. A murdered landlord is just one of the bits and pieces – it happens to be one of the more sensational ones. The story by no means revolves around the murder.

As with most of these stories from my anthology Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker (edited by David Remnick), there does seem to be something specifically “New York” in the way the people live in close proximity to each other and the way they interact. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder would it be that much different if the story was about an apartment complex in, say, Paducah, Kentucky?

I read this story when I selected the Jack of Hearts for Week 40 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

James Thurber: The Catbird Seat (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 39)

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He transferred the Camels from his overcoat to a jacket pocket. He wondered, as he did so, if they did not represent an unnecessary note of strain. Mrs. Barrow smoked only Luckies. It was his idea to puff a few puffs on a Camel (after the rubbing out), stub it out in the ashtray holding her lipstick-stained Luckies, and thus drag a small red herring across the trail. Perhaps it was not a good idea. It would take time. He might even choke, too loudly.

In typical farcical fashion, James Thurber’s “The Catbird Seat” tells the story of mild-mannered office worker Mr. Martin and his plot to kill his boss. It might be problematic by today’s standards that his boss happens to be a woman. Of course, it could have been problematic in 1942 when the story was published. But at the same time, this is humor, dark humor, but still humor. Through the years and decades, I doubt there have been too many humorists and comedians that have been completely inoffensive.

Wonderful Town

I would also make a case that the humor in the story does not come from the fact that the boss is female. The funny aspect comes from the idea that mild, tame, milk-drinking Mr. Martin would plan to kill anyone.

And I suppose I need to call SPOILERS here, but in the end, nobody really gets killed.

This story is included in my copy of Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I read it when I selected the Six of Diamonds for my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Nathan Englander: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 38)

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It is the most glorious, and silliest, and freest I can remember feeling in years. Who would think that’s what I’d be saying with these strict, suffocatingly austere people come to visit our house. And then Deb, my love, once again she is thinking what I’m thinking and she says, face up into the rain, all of us spinning, “Are you sure this is okay, Shoshana? That it’s not mixed dancing? That this is allowed? I don’t want anyone feeling bad after.”

I selected the Two of Clubs for Week 38 of Deal Me In 2017 – my final wild card. So I selected an author whom I’ve heard of for a while now but have yet to read. It’s the title story from Nathan Englander’s 2012 short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories. 

nathan englander

The narrator’s wife has rekindled an old friendship via social media and has invited her and her husband to visit them in Florida. The narrator and his wife are secular Jewish while the visiting couple are now Hassidic.

Throughout the entire visit, as the reader, I kept thinking in terms of “so close, yet so far away”. Their conversation meanders all over the place from politics to philosophy to religion to history – but it never feels forced. Englander lets the reader know enough about the characters that the conversation is natural for this situation. One minute they are all on the same side with something in common. The next minute they are at odds with each other. This went back and forth to the point that it became something of a game trying to figure out whether they had more in common or more differences. Perhaps this was the point. I found it humorous that one of the activities they had in common was that they all four smoked pot. When the Hassidic husband is asked whether pot is kosher or not, he replies that he is smoking it not eating it.

As the title implies, the Holocaust becomes a topic during the visit and it leads to a rather awkward ending. I mean awkward for the couples not necessarily for the reader.

I borrowed this book from my public library. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Maeve Brennan: I See You, Bianca (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 37)

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At night the patterned ceiling seems to move with the flickering shadows, and in the daytime an occasional shadow drifts slowly across the tin as though it was searching for a permanent refuge. But there is no permanence here – there is only the valiant illusion of a permanence that is hardly more substantial than the shadow that touches it.

What is considered permanent and is there even any such thing? That’s the question that seems to be asked in Maeve Brennan’s 1966 short story “I See You, Bianca”.

The story consists of detailed descriptions of Nicholas’ New York house – somewhere close to Greenwich Village. We don’t know exactly how old Nicholas is, but I get the impression that he isn’t young. Perhaps not elderly, but not young. As the details flow, the reader understands that this house is old and may not be around much longer.

Nicholas doesn’t seem to have much in the way of family and friends. This lack of permanence morphs into a type of lonesomeness but its a lonesomeness that Nicholas appears to not mind. In fact, I don’t know why the term “lonesome” applies here better than the word “lonely”. I don’t think Nicholas is lonely.

Other than his relationship to his house, Nicholas has a relationship with his cat, Bianca. This relationship reminds me of Pi Patel’s relationship to the tiger, Richard Parker, in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. While Nicholas isn’t in danger from Bianca the way Pi is, the relationship is perhaps one-sided. Both relationships have similar endings.

Wonderful Town

I read this when I selected the Four of Diamonds for Week 37 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. It’s included in my copy of Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker edited by David Remnick. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Richard Hague: Bait (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 36)

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Richard Hague’s short story “Bait” is a nice little character study riddled with similes. Similes such as:

The water lay silky black between shores, sheer and dark as a negligee.

Or:

…the bright reflection of his face in the mirrored bottles like a moon trapped in a glass.

Or my personal favorite:

She was tired of waiting for life to walk through the door of her shop, the little bell above it ringing like the winner’s gong on a game show.

Of course, maybe that last one has a metaphor in it, too.

“Bait” doesn’t have an intricate plot but it involves LaWanda Heever and her desire to get Sharkey, the barkeep at the Sheep’s Head, away from his wife and kids.  As a reader, I respected Sharkey’s continual rejection of LaWanda’s advances while, at the same time, feeling at least a little sympathy for LaWanda, herself, in spite of her less than noble pursuit. Not every storyteller could pull this off.

Degrees of Elevation

The title comes from the fact that LaWanda owns a bait shop though my guess it has a deeper meaning in the way LaWanda is using herself to lure Sharkey away. This story is included in my copy of Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay. I read it when I selected the Ace of Clubs for Week 36 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has so many great lines but as I re-read it, I couldn’t help but enjoy the visit Elizabeth Bennett makes to Pemberley. Her nervousness that the wealthy owner Mr. Darcy, to whom she had refused a marriage proposal, might be there makes her endearing; however, her “this could all be mine” moment makes her even more endearing.

Pride and Prejudice

I find it very humorous that after Elizabeth’s awe-inspiring view of the estate she does meet Mr. Darcy unexpectedly – but now he is so much more kind and gentlemanly. I do realize that Austen develops Miss Bennett and Mr. Darcy beautifully and as readers, we know that they are on an introspective journey of personal growth as they learn about each other and get past first impressions. But the fact that the turning point comes for Elizabeth as she takes in all of the wealth around her at Pemberley puts so much depth (and I’ll say it again, humor) into the characters, it makes the story nothing short of delightful.

I’ve often half-joked with my family that, fictionally, I prefer romances in which the couple doesn’t end up together. If one or both die, even better. And I can make a case that some of the great love stories of all time follow this pattern. But I make a gigantic exception with Pride and Prejudice. In the case of this novel, wondering if they get together is half of the fun. The other half is when they actually do.

Jane Austen Read All

I’ve now read three Jane Austen novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. So far, Pride and Prejudice is by far my favorite. Following James over at James Reads Books with his Jane Austen Read-All-Along, in September, I can look forward to Mansfield Park, a novel for which I’ve heard mixed reviews. But I’m looking forward to it anyway.