Monday, May 10, 2010

Mansfield Park and Mummies by Jane Austen and Vera Nazarian

I simply adore Lady Bertram. The languid portrait Austen paints of a lady of leisure, oblivious to all but her own comforts, is one of my favorite - standing right beside Mr. Collins, Miss Bates, and Sir Walter Elliot in ridiculousness. So when I heard that the plot Mansfield Park and Mummies was driven by the actions of this rather immobile character, I was intrigued in spite of myself. My feelings are terribly mixed about these monster mash-ups, having barely gotten through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (the reading of which endangered my walls and valuables, as it was a great struggle not to pitch the book across the room), abandoned Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters after the first chapter, but was amused by Vampire Darcy's Desires (read my thoughts). When Vic at Jane Austen Today so eloquently championed Vera Nazarian's mummification of Mansfield Park, it tipped the scales in the book's favor.

The biggest difference between Mansfield Park and Mummies and the other books I have read of its ilk is that it makes not the slightest, irritatingly pretentious, attempt to take itself seriously. In her Author's After-Note, Ms. Nazarian attributes all historical inaccuracies and liberties taken with the plot to "literary mayhem", a term I much prefer to monster mayhem and which perfectly describes what occurs in this book. The text it riddled with ridiculous footnotes, providing a rather Beavis and Butthead - who I never thought would make an appearance on this blog - style of commentary (he he, she said mounting) and randomly italicized words, giving the text a consciously absurd atmosphere. But it is not Ms. Nazarian's tongue-in-cheek presentation that tantalizes the Austenite through 555 pages of mummies, werewolves, and vampires (yes, this is a veritable menagerie of monsters), but that she achieves in this book what all the very best JAFF does: making our fantasies for beloved characters come true. In this instance, such imagining have everything to do with Fanny Price.

Though it is Lady Bertram's obsessive zeal for Egyptology that brings the mummy, Lord Eastwind, to Mansfield, it is for Fanny Price that he comes, the reincarnation of his long lost love:
"Miss Price. You promised me the honor of a single dance tonight. The night may not end without it."

Fanny felt a quickening in her chest, a shortness of breath, while a blush spread to her cheeks and filled her, like ancient fiery wind of the desert.

"Sir - I am rather tired. And it is late."

And yet, even as she said it, she knew that she must acquiesce, and she felt the warmth of his gaze upon her like a thing tangible.


Fanny looked up and for the first time fully met the gaze of his strange familiar eyes.

The world turned. The candlelight flared, seeming to glow more golden, and the dance music gathered around them with a rich swell of the Nile overflowing the boundaries of all.

Fanny took his hand, feeling a jolt of awareness at the touch. All her weariness fled. She was suddenly aflame; she was sun itself, as he led her into the dance.
Now Edmund Bertram never made that happen, did he? Lord Eastwind is precisely the devoted lover Fanny deserves - so much more satisfying than Edmund, who for so long remains oblivious to her charms, and the selfish Henry Crawford, who, let's give him his due, does at least appreciates her.  Nevertheless, this is still Fanny Price we are speaking of, who knows very well that marrying a mummy is not a recipe for happiness. She feels her connection to him but recognizes its impossibility, able to see the chaos that has beset Mansfield (just like in the original book) when everyone else is blind to the evils that surround them. It is Fanny who is impervious to the vampire (very appropriately, Mary Crawford) and discovers how to destroy the herds of mummies who make up Lord Eastwind's entourage. She is the defender of Mansfield - both of its values and from the monsters. Ms. Nazarian's portrayal can be read as an admonishment to those who think Fanny a dull heroine, as she raises her to almost super-hero status with only those powers that Austen originally endowed her with - loyalty, honesty, and gratitude.

While there are scenes which made me groan, I really enjoyed this book. Ms. Nazarian skillfully incorporates the mystique and lure of vampires and mummies into the original themes of the book. She engages in a great deal of nonsense as well (beware the Brighton Duck), but what kept me reading was her careful and sensitive reading of Mansfield Park. Ms. Nazarian's respect for Jane Austen is apparent throughout the book - the key ingredient to a mash-up worth reading.


  1. That is some high praise you gave there! I'm intrigued! Thank you for the review. I love Fanny, I'm glad she is portrayed so favorably. Lady Bertam is one my favorite absurd Austen charactes too, alongside Mr. Collins and Mr. Woodhouse!

  2. I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed this. When you look past the monsters, you have a very thoughtful rendition of the MP, which is what really makes this book work.

  3. Thank you for this post Alexa!:) This book sounds interesting and I have already updated my wishlist.

  4. Your welcome Giada. Usually monsters aren't my favorite, but this book has made me seriously rethink my stance. I hope you enjoy it too!