Happy Wednesday, readers! Today, Austenesque Reviews is paid a visit from an author who may be new to some of you – Lona Manning, who just recently published a Mansfield Park variation titled A Contrary Wind! A new release I am very excited about because while I have read some sequels and modern-day adaptations for Mansfield Park, I’ve yet to read a variation for it! It seems like variations tend to be written more for Pride and Prejudice than any other Jane Austen novel. I hope you enjoy meeting Lona and this lovely excerpt she is sharing today! 🙂
Mrs. Norris was, in her own way, as happy as she had ever been, for she was busy from morning ‘til night, living entirely at Mansfield Park, directing the servants, ordering the dinners, and supervising the sewing of the costumes and curtains. She also felt it was necessary for her to stay at Lady Bertram’s side in the event that doleful news arrived concerning Sir Thomas – perhaps he would perish at sea, or be stricken by the fevers and distempers which carried away so many of his countrymen in tropical climes – and in such case, she, Lady Bertram’s elder sister, would naturally be the rod and staff of the stricken family. She was confiding some of her gloomier prognostications to Mrs. Grant, who was sitting with Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris after the conclusion of a rehearsal of the first act of the play, while Fanny, quite forgotten, was stitching on Anhalt’s costume by candlelight at her own little worktable. For a young girl, every trifling thing connected with one’s beloved transmits pleasure, so the thought that she held in her hands a garment to be worn by Edmund gave her a sweet sensation, mixed with sorrow, that she would not have exchanged for the world. So abstracted was she in her thoughts, it was in fact a wonder that some portion of the conversation of the ladies attracted her notice.
“Dr. Grant tells me the price of sugar has now fallen so low, that it is now considerably below what would repay the grower for his cost to make the sugar and bring it to market. What a shame for Sir Thomas! He has laboured so hard, away from home, yet these events conspire against him, do they not?”
“Yes, indeed, Mrs. Grant,” answered Mrs. Norris, learning forward and speaking in a loud whisper, with a nod of her head toward Lady Bertram, who lay, half asleep, on her settee, “I heard the same. There is a glut on the market – that is what they call it – too much sugar; and in addition, with the recent prohibition on importing new labourers from Africa, the future prosperity of the West Indies plantations is very much in doubt.”
“Dear me! But I’m sure that Sir Thomas – “
“If he should return alive, he must come down with the marriage portion for Maria, of course, and fit up Edmund for his ordination – his new home at Thornton Lacey must be gotten into readiness – you will see now, my dear Mrs. Grant, why I am so particular about making what little economies we can at Mansfield and have done everything in my power to curb any waste or unnecessary expense.”
“No doubt they are all very obliged to you, ma’am.”
“I do not consider that, of course, for who else should I assist but my own sister and her family? I have told Lady Bertram that, as I have no children of my own, whatever I have been able to put away every year is for her dear children, but little did I imagine that the time might come when my paltry widow’s mite would be so needful!”
“Matters are not so bad as all that, surely? The price of sugar may rise again? And the family is in general well provided for, I trust. There would be his income from the rents?”
“But, with his prolonged absence,” countered Mrs. Norris, unable to give way to any ray of hope, “you may be sure his tenants are behindhand and dear Tom and Edmund are too good-natured – the returns will not be enough to meet the expenses of maintaining the estate.“
“Pray, sister, do not distress yourself,” said Lady Bertram drowsily, having half-awakened and hearing the word ‘rent.’ “Sir Thomas will never require you to pay any rent on the White house, not so long as you have need of it.”
“No doubt, Lady Bertram, the family of Sir Thomas Bertram can rely on his generosity and his prudence – you are all in the best of hands,” Mrs. Grant suggested, as Mrs. Norris was for a moment discomposed.
She rallied, however, and leaning forward again, said in a forceful, sibilant whisper, which carried to every corner of the room, “Of course, Sir Thomas is very capable, but what can even he do in the face of such calamities! Naturally Sir Thomas would not confide all the details of his financial burdens to me, and I am sure I am not one to pry, but there was the matter of poor Tom’s youthful follies, which amounted to a not inconsiderable debt, so that Sir Thomas was unable to do everything for Edmund that he intended – ahem – “ and here Mrs. Norris recollected that it was this very circumstance which led to the living at Mansfield Park being settled on Dr. Grant, instead of being held for Edmund, something Sir Thomas, out of delicacy, would not have wished her to allude to before Mrs. Grant.
Mrs. Grant betrayed no consciousness, however, and Mrs. Norris resumed her catalogue of the family’s financial woes: “– and some years ago, he declared his intention to settle some funds on Fanny when she came of age, to enable her to live as a gentlewoman, so that promise must hang about his neck like a millstone, and, I have no doubt, contributes greatly to his cares. Of course, if Fanny continued to live here, and endeavoured to make herself as useful as possible, I dare say he would think his generosity in bringing her up under his roof would be at least partly requited, and he would be spared the great expense of a separate maintenance for her.”
Fanny gave no indication she could hear what had been said, but continued sewing placidlyuntil summoned to the little theatre to act as prompter for a scene between the ranting Mr. Yates and the befuddled Mr. Rushworth. She was surprised to discover she was not crying – her eyes were perfectly dry, but she could feel a strange feeling in her stomach, as though a cold little stone had taken up residence there. Perhaps she should bless her Aunt Norris for helping her to reach a resolution, for although she suspected her aunt of exaggerating the financial peril in which the family stood, she would not stay to be resented for receiving monies from Sir Thomas that she had never asked for, nor expected.
The next morning, Fanny asked her Aunt Norris if she needed anything taken to her home in the village, or fetched from it. As it happened, the lady wanted her good pair of scissors, so Fanny was dispatched, with the warning, “but pray, don’t make this your excuse, Fanny, to dawdle along the way – you are needed here to help finish these costumes, for I cannot do everything by myself. Don’t suppose that by staying out of sight you can shirk your share of the work to be done.”
Fanny called at the post office and sent her application to Mrs. Smallridge, care of Miss Lee, and then forgot Aunt Norris’s scissors, so stupefied was she at the enormity of what she had done, and was halfway home when she remembered and had to hurry back for them. She endeavoured to be in good time to avoid her aunt’s condemnation by running up the hill and arrived breathless, holding her side.
Edmund met her near the rose garden and gently remonstrated with her – “You have been running, Fanny, you are out of breath! Whatever are you about? You look knocked up.”
“Oh, it doesn’t signify,” Fanny panted. “I have not been out on horseback as often as I should lately, we have been so busy with the theatricals.”
“Bother the play,” laughed Edmund. “I have a tonic for you, Fanny – can you guess what it is?”
Fanny brightened, and wondered if there had been a letter from her brother William.
“No, no, not that, but this did come with the post this morning – The British Critic,” and Edmund happily flourished his and Fanny’s favourite publication, a gazette that listed all the new publications, with reviews and extracts. “Shall we look it over and decide upon those books whose acquisition is essential to the preservation of our happiness?”
No invitation was necessary, and Fanny almost danced beside Edmund as they re-entered the house. With joy did she anticipate that much-loved activity – looking over descriptions of books along with Edmund, discussing them, and making a list of the most desired titles to be ordered, and that followed by the pleasure of receiving the books in the post, and reading and comparing views with her cousin! It was the most complete happiness she knew.
“Stay, Fanny,” called Edmund as Fanny hurried ahead of him to the library, “we are in the breakfast room. I thought we should be more comfortable there.”
We? Bewildered, Fanny spun about and followed Edmund into the breakfast room, where sat Mary Crawford, looking particularly lovely, preparing her ink and quill for the list of chosen titles. She looked up and smiled expectantly as Edmund entered.
“Yes, I invited Miss Crawford to join us,” Edmund explained cheerfully as Fanny faltered at the doorway.
“Oh, come in Miss Price,” cried Miss Crawford. “We had despaired of you before Mr. Bertram saw you dashing up the hill.” Turning to Mr. Bertram, she added, “I hope we shall have some travel books! Wouldn’t you love to visit Paris, Mr. Bertram? The Bonaparte has stolen the birthright of every patriotic Englishman and woman – the right to return from Paris to disparage the place of our birth and to compare our food, fashions and manners unfavorably with the French! It is monstrously unjust! This war seems never-ending!”
The sight of Miss Crawford preparing to perform the office she had always performed, hit Fanny like a blow.
“Why, Miss Price, are you well?” asked Miss Crawford, eyeing her with concern. “You look pale. It is true what your cousin says – any kind of exercise but horse-riding tires you too quickly – pray, sit down, sit down.”
Fanny managed to stammer – “The scissors – Aunt Norris – I must give – “ and, backing out of the room, she turned and fled up the back stairs to her own little bedroom, where she gave way to her anguish, muffling her sobs with her quilt.
Sometime later, with reddened eyes and pale cheeks, she found Aunt Norris in the drawing room and resumed her sewing work, reasoning that Edmund by now had assumed she had been kept behind by her aunt and so could not return to the breakfast room.
“At last! My scissors!” exclaimed her aunt. “Fanny, I have been looking for you these two hours! And after I particularly asked you to hurry! You are too provoking! You are worse than thoughtless, you must have kept away out of spite and willfulness! I have no patience with you!” And so on, until the two housemaids, bent over the green baize curtain being prepared for the theatre, furtively exchanged looks full of pity for the young lady between their furious stitches.
Poor, Fanny! Her heart is breaking! Sooo looking forward to reading this!
Connect with Lona
Today Lona generously brings with her ONE paperback copy (open to US residents) of A Contrary Wind and ONE ebook copy (open internationally) of A Contrary Wind for me to give away to TWO lucky winners!
To enter this giveaway, leave a question, a comment, or some love for Lona below!
- This giveaway is open worldwide (with some shipping restrictions). Thank you, Lona!
- This giveaway ends February 22nd!