Title: As the Starling Said (long version)
Pairing: Mary Crawford/Maria Rushworth
Fandom: Jane Austen - Mansfield Park
Summary: Let other pens dwell on Edmund/Fanny. This is Mary/Maria, in the disagreeable aftermath of Mary/Edmund and Maria/Henry.
Much thanks to reviewers, and to hafital for her rec. :D
If the pairing isn't your cup of tea at all, here's a cut-down gen version of this story (posted when I'd despaired of getting the long version to work out in time for Yuletide's deadline).
Title: As the Starling Said
Summary: Maria is an ex-Rushworth, and Mary is almost purely helpful.
And I did start a Yuletide-writing diary, but it degenerated to cryptic notes and died entirely towards early December, when I got busy. I'll try again next year. Meanwhile, here's the tale of how this story came to be.
Mansfield Park Ate My Brain
Well, I'd never offered to write in any Jane Austen 'verse for Yuletide before, but this time I felt up to the challenge of attempting to fake Austenese, so what the hell - I went with Mansfield Park. I was prepared to write any pairing or theme within it, except Edmund/Henry - only because there was this really good story a few Yuletides ago which I found totally satisfying for that pairing, and I have nothing to add there except "Yay, what she said." (Regrets and Reminiscences by afrai)
I also remember freaking out just a tad while awaiting assignments in November, since I'd offered "Any" in other fandoms - including Julian May's Exiles/Milieu series, with its cast of thousands - and then I was all "OMG, what have I done?" - but then the MP request arrived, and I just squeed and dived into Austen for the next month.
Started out by letting my mind roam and jotting down the bunnies, as I looked over the canon and watched my old VHS tapes of the 1983 BBC version (which I love with a geeky passion, gravel-crunching and all, despite justifiable critical remarks). FYI, animegirlUK has posted several YouTube clips, including: Mrs. Norris is Cruel to Fanny and Mr. Crawford & Maria at the Gate.
At first I thought I'd go with Mary/Fanny as the pairing for my story. Recipient also expressed interest in a critical reading of Edmund/Fanny ("All that stuff about him forming her character. I'd love a fic that interrogated this dynamic.") - and I thought I could work this in, somehow. Lots of things to pick at in that mentor-lover setup. Got some insight from a book called Austen, Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and the Mentor-Lover by Patricia Menon, who advises looking closely at exactly what's happening in Fanny-Edmund conversations (pp. 58-59):
But Austen suggests that Edmund has acquired some of his father's conventionality and emotional blindness, as capable as everyone else of expecting Fanny to adjust with ease to her new life until he is forced into awareness by finding her crying. From the beginning, he establishes a pattern that is to be a constant in their relationship. He attempts to shape her responses for her, simplifies the causes of her misery to fit the orthodox terms he expects, and then, ostensibly for her own good, gently gives a conventional reason to behave as the family desires while falsifying their feelings out of a convenient blindness:In their first conversation, Fanny isn't crying for Mama at all (despite what Edmund tells her she must be feeling); what she misses is her familiar world, her central place and role among her siblings, and William. Made me think about what Fanny really wants - what is happiness, for her? - not just "marriage to Edmund," but being loved and valued by a group, feeling useful and appreciated. Another book-quote expresses this well (General Consent in Jane Austen: a Study of Dialogism, by Barbara Karolina Seeber, p. 113):
"You are sorry to leave Mama, my dear little Fanny," said he, "which shows you to be a very good girl; but you must remember that you are with relations and friends, who all love you, and wish to make you happy."
That this is no isolated response is clear when Austen provides a later parallel in the less forgivable advice he offers Fanny when she is fifteen and expected to move to the home of the newly widowed Mrs Norris. Fanny, "in distress," tells him of the shocking news: "Well, Fanny, and if the plan were not unpleasant to you, I should call it an excellent one." In a lengthy series of justifications, Edmund shows he is as gullible as his father in thinking that his aunt will take Fanny on. Worse still, he is either capable of deceiving himself about his aunt's character and the benefits to Fanny from the scheme, or of lying to his cousin, instead of attempting to protect her from the future she dreads.
The action of Mansfield Park might be summarized as a drama of shifting perceptions about the meanings people hold for one another. Of course Fanny's meanings, for others and for herself, change most radically. Her Portsmouth fantasy - "in the centre of such a circle, loved by so many, and more loved by all than she had ever been before" - economically defines her desire: not for the love of one man alone, but for the love of "all," a position at the center of a circle of affection. A situation, in short, of power as well as of intimacy. The circle of which she becomes the center exists at Mansfield Park, not in Portsmouth.And that led me on to think about young Fanny's mother-figures and female role-models - she has three, and they all suck! Poor girl, brought up by the ex-Ward sisters. :( Good article on this: The Many-Mothered, Motherless Fanny Price by Elvira Casal (Persuasions 2006).
Though she probably owes Mrs. Norris more than she owes either of her other two mother-figures, Fanny cannot feel love for her Aunt Norris - "not even when she was gone for ever." Neither recognizes the similarities between them. Both are outsiders who make themselves insiders. Both are preoccupied with being useful, with justifying their place at Mansfield Park through their usefulness. Though Mrs. Norris does not have Fanny's empathy, Fanny is like Mrs. Norris in the pleasure that she takes in seeing herself as the comforter and support of others... Both like to project themselves into the role of comforter even when it means thinking of misfortune for those they love. Fanny's desire to be useful is neither as shallow nor as self-serving as Mrs. Norris's, but there is more of a similarity between the two than is immediately apparent... Ironically, the similarities between Fanny and Mrs. Norris only contribute to the distance between them. Having never experienced any warmth or kindness from this aunt, Fanny cannot love her, and Mrs. Norris to the very end sees Fanny as a threat rather than as an adopted daughter.Although 99% of what Mrs. Norris says is hypocritical bullshit, she is Fanny's most important role-model for several years, and Fanny has to keep hearing these Norris-speeches - which do present her with some sort of behavior-ideal to aim for. I think Fanny ends up trying to live what Mrs. Norris only says as a cover-story; Fanny aims to walk the walk, with all that stuff about being of use and living for others.
How successfully? Well, she's only 18 in the main story, and I think Austen often sends her up for being so young and earnest and naive, much like Catherine Morland. The Fanny Price character is a very realistic teenaged girl and abused child. Casualty of dreadful parenting. Imprints on Edmund like a duckling. And when she's placed under lots of extra stress, the book gives a fascinating and mega-detailed account of how Fanny struggles to keep her secret from everyone else, while aiming for clarity in her own thinking and control over her emotions (hurt, anger, jealousy) and sexuality - failing repeatedly, resorting to Norris-patterns of self-reassurance and self-deception, picked up from her main role-model over the years. (Compare Fanny's "if she were forgotten, the poor mare should be remembered" with Mrs. Norris's "You know how I always feel for the horses.") Extra yay here for this bit of reading, really helped me keep track of what's going on in Fanny's head: Chapter 3, "On Being Un/reasonable: Mansfield Park and the Limits of Persuasion" in Ethics and the English Novel from Austen to Forster by Valerie Wainwright.
If the alternate title for P&P was First Impressions, the alternate title for MP could be Wishful Thinking - oh, let me count the ways! O.o Every single character is into denial of whatever doesn't fit in with what they want to believe. MP: Austen's catalogue of self-deception varieties.
So, getting back to McTabby's "How I Spent My Yuletide" essay - there I was in the second half of November, reading all kinds of Austen-crit, while trying my hand at writing Austenese with a few drafts of what I intended as a short Mary/Fanny fic, possibly expandable into a "Five Things" story - since I had a number of AU bunnies stored up. November 22 notes are all about King Lear readings of MP - found some good articles on that - and there's the bunny about taking the Lear theme to its logical conclusion: a "rocks fall, everyone dies" dark parody. Fanny's line: "the greatest blessing to every one of kindred with Mrs. Rushworth would be instant annihilation." What if something overheard Fanny's wish and granted it? AU: Fanny catches a chill and dies in Portsmouth, just as all hell breaks loose in the Bertram family. Edmund brings her corpse back to Mansfield. Sir Thomas does King Lear's speech and drops dead. Maria poisons Julia, then hangs herself from the gate at Sotherton. Mrs. Norris dies of food poisoning after eating a Sotherton pheasant; she is found wrapped up in a green baize curtain. Everyone forgets Lady Bertram, who starves on the sofa and gets gnawed on by Pug. Only Edmund survives, to marry one of the Miss Owens.
The Mary/Fanny (wrapped in Amelia/Anhalt, Mary/Edmund, Fanny/Edmund) was based on book-canon for the Lovers' Vows rehearsal scene.
Eeeww, Lovers' Vows. Gaaahh. *facepalms* Some creative works just don't travel well across two centuries. (Pause to wonder what the readers of 2208 will make of Twilight.) I read it (online here), I couldn't bring myself to read the whole thing again, but I copied the Amelia/Anhalt bit from Act III, Scene II into a separate file and started playing with it. Under the trashiness there's pure gold: the delight of seeing what Austen did with it.
In MP's East room rehearsal scene, the LV dialogue turns into funhouse mirrors - especially while Mary has Fanny standing in for Edmund, reading Anhalt's lines; things actually turn simpler once Edmund walks in on them and starts acting Anhalt himself.
Both the 1983 series and the 1999 movie alter the East room scene, leaving out the part where Mary rehearses alone with Fanny. In the 1983 series, Mary suggests doing so and they're just about to start when Edmund comes in; then Fanny watches Mary and Edmund rehearsing. In the 1999 movie, Edmund watches Mary and Fanny, and the story is changed so that he doesn't agree to play Anhalt until after he's seen Mary embracing Fanny; so it ends up being a case of one woman using another woman to put on a show for the male gaze, with the aim of manipulating the man - and that's said to be a "lesbian" bit, and I just wasn't going there. (Haven't seen the 2007 version; sounds like history_spork material.) I was trying to do something strictly book-canon.
Mansfield Park: The SoundtrackYeah, and I had moments of making silly lists. :D
Fanny Price - Holding Out For A Hero
Edmund Bertram - Hallelujah
Henry Crawford - Black Tangled Heart
Mary Crawford - Material Girl
Sir Thomas Bertram - I've Got The Power
Lady Bertram - Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
Maria Bertram - I Want To Break Free
Julia Bertram - You Got Nothing I Want
Tom Bertram - Always Look On the Bright Side of Life
Mrs. Norris - Nothing Sweet About Me
William Price - In The Navy
Mrs. Price - Lady Madonna
Susan Price - Shiny, Shiny
Mr. Rushworth - I Can't Decide
Hon. John Yates - What's My Scene
But what of the Austenese? Oooh, it's hard! I know I write like a snail, usually, but the Austen-imitation slowed me down even further! More like glacier-speed. At least the umpteen attempts at Mary/Fanny were good practice.
In the first week of December, I threw up my hands and *headdesk*ed at Mary/Fanny. The more I got into it, the more I felt like I didn't have a satisfactory grasp of Fanny as a character (still don't). Besides, Recipient's DYW letter was pretty emphatic about not wanting any dub/non-con at all; and the way these characters were playing in my head, I felt I couldn't promise that this pairing wouldn't stray over there (it's Fanny Price, dammit - her whole life is dub-con). If I let the story run on, there would be a collision between the two women that ripped up a lot of shiny illusions and released monsters; it might be an interesting angsty darkfic in some ways, but - um, Yuletide gift-fic. I was nervous about Recipient hating it.
Went back to my original list of assorted bunnies, and found this in my November 13 notes: Random thought: maybe I shouldn't go past the Mary/Maria option. What about just after Maria gives up hope of marrying Henry and leaves him, but before she gets sent away with Mrs Norris? So that's how I switched pairings, two weeks before Yuletide deadline. *facepalms*
Could have been even stranger, I guess - look at my notes from November 14: So I was staying up late and really busy, and the bunnies kept happening, until I reached the 4 a.m. stage when anything and everything seems to give me the giggles - and I'd scrolled through far too many Austen summaries at FF.net (Darcy and Elizabeth on the Titanic? yes, really) and I started thinking of Fanny Price getting her Hogwarts letter... Fanny, Warrior Princess... Fanny the Nanny... Fanny the Vampire Slayer... Fanny carrying the One Ring to Mount Doom... Fanny meeting a talking frog: "My name's Henry, all you have to do is kiss me!" ...Fanny/Luna, Fanny/Fox Mulder, Fanny/Napoleon Dynamite... At that point I think I fell asleep, still snickering.
This was never going to be a sweet romantic fic. Both characters are perfectly capable of being self-centered bitches, among other things; Mary's a Slytherin, and I suspect Maria is Gryffindor at heart; and they're both in a lot of pain, with any encounter between them overshadowed by their failed relationships with each other's brothers - and the whole situation is all screwed up and ghastly. That's the "guilt and misery" for other pens, I guess; sometimes it seems like the ending of MP is like the ending of Terry Gilliam's Brazil - a dream/delusion that Fanny (Edmund? Sir Thomas?) experiences, while external reality might be quite different.
So I had this initial image of Maria turning up on Mary's doorstep - well, Lady Stornaway's doorstep - two or three months after the trainwreck at the end of MP. Decided that Mary's firmly in denial about Edmund Bertram's exit being final, and has spent the summer waiting for him to come crawling back, while spinning castles in the air about what being his wife would be like. Meanwhile, Maria and Henry are making each other's life hell, until Maria cracks and walks out on him - and turns up on Mary's doorstep because the first people she approaches refuse to let her into their house.
*looks at fic, blinks* Hey, did I produce a Maiden-Mother-Crone scene at the end there? (Mary, Maria, Mrs. Norris) Just noticed that. Heh. Damn archetypes! :D
And then came the flailing. Deadline looming, fic partly written - up to Maria's arrival and the first verbal clash between her and Mary; rest of fic outlined, some of it drafted, but other parts terribly fuzzy - two transitions/scenes that I still couldn't work out how to handle; and still writing too slowly, aaargh! Bloody Austenese! And that's when I cut the fic, wrapping it up after Maria's arrival; had time to read over and polish a bit, before uploading on December 20. (State of mind at the time is quite accurately depicted in my brain eaten LJ post: Words, words, all bfknz$@#ppp?)
I blame the immediate absence of Yuletide Deadline StressPanicShit, and the much-needed good night's sleep, for the next day's epiphany about how to handle the rest of the fic. *facepalms* Suddenly it all seemed perfectly obvious - and I kicked myself in the arse repeatedly to produce faster Austenese, and wrote nearly 5,000 words in the next three days - uploading before the archive went live. Hurrah! Another good night's sleep followed, and then I was ready to wait for Yuletide-reading-frenzy with everyone else.
A note on the Vanity Fair allusions, and Mary looking at Jane Austen novels: that was me free-associating on the basis of preferences expressed in Recipient's DYW letter ("cameos from characters in other books of the same period, (alternately) characters reading other books from the same period"); still couldn't make myself develop a fondness for Wordsworth, though. And okay, Vanity Fair isn't strictly from the same period, but at least it's set in the same period, and it was one of Recipient's other requests.
And here's my As the Starling Said writing playlist (looping for hours as background for the Austenese):
Driven Like the Snow (Sisters of Mercy)
Sweetest Perfection (Depeche Mode)
Burn (The Cure)
Bury Me Deep (Sisters of Mercy)
All Lined Up (Shriekback)
All I Ever Wanted (Depeche Mode)
Finally, have some links - serious, amusing, whatever. I've been collecting MP/Austen stuff all over the place for weeks, without being able to share! (Oh, the relief of being able to talk about Secret Fandom.)
There's crit that loves Edmund/Fanny and hates the Crawfords. There's crit that trashes Edmund/Fanny and loves the Crawfords - split into those who think Henry is redeemable but Mary isn't, and those who think Mary is redeemable but Henry isn't. And there is Mansfield Park fic of various kinds - at places such as Austen.com (home of Austen fanfic by the truckload, but no slash as far as I could tell). If you want a long, well-written redeemed!Henry AU, here's a rec: Everingham by Katharine T.
Mansfield Park blog, with assorted essays.
Between the Sheets: hilarious hypothetical takes on the sex lives of Edmund/Fanny, Wickham/Lydia, Robert/Lucy.
Fanny/Mary ficlet: untitled by iamisaac [PG]
Henry & William by Imogene Lovelace - short slash fic with the extremely rare (though not implausible) pairing of Henry Crawford/William Price.
Mansfield Park group read hosted by penster, April-May 2008
Classic Review: "Mansfield Park," Jane Austen, posted by AnimeJune in the Gossamer Obsessions blog, November 10, 2008. (Includes great script-form summary of MP plot.)
Mary: Oh, Edmund, I shouldn't love you because you're a worthless second son destined to be a poor, pious clergyman! And yet I do! Isn't that quaint?
Edmund: Aww! You're so cute when you say things that go completely against my personal beliefs! Want to ride my horse?
Fanny: *SO unimpressed*
Bailey, Alison. Moral Ambiguities in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Undergraduate thesis, Spring 2002.
Souter, Kay Torney. Jane Austen and the Reconsigned Child: the True Identity of Fanny Price. Persuasions, Annual 2001
Ray, Joan Klingel. Jane Austen's Case Study of Child Abuse: Fanny Price. Persuasions, No. 13, 1991, pp. 16-26
Cleere, Eileen. Reinvesting Nieces: Mansfield Park and the Economics of Endogamy. Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Winter 1995
Hall, Lynda A. Addressing Readerly Unease: Discovering the Gothic in Mansfield Park. Persuasions, Annual 2006
Eddleman, Stephanie M. Mad as the devil but smiling sweetly: Repressed Female Anger in Mansfield Park. Persuasions, Annual 2006
Duane, Anna Mae. Confusions of Guilt and Complications of Evil: hysteria and the high price of love at Mansfield Park. Studies in the Novel, Winter 2001
Burdan, Judith. Mansfield Park and the Question of Irony. Persuasions, Annual 2001
Fuller, Miriam Rheingold. Crawfords on the Couch: a psychoanalytical exploration of the effects of the "bad school" on Henry and Mary Crawford. Persuasions, Annual 2006
Ellwood, Gracia Fay. "Such a Dead Silence": Cultural Evil, Challenge, Deliberate Evil, and Metanoia in Mansfield Park. Persuasions On-Line, Vol. 24, No. 1, Winter 2003
Despotopoulou, Anna. Fanny's Gaze and the Construction of Feminine Space in Mansfield Park. The Modern Language Review, July 2004
Fullerton, Susannah. Jane Austen and Adultery. Persuasions, Annual 2002
Mann, Barbara Alice. "Your potion is unhappily so small": Jane Austen and the Dreadful Proposal. Persuasions, Annual 2002
Fanny is, at her happiest moments, merely a replacement for an actual family member. She acts the part of daughter/sister/lover - scripts given to her by the family itself - but in doing so, she is confined to maintaining the strict domestic guidelines that Edmund has taught her. Fanny is in many respects created out of the Bertram family's need to protect itself.
Lott, Anna. Staging a Lesson: the theatricals and proper conduct in Mansfield Park. Studies in the Novel, Fall 2006
Conger, Syndy McMillen. Reading Lovers' Vows: Reading Jane Austen's Reflections on English Sense and German Sensibility. British Women Playwrights around 1800, 15 January 2000
Fisher, Judith W. "Don't put your daughter on the stage, Lady B": talking about theatre in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Persuasions, Annual 2000
Ford, Susan Allen. "It is about Lovers' Vows": Kotzebue, Inchbald, and the Players of Mansfield Park. Persuasions On-Line, Vol. 27, No. 1
Gay, Penelope. Theatricals and Theatricality in Mansfield Park. Sydney Studies in English, Vol. 13, 1987 (.pdf)
Moody, Ellen. The Scene from Lovers' Vows: A Mirror of the Whole Novel, from Ellen Moody's Mansfield Park Commentaries
Nachumi, Nora. Seeing Double: theatrical spectatorship in Mansfield Park. Philological Quarterly, Summer 2001
Regis, Pamela. Vows in Mansfield Park: the promises of courtship. Persuasions, Annual 2006
Properly speaking Mansfield Park is a tragicomedy of moral cowardice. Mary Crawford is the true heroine; and Edmund is a hero only for Fanny, the heroine of the Mansfield standpoint only. The moment when Mary calls Edmund to come back, and he resists, fearing to be seduced (III, xvi, 459) is where he fails the test of his ordination decisively - and he knows this, even though he hides the awareness under his moral rationalizations.
Harris, Henry Silton. Not Said But Shown, Chapter 14: Fanny Price and Mary Crawford, p. 393 (.pdf)
Edmund may be a good man but only doubtfully so; good but only within certain conventional limits; tested beyond those limits he becomes something else. His goodness is of that limited (or doubtful) kind that has nothing of the creative about it. He can, as it were, keep things going but not renew them, repeat but not discover. He takes what he is given and hands it on unchanged, as something to be handed on (or back) unchanged again. So Fanny, wanting to keep him by her and away from Mary Crawford, gives back to him unchanged what he has given her unchanged from the book he got it from.
Saunders, Mick. Style and Character in Mansfield Park (.pdf)
Like the heroes of the Prince and Mandragola, Laclos's Valmont and Merteuil are morally ambiguous characters, with the power both to repel and attract. So too are Henry and Mary Crawford of Mansfield Park, whose dual ability to repulse and to captivate still produces intense interpretive controversy among readers of the novel. The creation of the Crawfords is the work of a master craftswoman: they are expertly and exquisitely drawn Machiavellian characters. Unlike Machiavelli and Laclos, however, Austen does not manipulate her readers into an alliance in crime with the Crawfords before they have the opportunity to be on guard. Rather, she forewarns her readers.
Sheehan, Colleen A. To Govern the Winds: Dangerous Acquaintances at Mansfield Park. Persuasions On-Line, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter 2004
Harris, H.R. Jane Austen's Venture Into Tragedy. Contemporary Review, June 1998 (all about Mansfield Park/King Lear parallels)
Ford, Susan Allen. "Intimate by Instinct": Mansfield Park and the Comedy of King Lear. Persuasions, Annual 2002
Harlan, Susan. "Talking" and Reading Shakespeare in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Wordsworth Circle, Winter-Spring 2008
Emsley, Sarah. The Tragic Action of Mansfield Park. Persuasions On-Line, Vol. 28, No. 1, Winter 2007
If you're still reading this, I salute you. *waves* And that's all, from me, on Mansfield Park! :D
The Reveal has also brought forth the names of the lovelies who wrote fic for me: wren_chan with A Tale of Two Princesses (the fabulously feline Alice in Wonderland/A Little Princess crossover), karrenia_rune with Working without a Net (Alice in Wonderland), and hhertzof with Coming Home (Little Women, Bess/Dan). Thanks again to all three, and I hope you had a fine Yuletide! :)