Thursday, 13 May 2010

Setting the tone - Austen again

About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income. All Huntingdon exclaimed on the greatness of the match, and her uncle, the lawyer, himself, allowed her to be at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it. She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation, and her father hoped that the eldest daughter's match would set matters in a fair train for the younger. But, though she possessed no less a fortune, Miss Julia's features were rather plain than handsome, and in consequence the neighbourhood was united in its conviction that there would not be such another great match to distinguish the Ward family.
This is the opening paragraph of Murder at Mansfield Park - I hope it whets your appetite!

I've only read the first chapter, but this shows promise, I think, and I have high hopes. Lynn Shepherd has caught the tone of an Austen novel well - she says that the biggest difference is that she includes more dialogue than Austen would do, a change which ought to be largely imperceptible to the modern reader. I'm glad I read this, though, because it saves me a quibble:
I did make one conscious compromise though, and that was with ‘stepson’. In my novel Edmund is Mrs Norris’ stepson, but Austen would have referred to him as her ‘son-in-law’. That usage has fallen so far out of favour now that it would have been downright confusing for a modern reader, so I kept to stepson (which was used in Austen’s time, even if not by her).
Oddly, my stepfather, who is somewhat old-fashioned, uses the phrase "daughter-in-law" to describe me: this is quite unconscious and not an affectation, but he's the only person I know who keeps to the former usage. I must admit to some trepidation about the changed roles and relationships at Mansfield Park, but Fanny Price is a long way from being most people's favourite heroine. I do hope Mrs Norris is still hateful, though!

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