One From the Archive: ‘Mansfield Revisited’ by Joan Aiken ***

In Mansfield Revisited, a novel which was first published in 1984, prolific author Joan Aiken has presented a sequel to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.  Aiken writes in her introduction that she decided to write this book – one of the six sequels which she penned for each of Austen’s novels – out of ‘love and admiration’.  She goes on to say that she found herself ‘filled with an overmastering wish to find out what happened’ to the characters whom she had come to love.

‘Mansfield Revisited’ by Joan Aiken (Jonathan Cape)

The blurb of the novel is intriguing: “After the sad demise of Sir Thomas, Edmund Bertram and his new wife Fanny must sail to the West Indies to oversee the family’s affairs.  Back at Mansfield Park, Fanny’s younger sister Susan is left at the helm…  Yet the news of Henry and Mary Crawford’s return to Mansfield heralds the greatest storm yet”.

Aiken describes the way in which she has tried to work out the story of the sequel ‘by a mixture of imagination and common sense’.  Fanny and Edmund are now the parents of a ‘remarkably pretty little girl’, Mary, and a baby boy named William.  For some reason which appears to be rather inexplicable to the modern reader, baby William is taken along to the West Indies, but three-year-old Mary is left at home.

Throughout, it feels as though Aiken has adopted Austen’s tone and narrative style well.  Her dialogue wonderfully echoes that which can be found within the original novel.  The period setting has been well evoked.  The definite strength of the book as far as I am concerned is the continuation of Austen’s voice.  If it were read back to back with the original, I imagine that one book would seamlessly blend into the other, creating a coherent whole of sorts.

This does have a drawback, however.  It feels as though, by echoing Austen’s style so well, Aiken has put little of her own individual stamp onto the book.  Whilst it is clear that she is a great mimic, we do not get any real sense of her own writing.

Mansfield Revisited, as any reader of Austen’s novels would come to expect, is a very familial story.  The entirety is thicker in terms of dialogue and character development than in its plot.  The story moves on well and is believable throughout.  The novel is delightfully of the period in question, and is certain to hold appeal for all of those who so enjoyed Austen’s original.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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