Mansfield Revisited

Written by Joan Aiken
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

This welcome reprint of Joan Aiken’s 1984 sequel to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park tells the story of Fanny’s younger sister, Susan, whom we last met, aged fourteen, newly ensconced at Mansfield Park. It is four years later, and things have changed. Sir Thomas Bertram has died, and things are in disarray. Edmund and Fanny have gone to Antigua to sort out the estate there; Tom, now ‘Sir Thomas’ and head of the family, constantly snipes at Susan; and his sister Julia, now Mrs Yates, resents Susan’s continuing presence at Mansfield and doesn’t hesitate to make her views known.

Add a new (and single) rector and his charming widowed sister; the return of those notorious siblings, Mary and Henry Crawford; a delightfully bubbly heiress, Louisa Harley; and Susan’s brother William, newly promoted to captain, and the stage is set for an eventful summer.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Joan Aiken’s gives the story a fresh twist with a plausible explanation for Henry Crawford’s supposed perfidy in Mansfield Park which allows him to become a possible suitor for Susan. And the introduction of several lively new characters ensures that Mansfield Revisited is a stand-alone story.

Aiken also captures Jane Austen’s tone excellently; the language and vocabulary are exactly right, as are the touches of irony and humour. I loved the disastrous picnic, where Julia’s interference sent the picnic food to the wrong place; one of the guests got stuck in a bog; a sharp thunderstorm soaked them all, and Tom broke his arm being thrown by his untried horse. It’s a wonderful scene, where each person there reacts to the series of disasters in a way which illuminates his or her own character.

Girls of 12 plus should enjoy this book, which, with luck, will encourage them to read the real Jane Austen.