"MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER: A Season in Mansfield Park," by Candy Jones, William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 352 pages (f)
Life is better when reading a Jane Austen novel. But there are only six.
In “My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park,” author Cindy Jones opens a new door into Austen’s world. Not only does she provide a story overflowing with Austen themes and characters, she also uses Lily Berry, a modern equivalent of Austen’s Fanny Price, to explore what can happen when you take Jane Austen out of the books and make her your own.
Lily, like Fanny Price, is quiet and reserved. She has also seen her fair share of trials. Overwhelmed by the loss of her mother, her boyfriend and her job, she needs something bigger than her usual escape, literature, to forget her troubles. She wriggles her way into an acting job for a stage production of Austen’s “Mansfield Park” at an annual Austen festival in England.
As she leaves Texas she is determined to reinvent herself around strangers who do not know her past. However, she quickly learns that problems do not simply disappear no matter how far away you fly. In fact, they often multiply. With nowhere left to run, she is forced to learn about herself, about love and about life. And, with the help of friends, she begins to sort out her demons.
“My Jane Austen Summer” is packed with rich plot, detailed characters and elaborate settings. Jones not only exposes readers to the scholarly world of Jane Austen’s works, she weaves in explanations about everything from current literary criticism to the Janeites, Austen’s particularly devoted fans. It is a literary feast for Austen fans; especially those like Lily, who don’t know much about the books they love. Jones also includes a brief synopsis of “Mansfield Park” at the beginning for those who are unfamiliar with the story.
The jarring flaw and huge disappointment to “My Jane Austen Summer” is the morals. Lily and many other characters are involved in immoral behavior, dress immodestly and use vulgar language. In one particularly immoral scene, even Lily’s Jane Austen, who has been her constant — albeit imaginary — companion since her arrival at the festival, leaves. “Not her cup of tea, this,” Lily comments.
For those readers who not only treasure the stories and characters of Austen, but also the morals that were fundamental to them, “My Jane Austen Summer” will not be their cup of tea either.
Rachael Reynolds was introduced to Jane Austen by seeing Greta Garbo and Lawrence Olivier play Elizabeth and Darcy. Six novels, the Juvenilia and endless film versions later, Rachael still enjoys being a part of the conversation that Austen incites.