I usually post about Pride and Prejudice and North and South fan fiction because those are the books closest to my heart, but I know that my readers love all things Jane Austen, so today I bring you an excerpt of A Contrary Wind, a Mansfield Park variation from debut author Lona Manning.
Lona Manning is currently teaching English in China and has written “The Hurricane Hoax”, “The Murder of Madalyn Murray O’Hair” and other true-crime articles available at True Crime Magazine, but her love for Jane Austen made her venture into JAFF with a different take at Mansfield Park.
I hope you like the excerpt and please do not miss the opportunity to win a copy of this book by commenting this post 🙂
What if Fanny Price, the meek and docile heroine of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park,ran away from home? What if Fanny could no longer endure living with the Bertrams? What if she could not bear to watch Edmund fall in love with Mary Crawford?
In Lona Manning’s debut novel, Fanny Price is given an opportunity to change and grow, to learn and to make mistakes; while Edmund Bertram’s fascination with Mary Crawford, and Henry Crawford’s efforts to avoid matrimony, lead to completely different outcomes than in Jane Austen’s masterpiece.
All of the familiar characters from Mansfield Park are included, and many – such as Mrs. Norris and little Betsey Price – help drive the plot. New characters, such as the brusque but kindly widow, Mrs. Butters, and the impecunious but charming writer, William Gibson, are involved with the movement to abolish slavery. Real characters from history – politicians, writers, and sea captains, join the story and there are even some cameo appearances from characters in other Austen novels.
The text employs many of the techniques which made Jane Austen so popular – dialogue in which each character speaks in their own unique voice, free indirect style of narration, Johnsonian cadences, and some snark.
A Contrary Wind differs from Mansfield Park in that not all the scenes involving sex occur off-stage and instead of having “[t]hree or four families in a country village,” the action moves from Mansfield Park, to Bristol, London, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and the coast of Africa, where young Lieutenant William Price fights the slave trade as part of the West Africa Squadron.
“Like many Jane Austen fans, I’ve wished that Austen had written more than six novels,” says Manning. “’A Contrary Wind’ is my homage to Austen, and a bit of a “what if” scenario. I really loved working with the unforgettable characters Jane Austen created, such as Henry and Mary Crawford and Mrs. Norris, while adding a few new characters of my own.”
The grandfather clock in the front hall struck eleven, then midnight, and Fanny still lay awake in her narrow bed, unable to console herself. As miserable as her present circumstances were, the future offered no hope of improvement.
At an age when most young ladies were beginning to seriously contemplate matrimony, she had already formed the resolution that she would never enter the state; it was impossible that she would ever meet another man who could be the equal of Edmund Bertram. She rejected with contempt the idea of marrying for money, and in her humility she could not conceive of receiving an offer from one who esteemed her well enough to overlook her lack of a dowry. Settling with her family in Portsmouth appeared to be as equally out of the question as finding a husband. Her parents had never, in the course of her nearly ten years’ absence, expressed the wish that she return to them.
Fanny’s visions of her own future had all centered on a plan concocted with her older brother William – namely, that they would one day live in a little cottage and she would keep house for him when he retired from the Navy. But what was she to do until then? Her cousins had paid little regard to her over the years, but how empty the great house would seem when Maria and Julia married and formed their own establishments. Tom was abroad more than at home and Edmund would remove to Thornton Lacey after his ordination. She would be left behind to grow old in the service of her aunts. A long twilight existence, fetching and carrying for Aunt Bertram and bearing Aunt Norris’ slights and insults in silence, stretched ahead of her. She might have to endure ten, fifteen, twenty years of such a life before she could retire to a cottage with her brother.
And could she truly rely upon this solace, at long last? Although marriage formed no part of her brother’s plans at twenty, could she expect him to regard the state with the same indifference at five or eight-and-twenty? What if William did marry, and his wife had no wish to be encumbered by a maiden sister? And whether in Mansfield, Portsmouth or her brother’s cottage, was she not dependent upon the charity of others for every mouthful she ate and every thread upon her back? Were her comings and goings to be entirely at the command of others, her own preferences never consulted?
As Fanny tossed and turned for the hundredth time that long night, a new unbidden resolution suggested itself to her – you are acquainted with one independent gentlewoman who earned her own bread.
Your own governess, Miss Lee.
Why should you not do the same?
The following morning, Fanny escaped to the East Room after a half-eaten breakfast to ask herself how the thoughts she’d entertained the previous night appeared to her in the judicious light of morning.
The East Room had once been the school-room and had sat empty after the departure of their governess. It was now used solely by Fanny, the smallness of her own bedchamber making the use of the other so evidently reasonable, and Mrs. Norris, having stipulated for there never being a fire in it on Fanny’s account, was tolerably resigned to her having the use of what nobody else wanted.
The aspect was so favourable that even without a fire it was habitable in many an early spring and late autumn morning to such a willing mind as Fanny’s. The comfort of it in her hours of leisure was extreme. She could go there after anything unpleasant below, and find immediate consolation in some pursuit, or some train of thought at hand. Her plants, her books—of which she had been a collector from the first hour of her commanding a shilling—her writing-desk, and her works of charity and ingenuity, were all within her reach.
To this nest of comforts Fanny now walked down to try its influence on an agitated, doubting spirit. Could she, Fanny, take a position as governess? Of caring for children, she had had much experience. As the eldest daughter of a family of ten, she had been important as playfellow, instructress, and nurse until sent away to live with her uncle and aunt.
In the ordinary course of events, gentlewomen only became governesses out of necessity. It was the last resort of the genteel but poor. It was a position entered upon with resignation at best, despair and resentment at worst, by widows and orphans, by persons whose expectations had been dashed and whose hopes had been overthrown – it was not to be wondered at that governesses and their faults were dwelt upon with much energy by ladies on their morning visits throughout the kingdom. While it was possible that some governesses become honoured and beloved members of the family, Fanny only knew that the profession never wore a happy face in any novel she had picked up.
Fanny paced unceasingly around the old work table, greatly agitated at her own audacity for even entertaining such ideas as now entered her head. She attempted to recollect, as best she might, any remarks dropped by Miss Lee concerning her opinions of the profession. But Miss Lee had been of a taciturn and formal disposition, a quality that recommended her to Sir Thomas, but was ill-suited for arousing lasting feelings of affection or confidence from her pupils.
Fanny had first met Miss Lee upon coming to Mansfield when she was but ten years old, and for many months was afraid of her, though anxious to win her approbation. The governess’s biting remarks upon Fanny’s backwardness, ignorance and awkward ways had often brought Fanny to tears. Almost a year passed before Miss Lee had realized that of her three pupils – Maria, Julia and Fanny – only Fanny loved learning for learning’s sake; only her timidity before the others prevented her from showing that she had memorized every textbook laid before her, and thenceforward Miss Lee was more encouraging.
Maria and Julia were overjoyed to be released from the schoolroom upon turning seventeen, while Fanny, the youngest, continued for another year, sitting with Miss Lee for several hours every morning, studying French, geography and natural history, or walking the grounds of the park to collect botanical samples.
Although Miss Lee had less to do as a governess when she had only one pupil, she was required to devote her afternoons and many evenings to attending on Lady Bertram.
When Miss Lee was at last discharged from Mansfield Park, Fanny was old enough to supply her place as Lady Bertram’s errand-runner and cribbage partner. Fanny wondered whether these tasks were rendered less irksome to Miss Lee by the knowledge that she was paid for performing them. Would living amongst strangers be preferable to living with her cousins, if she received a salary, however small, rather than paying for her bread and board with the coinage of duty, submission and gratitude?
A tap at the door roused her and her eyes brightened at the sight of Edmund. They had not spoken since Aunt Norris’s cruel rebuke of the night before, and Fanny, her colour rising, anticipated the unlooked-for joy of a private conference with Edmund, in which he would declare his indignation at their aunt, and assure her of his esteem and regard. But no, it was the play, and worse, it was Miss Crawford, that occupied Edmund’s thoughts and occasioned this rare, this precious conversation.
“This acting scheme gets worse and worse, you see. They have chosen almost as bad a play as they could, and now, to complete the business, are going to ask the help of a young man very slightly known to any of us. This is the end of all the privacy and propriety which was talked about at first. I know no harm of Charles Maddox; but the excessive intimacy which must spring from his being admitted among us in this manner is highly objectionable, the more than intimacy—the familiarity.”
He came to the East room, he said, for her ‘advice and opinion,’ but a very few moments made it clear to Fanny that he had already made up his mind – he would yield – he would take the part of Anhalt himself rather than see a stranger admitted on such intimate terms. “Put yourself in Miss Crawford’s place, Fanny. Consider what it would be to act Amelia with a stranger.”
Fanny protested, “I am sorry for Miss Crawford, but I am more sorry to see you drawn in to do what you had resolved against, and what you are known to think will be disagreeable to my uncle. It will be such a triumph to the others!”
“They will not have much cause of triumph when they see how infamously I act,” Edmund responded drily, adding that he hoped, by yielding in this fashion, to persuade the others to keep the theatricals private and not involve any others in the neighbourhood, either as performers or audience. “Will not this be worth gaining?”
“Yes, it will be a great point,” Fanny said reluctantly. Then Edmund did, finally, refer to her humiliation of the previous night, but only as a further reason to yield to Miss Crawford and take the part of Anhalt, for: “She never appeared more amiable than in her behaviour to you last night. It gave her a very strong claim on my goodwill.”
At this, Fanny could scarcely speak, and Edmund was only too willing to interpret her silence as consent.
He smiled, he spent a few moments looking over her little library with her, when he was clearly eager to be gone, to walk down to the Parsonage and convey his change of sentiments to Miss Crawford. Then he was gone, entirely insensible of the pain he had inflicted.
Had either circumstance – Aunt Norris’ insult or this fresh proof of Edmund’s infatuation – occurred separately, Fanny would surely have spent her morning weeping. But occurring within twelve hours of each other, the absolute misery of the whole was so stupefying that she could no longer weep and, resolving within herself that she would weep no more, Fanny jumped up from her seat and slipped downstairs to the breakfast room, unobserved by anyone.
Lady Bertram kept her recent correspondence in an elegant little desk there. All of Lady Bertram’s acquaintance, including Miss Lee, had received a note from her Ladyship hinting at the engagement of her eldest daughter to the richest landowner in the county – and the former governess, Fanny knew, had recently replied, wishing her one-time pupil every happiness. The note was postmarked from Bristol, where Miss Lee’s latest employers resided.
With a rapidly beating heart, Fanny retraced her steps to the East Room where she composed a letter to Miss Lee, imploring her to keep her secret for now, and asking her advice on whether she thought her last pupil at Mansfield Park might be suited to be a governess. No sooner had she sealed her letter than she was summoned to walk into town on an errand for her Aunt Norris, which happily afforded her the opportunity to visit the village post office without the letter passing through the hands of servants at the Park.
She passed by Dr. and Mrs. Grant’s home on the way to the village, and she could hear the lovely rippling strains of harp music issuing from the sitting room. Miss Crawford was entertaining her cousin Edmund. With tear-filled eyes, Fanny hurried past the parsonage, followed by the faint sounds of Edmund laughing in response to something witty Mary Crawford had said.
Hello. I was born in South Korea a few years after the Korean War. My father taught library science at Yonsei University. And — being from the American South, he also taught his students how to do the Virginia Reel. My mother fostered Korean war orphan babies.
My folks returned to the United States in the early 60’s and were active in the civil rights movement. We always had the kind of house that was filled with books and magazines. Our family (with six kids by then) moved to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, in 1967. Then we had a house filled with books, magazines, and war objectors playing guitar and singing “Where have all the flowers gone.”
I put myself through university in Vancouver. Over the years, I’ve been a home care aide, legal secretary, political speech writer, office manager, and vocational instructor. Mainly I worked in non-profit administration until suddenly deciding (in my late 50’s) to get an ESL teaching certificate. So most recently I’ve been teaching English in China. My husband Ross and I raised two boys; one is now a computer programmer and the other is finishing law school.
Although I have not written much in recent years, I have authored several lengthy non-fiction pieces about notable American crimes, such as: the murder of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the Lindbergh kidnapping, the 1920 Wall Street bombing, the satanic ritual moral panic of the 90’s, and the Rubin Hurricane Carter case. These articles have been cited in over a dozen books and been used in secondary school and university courses [for example, Sam Houston University, University of Missouri-Kansas City] My article about O’Hair was used in a course on the history of atheism at the Center for American Studies at Heidelberg University. My Wall Street bombing article was referenced in a New York City Law Journal Review article.
Last spring, after a long silence, my Muse showed up and started writing this book in my head.
Hobbies, interests, passions and peeves: I’ve sung in a number of bands and choirs, most recently the Kelowna International Choir. My husband and I love to travel around Asia. I get buggy when people use possessive apostrophes when they really mean plural, as in “apple’s for sale.”
Lona Manning would like to offer my readers two copies of A Contrary Wind, a paperback and an ebook.
To participate in the giveaway all you have to do is comment on this post and share your thoughts with us.
The giveaway is international and is open until the 8th of March. The winners will be announced shortly after that. I would hate to see winners of the book miss their chances to receive it, so in order not to miss the announcement, please visit the blog after the 8th or follow it to guarantee you receive an e-mail notification with each post that is published, including the giveaway announcements.
Good luck everyone!