A Contrary Wind by Lona Manning Jane Austen is one of the most popular authors in English literature, and for that reason there have been a huge number of books and stories written that have been based on her work. These have ranged from the excellent to the shockingly bad. Lona Manning’s A Contrary Wind falls firmly in the excellent category. A Contrary Wind picks up the story of Mansfield Park at the point which Fanny, her cousins, the Crawfords, and Mr Rushworth and Mr Yates are putting on a performance of Lovers’ Vows whilst her uncle is away. In Austen’s original Mansfield Park, Fanny’s uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, returns before the play can be performed and puts a stop to proceedings. In A Contrary Wind, Manning imagines what might have happened had Sir Thomas not returned and derailed the party’s plans. As the book continues this sees Fanny take hold of her independence and become a governess – leaving Mansfield Park and the demands of her Aunt Norris behind. Naturally this causes some members of the family to resent her for what is seen as ingratitude after all they feel they have done for her (aside from making her feel like a second class citizen within her own ‘home’), but nevertheless, Fanny forges ahead with her new life. For those Austen readers who consider Fanny Price to be too insipid and too timid to be a heroine whom they like, the more spirited side of Fanny Price shown in (more…)
By Lona Manning
A group of young people, passing the rainy weeks of autumn together in “a dull country house,” decide to entertain themselves by staging a play. So what’s so wrong about that, as the critic Lionel Trilling asks rhetorically in his 1954 essay?
The characters in Jane Austen’s great novel, Mansfield Park, devote a great deal of time to debating the question. The play chosen, Lovers’ Vows, is a real play, and Austen could have relied on the fact that her contemporary readers would be familiar with this play. A greater understanding of the play, and of the social milieu of Mansfield Park, will help modern readers understand why the novel’s hero and heroine — Edmund Bertram and his meek cousin Fanny Price — thought that yes, there was plenty wrong about that.
Lovers’ Vows has two storylines – one melodramatic and one comic. Frederick, a young soldier returning home, encounters his mother starving by the roadside. He also learns to his horror that he is illegitimate, and his father is the long-absent Baron Wildenhaim. A kindly local peasant, or Cottager, and his wife take his mother under their roof. Frederick accosts his father and is thrown in prison but matters are eventually sorted out and the remorseful Baron marries Agatha. Meanwhile, the Baron’s legitimate daughter, Amelia, is the lead in the comic storyline. She flirtatiously woos her tutor, the preacher Anhalt, while fending off a marriage proposal from Count Cassel. The entire action is commented on, in rhyming verse, by the Butler, another comic character.
In other words, the themes of Lovers’ Vows (in the original German, the play was called The Love Child) are extra-marital sex and seduction, albeit where sinners repent and Virtue triumphs in the end. Fanny thinks the two female leads, Agatha and Amelia, are “totally improper for home representation—the situation of one, and the language of the other, [are] unfit to be expressed by any woman of modesty.”