Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Catching Up With An Old Friend: Coralie Bickford-Smith on 1984 and Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Catching Up With An Old Friend is a series in which readers, authors, and other bookish people share their favorite books. Read more about the project or see all the past entries. To participate, e-mail

Today's favorite book is from Coralie Bickford-Smith, a senior cover designer at Penguin Books, where she has created several series designs. She studied typography at Reading University and has recently been sharing her experience with students at London College of Communication encouraging a sense of play in the process of design. Check out her web site for images of her lovely covers. [ Ed. note, the Attic Salt community loves Coralie's work, which we've talked about here and here.]

I first read 1984 in my English class at boarding school. You might be picturing Hogwarts, but this was a former military base with dilapidated Nissen huts for classrooms. In that environment, at a time when my life was constrained by rules and restrictions and I was finding it harder and harder to conform, the world of Airstrip One and Big Brother was easy to imagine and to identify with. I had that feeling many teenagers have of life being out of reach and of waiting for something to happen; knowing only my limited world but feeling there was something bigger beyond that I was yet to experience.

Like Winston Smith, I kept a diary that felt like my only outlet, a place to gather my thoughts and frustrations that I kept hidden and secret. Re-reading 1984 in later years, I'm taken back to those times, and the sense of savoring small freedoms - it's a feeling I still get sometimes, simple pleasures like being able to treat myself to some particular food. There are other details that really resonate as well, like the antiques shop. The way the artifacts are so well observed and described, and also cherished, reminds me of the way I collect, and the attention I give to my own collection of objects. I've never designed a cover for 1984 - that would be an exciting project, and a scary one too. If I nailed it though, I would read it again with my own cover; a dream I would never have thought possible first time around.

As a graphic designer and typographer, I have to mention a hugely inspirational book which I revisit often: William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. It's not one I often open to read, but the visionary illustrations still hold the same fascination for me as they did when I was a child. Blake's spirit of experimentation and his mastery of the entire book-creation process was a real inspiration, and this book held out the promise of the creative and imaginative world beyond the confines of school.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mansfield Park, Chapters 17-37

A lot has happened since we last checked in with our friends the Bertrams -- let’s do a quick recap of what’s happened in these last chapters. Plans for staging Lover's Vows progress and Edmund and Mary practice a scene in which they declare their love for each other. Fanny, forced to watch, is quite upset by this. Luckily for her, just as the dress rehearsal is about to begin, Sir Thomas returns home and shuts things down: he sends Yates away, chastises Mrs. Norris for allowing the play, and makes Mansfield Park a quieter place.

He's also not impressed with Rushworth and tells Maria that he will end the engagement for her, but Maria, upset that Henry Crawford has left Mansfield Park, decides to go ahead with it. She marries and takes Julia with her and Rushworth to Brighton. This leaves Fanny as the only girl at Mansfield Park, and she becomes friends with Mary Crawford. It's awkward, since Mary likes to talk about Edmund; things aren't too great between them, as Mary regularly mocks Edmund’s career path.

Things take an odd -- and almost unbelievable -- turn when Henry tells Mary that he is in love with Fanny, mostly because she is disinterested in him. He starts paying her more attention, sitting next to her while playing cards. William arrives for a visit, slowing Henry’s plans for courtship, but he’s a nice addition to the party at Mansfield Park.

While at dinner one night, Henry suggests changes that Edmund could make at Thornton Lacey (his soon to be parsonage) and wants to rent it. Edmund refuses, saying that he will soon occupy it himself. As William’s visit winds down, Sir Thomas decides to throw a ball for Fanny and William. Fanny wants to wear a cross that William gave her but has no chain. Mary gives her one, but as Fanny returns home with it, Edmund presents her with another chain, one she likes much better. Edmund tells Fanny to wear Mary’s chain and is excited that they both had the same idea. But at the ball, Mary is rude again. Otherwise, it’s fun, and William leaves the next day with Henry, who is taking him to meet his uncle, an admiral. Then Edmund leaves to take orders. When Henry returns he tells Mary that he is planning to propose to Fanny, which Mary thinks will help her chances with Edmund. Henry tells Fanny that he secured William a position of lieutenant thanks to his uncle and Fanny is thrilled. But when he proposes, Fanny shoots him down.

Henry asks Sir Thomas for help, who doesn’t understand why Fanny rejected him. Fanny won’t tell him about Henry’s flirtations with Maria and Julia, but Sir Thomas interprets that Fanny is in love with Edmund. Lady Bertram and Edmund tell Fanny she made a mistake, and everyone lets Henry hang around and woo Fanny. Finally the Crawfords are about to leave Mansfield Park, but before they leave Mary tells Fanny she erred and that the necklace she gave Fanny was actually a present from Henry. William comes back to visit, and everyone decides that he and Fanny should go visit their family. Sir Thomas thinks this visit will make her reconsider her refusal of Henry, but before she leaves Edmund tells her that he plans to propose to Mary.

So that’s where we leave the gang from Mansfield Park -- everyone is off on their travels, with under 100 pages left to wrap things up. I find this novel compelling because everyone is so unlikable -- Fanny is timid and awkward, Mary is shallow, Henry is a flirt, Edmund is in love with Mary for no reason, Mrs. Norris is a busybody, Lady Bertram is a hypochondriac, Sir Thomas is involved in the slave trade, etc. They’re not an admirable bunch, but Austen has crafted a compelling plot around them.

For starters, it’s racier than either Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice, and the un-staged play gave them a chance to start working through their feelings. Would Edmund and Mary be engaged right now if they had been able to declare their love for each other onstage? Ditto Henry and Maria? Perhaps.

We got a taste of the importance of marrying for love in Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins, but we haven’t seen such emphatic support for the idea until Fanny. Everyone tells her she’s making a mistake by not settling for Henry, and she’s told repeatedly that this is likely her one shot at marriage. But Fanny, recognizing that she would be incredibly unhappy, says no. She may be timid, but she deserves some credit here.

Austen gives us another hint about what Sir Thomas is up to in Antigua when Fanny asks him about the slave trade. Since there’s a debate over when the book takes place -- meaning this question could refer to either when Britain was still trading slaves or after. Though this means we don’t really know the exact context, I like how Mansfield Park acknowledges what else was going on in the world.

There’s more to discuss, but we can save it for the wrap-up post next week. Next week also kicks off reading Emma, which is going to be interesting for me -- it’s the only Austen novel I had read prior to this challenge. It was over 7 years ago, so I’m sure I’ll have some different thoughts on that.

Till next time, when you should have wrapped up Mansfield Park, what do you think of the novel and Fanny as a heroine?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Catching Up With An Old Friend: Dave Rosenthal on Coming into the Country

Catching Up With An Old Friend is a series in which readers, authors, and other bookish people share their favorite books. Read more about the project or see all the past entries. To participate, e-mail


Today's favorite book is from Dave Rosenthal, an editor at the Baltimore Sun, who supervises lifestyle coverage and topics such as health and the environment. He has been writing the Read Street blog for nearly two years, and has found that blogging about books means he has much less time to actually read books. Still, he enjoys it.


My favorite book is Coming into the Country by John McPhee. As a reader, I loved that the book took me to a place I had never been — Alaska — and made me understand important social, cultural and political currents running through the state. As a life-long journalist, I was impressed by his impeccable reporting — the detail that brought scenes and characters alive — and writing that was thoughtful without being flowery. (I’ve admired this in his other books, including The Pine Barrens.) When I finally got a chance to visit Alaska, I re-read the book and found that it was dead-on.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Men of Austen

Your regularly scheduled Austen update has been replaced by a fun link today. Why? Because today I turn an age that makes me older than any old maid in any Austen novel (actually, I'm still younger than Charlotte Lucas), so to celebrate that, we're going to look at a particularly amusing web site that Masterpiece Classic put together: The Men of Austen.

The site consists of "dating profiles" for all the men who appear in Austen's novels, along with photos of who played the gent in the BBC series. Below are a couple favorites, which you can click to enlarge.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: Yours Ever: People and Their Letters

To someone fond of the written word (and especially the hand-written word), Yours Ever: People and Their Letters should be a delight. Thomas Mallon, author of 2007's Fellow Travelers and other novels, has written a meditation on the (mostly) lost art of letter writing, and he explores what happened when people picked up a pen, or sat down at their typewriters, and composed thoughtful missives. What happened then was that the writer and recipient had a physical object worthy of saving, and they also had a written account of love, confession, war, or faith (four of the categories that Mallon files letters under). What happens now is that we're able to read these enduring accounts of the past and better understand what it was like to live then.

In the introduction, Mallon touches on the problems that e-mail poses to enduring intimate correspondence, but after the introduction, he uses snippets of letters to speak for themselves. It's clear from reading each chapter that most of the letters could ever have been sent as e-mail (or text messages). "Addictive gratifications have replaced the old, slow anticipation of the daily visit from the mailman," Mallon writes. But for all the virtues of letter-writing, while it's up to the letter-writer to pen something worth stashing away somewhere, it's up to the recipient to actually do that. Because of that, in some cases, only half-sides of correspondence exist, and Mallon pieces together the writer and recipient's relationship.

Some of the expected letter-writers are there -- Abelard and Heloise, George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell -- but Mallon digs deeper to fill the chapters with some surprising anecdotes. William Faulkner, newly arrived in New York, writes home that “things happen and then unhappen by the time I hear of them"; Scottie Fitzgerald pulls "checks and news" from her father's letters and then ignores the advice he penned within them (“Just do everything we didn’t do and you will be perfectly safe.”); Sullivan Ballou wrote to his wife right before going off to the Battle of Bull Run, which took his life.

But what should be a terrific read isn't one. Your Ever lacks a narrative drive, and the letters seem haphazardly linked, making reading this book trying at times. I wish that Mallon had printed the actual letters, as opposed to just snippets of them, to let the letters do the heavy lifting. Though not the most compelling read, Yours Ever is worth picking up and flipping through to mine for the insights that letter-writers like Oscar Wilde penned — if nothing else, Mallon has made me wish I had a handful of witty friends who wrote me letters.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Catching Up With An Old Friend: Missy Frederick on Still Life With Woodpecker

Catching Up With An Old Friend is a series in which readers, authors, and other bookish people share their favorite books. Read more about the project or see all the past entries. To participate, e-mail


Today's favorite book is from Missy Frederick, a reporter and columnist for the Washington Business Journal covering restaurants, retail, hotels, arts business and tourism. Her column and blog, Top Shelf, chronicles restaurant and retail comings and goings in the D.C. region. She is also the founding theatre critic for the Web site; her work there earned her the National Endowment for the Arts 2008 fellowship in theater journalism. Missy does most of her reading in Falls Church, Va., where she lives with her fiance.

Like Amy, I felt conflicted on how to answer the question of "What's Your Favorite Book"? I feel like my knee-jerk response to the question is often Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, but let's be serious. That's a scholarly answer, not a real one. I adore Hugo, and the long passage where Jean Valjean mulls whether to reveal his identity when another is accused of his crimes can bring me to tears in an instant. But how often am I going to re-read a 1,000+ page book with entire meandering chapters devoted to things like Waterloo, French sewers and obscure dialects? Come on.

If I go the "most influential" route, a natural choice would be an Ayn Rand novel, like The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. But while Rand is someone who had a formative affect on my transition from childhood to adulthood, the books just don't hold up now in terms of literary quality, and while I respect many of her concepts (individualism, atheism, independence), as I've developed, I've started to move away from many of the ideas the books represent. So that's out.

What about the books for which I hold the most affection? Those feelings tend to be mixed with nostalgia, and so this is where many of my childhood favorites end up. Books like A Wrinkle In Time, Dealing With Dragons, and even young adult books I've discovered in adulthood, like the Harry Potter series and His Dark Materials, come to mind. I'm tempted to write about the latter (Philip Pullman's books are as rich to read now as they would be for any teenager), but something has me still looking elsewhere.

Let's think about my favorite authors. Neil Gaiman. Orson Scott Card. Christopher Moore (Moore's Lamb is another serious contender here). Tom Robbins. Tom Robbins! I think that's where my search ends. There are few books for which I have such a vivid memory of my actual reading experience as I do Still Life With Woodpecker, so that's the novel I'm going to talk about today.

I think my friend Kevin Holler recommended that I give Tom Robbins a try back in college. Reading a little bit about the author, his works sounded up my alley. Lots of humor, lots of non sequiturs, a little fantasy thrown in, and some philosophy for good measure. That's the kind of fiction I gravitate towards, and Robbins was no exception. I remember picking up Still Life With Woodpecker and becoming almost breathlessly engrossed by it. Who IS this Robbins guy? Why are his characters so vivid, so enthralling, so renegade? How can a book be this bawdy and so genuinely sexy at the same time? I love that feeling where you're reading a book and truly feel like you're discovering something new and fascinating, and that's how I felt when I read Still Life for the first time.

Still Life is a love story between two unlikely figures — a vegetarian, activist princess and a redheaded outlaw. It's a passionate, tangential work that ruminates on a lot of romantic ideas, but always in service to its zany, fast-paced story. Reading it as a college student seemed like appropriate timing — you manage to relate to Leigh-Cheri's more idealistic, world-changing mindset while finding something rather profound in her companion's more concrete, live-in-the-moment approach. A more cynical reader might find some of Robbins' pronouncements pretentious, but I found them eye-opening and amusing.

I devoured everything Robbins wrote after I read Still Life. Some works I loved (Jitterbug Perfume), others I liked (Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates), others, well, I didn't get that much out of (Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, I'm talking to you). None will ever hold quite the same place in my heart as Still Life, but despite my own lack of psychedelic rebelliousness, Robbins remains one of those authors with whom I feel a strong connection.

And that's why it's only fitting that a passage from the book will be read at our wedding this May. I love his characterization of love as a rule-breaking, life-changing, ultimate adventure. I hope you'll get something out of it too.

“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won't adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words "make" and "stay" become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.” — Tom Robbins

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mansfield Park, Chapters 6-16

Apologies for the delay, Janeites. I headed to Chicago yesterday for a two-week trip, and in the flurry of packing didn't have time to finish up this post. So here, goes, about 30 hours too late.

Things take an interesting turn in this section of Mansfield Park, as the play-acting that’s going on becomes literal acting when everyone decides to stage a play. But first, there’s the beginning of an attraction between Mary and Edmund, as Mary realizes that she likes him more than his brother. Edmund at first outlines her lesser qualities to Fanny, but later he becomes more enchanted by her.

The group plans a visit to Mr. Rushworth’s estate, Sotherton, after he discusses all the work he wants to do on it. Since not everyone can fit in the carriages and someone needs to stay behind with Lady Bertram, Fanny is told she can’t go, but Edmund volunteers to stay home so Fanny can go. Mrs. Grant then offers to stay home so Edmund can go. Julia snags the seat next to Henry in the carriage, which outrages Maria, who, despite her engagement to Mr. Rushworth, is pretty clearly lusting after Henry.

They tour the house, Mary makes a snide comment about clergymen since she doesn’t realize that it is Edmund’s future path and Fanny doesn’t bother to correct her, and Julia makes a snide comment about Maria’s engagement. Then they embark on a tour of the grounds in groups of three: Maria, Henry, and Mr. Rushworth; Fanny, Edmund, and Mary; and Julia, Mrs. Norris, and Rushworth's mother. These threesomes are interesting, as Austen sets them up to pit romantic rivals against each other. Fanny and Mary are with Edmund and they debate the church, but Fanny becomes the third wheel when she gets tired and sits down. Mary convinces Edmund to go off with her, and Maria and Henry take off together while Mr. Rushworth goes to get a key to open a gate.

After visiting Sotherton, they learn that Sir Thomas will be returning in several months, and everyone starts to panic: Maria will have to get married, and Edmund will no longer be the de facto head of the family. Tom returns to Mansfield Park and brings his friend John Yates with him. Yates is into theater, and convinces the others to put on a play. Everyone minus Edmund and Fanny are excited, and they debate endlessly about what play to put on. They finally decide on Lover’s Vows, which is a pretty poor decision — it’s a scandalous play for a group that’s already got some scandalous activity brewing. Edmund refuses to participate, but the group is short a male character, and Mary is vehemently against performing with a stranger, so he takes the role to assuage her. Fanny sits out too, and Mrs. Grant takes the role that she was to be given. Julia is also out, as Henry pushes for Maria to take a role over her.

So that’s where we leave our characters — preparing for a play even though Sir Thomas, whose return is imminent, will likely seriously disapprove. This section drives home the fact that, like in Pride and Prejudice, absent or delinquent parents cause problems for their children. With Sir Thomas out of the picture, and Lady Bertram dealing with whatever health problems she has, busybody Mrs. Norris is the main adult supervisor of the group. It’s no wonder that some of the kids sneak off with each other while at Sotherton, and that they plan to engage in inappropriate activity.

On Twitter, Jane Austen Challenge participant Margaret commented that “the book is fascinating, in large part because of its unevenness. Austen is pushing herself into new, somewhat bleak territory.” We have a very different situation in Mansfield Park than we saw in either Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice. We don’t have a main character we’re truly rooting for in love (or even at all) — Fanny is a drip and no male character we’ve met thus far is a truly good man. We’re given, instead, a collection of mostly unlikeable characters who are in the process of forming some intriguing relationships with each other. It seems like Austen wants to focus mostly on society and social mobility to a greater extent than she has so far, instead of exploring romantic love. Anyone have thoughts on this?

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention what I found most amusing about this section — the five mentions of a ha-ha wall. Several weeks ago, I was on the veranda at Mount Vernon with my mother, another Austen challenge participant, and we overheard someone ask a question about a ha-ha wall, and the tour guide answered it. As neither of us had ever heard of a ha-ha wall, and wondered how everyone else seemed to know what it was, we asked about it — it makes up a physical barrier but doesn’t ruin the view of the land. In Mount Vernon’s case, it kept sheep from wandering onto the lawn. Since things happen in threes, I’m waiting for a third mention of ha-ha wall to pop up somewhere.

Next week, we’ll read chapters 17-26.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Catching Up With An Old Friend: Michael Hingston on Moby-Dick

Catching Up With An Old Friend is a series in which readers, authors, and other bookish people share their favorite books. Read more about the project or see all the past entries. To participate, e-mail


Today's favorite book is from Michael Hingston, a writer and editor based in Edmonton, Alberta. He runs a literary blog called Too Many Books in the Kitchen.


My favorite book is Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick. Yawn, right? After all, everyone knows it — it’s an epic of whaling and obsession, and has long been seen as one of the true, undisputed American classics. Pop culture is bursting with references to that eponymous white whale. It’s so canonized that it’s taught, with near-religious fervor, to roomfuls of bored high school students year after year after year.

But not to me. Because I grew up in Canada.

For some reason, my high school didn’t teach the novels that I’ve now come to realize are standard issue in the U.S. No Huck Finn, no Catcher in the Rye, and no Gatsby. Maybe it has something to do with Canada’s subtle tendency to align itself with England, its ostensible motherland, instead of the U.S., its actual neighbor. Either way, we tended to read European books, like 1984, or Elie Wiesel’s Night. I was a pretty good English student, but something like Moby-Dick wasn’t even close to appearing on my radar. (Though to be fair, in those days my radar was mostly consumed by Slurpees, Tony Hawk 2 for N64, and girls with belly button piercings.) It was, I figured, one of those books that mostly old people liked.

Somehow I ended up studying English at university, where the value of the classics gradually dawned on me. And so, over the course of my degree, I read some of those American novels that I’d missed out on the first time. They were wonderful. But I was also hearing steady rumblings about the greatness — and not just the inherited greatness that comes with age — of Melville’s masterpiece. I’d already read his “Bartleby,” “Benito Cereno,” and Billy Budd in three separate courses, and adored them all. Then an acquaintance of mine wrote her honors thesis on Moby-Dick, and got a tattoo of a sperm whale wrapped around her torso. My interest was officially piqued. When a particularly rugged and charismatic American studies professor announced he was devoting an entire course to that one novel in the summer of 2007, I was first in line to sign up.

Other people with the same answer will have completely different perspectives, but I’m confident that Moby-Dick would never have become my favorite book if I’d read it in high school. For one thing, I was a lazy, smart-ass teenager. I had no patience whatsoever. More importantly, I hadn’t read enough. It was only after a few years of puttering around in university, making my way through a bunch of different styles of writing, that I was able to begin to appreciate how fucking weird Moby-Dick is. It is a great novel, absolutely, and it is a funny and wise and heartbreaking novel, but mostly what I love about it is its deep commitment to being as weird as possible, as often as possible.

It opens with two glorious false starts: a half-made-up etymology of the word whale, and then a string of 80 — yes, you read that right, 80 — epigraphs, from all kinds of places, each of which in some roundabout way invokes whales or whaling. One of the most famous opening lines in literature, “Call me Ishmael,” doesn’t actually appear until damn near page 20. This is Melville’s disclaimer. Abandon all preconceptions, ye who enter here.

From there, the novel tries valiantly to be all things to all people: an adventure yarn, a series of long-winded encyclopedia entries, a ribald bildungsroman, a brooding meditation on infinity and nothingness, and a laser-precise take down of humanity’s all-consuming and quite probably insane quest for knowledge. This is why it’s a long book, and why a lot of people get upset or grow bored with it — it engages not one facet of your literary vocabulary, but all of them, used in tandem. Suffice it to say that this is not what a book usually asks of its reader. If you hear a faint whirring noise while reading Moby-Dick, it’s the sound of your brain overheating.

But this constant firing on all cylinders is also what makes the book so malleable, and why it lends itself so easily to reinvention. Moby-Dick is a story about why we need alpha-male heroes, if that’s what you want it to be. It’s also a cautionary tale about the dangers of overfishing. It’s about femininity. It’s about genocide. Above all, it’s about falling head over heels in love with language — with the sheer acrobatics that the written word can be put through and still come out gleaming. Melville sought to capture the universe inside this book, and to my mind he came astonishingly close.

My house bears witness to the impressions the book has left and continues to leave on me. I own Moby-Dick pop-up books, graphic novels, science fiction adaptations, and a framed poster that dominates my living room. Sometimes I still idly search eBay for old Rockwell Kent illustrations and bootleg Hanna-Barbera VHS tapes.

The deepest marks of all are harder to see, though perhaps easier to recognize over time. In the end Moby-Dick is my favorite because it’s given me the biggest push towards being a better person. It’s made me more alert to the chaotic world around me, more curious about the things I don’t know, and more suspicious of the things I think I do.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mansfield Park, Chapters 1-5

Mansfield Park starts off differently than Austen’s other novels; she gives us extensive back-story to better explain the coming events, and it's like we’re reading about the after-effects of an Austen novel, about the way life goes on after an advantageous marriage has been secured. About 30 years before the narrative, Maria Ward married the rich Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park, but her sisters weren’t so lucky. One married a friend of Bertram, Rev. Norris, and the other sister married Mr. Price, a man "without education, fortune, or connections." Mrs. Price fell out of touch from her sisters but one day writes a letter that she is having yet another child and needs help with her older children. Her sisters and their husbands decide to take in Fanny Price, age nine, and Fanny goes to live with the Bertrams.

At Mansfield Park Fanny lives with her cousins Tom, 17, Edmund, 16, Maria, 13, and Julia, 12. Fanny missed her family, especially her brother William, and her cousins aren’t very welcoming — except for Edmund, who becomes her sole friend. Five years after Fanny comes to live at Mansfield Park, Rev. Norris dies, and while his job as parish minister would normally have gone to Edmund, he isn’t old enough to take the job yet, and his brother Tom, heir to Mansfield Park, is too extravagant. The living goes to Dr. Grant. The Bertrams want Mrs. Norris to take in Fanny now that she has an empty house, but she declines.

A year after Mr. Norris’ death, Sir Thomas heads to Antigua to deal with his plantation there and takes Tom with him — Tom’s excessive debts are hurting the family, and his father goes himself to try and help the family’s investments. Also this plot point is interesting, as it's the first reference to colonialism that occurs in Austen’s novels. With their father gone, Edmund is head of the family and Maria gets herself engaged to Mr. Rushworth, who is rich but kind of an idiot.  Her father tells her that he consents, but wants her to wait until he returns from abroad.

Two new arrivals to Mansfield Park promise to shake up the social scene there. Mary and Henry Crawford, Mrs. Grant's half-sister and half-brother, come stay with the Grants. Mary is very pretty and Henry is agreeable and everyone likes him. Mary decides she wants to marry Tom, even though she isn’t really impressed with him — “she had felt an early presentiment that she should like the eldest best. She knew it was her way.” Mrs. Grant also decides to set Henry up with Julia Bertram, but Henry is more impressed by Maria, despite her engagement. This section ends with the Grants debating whether Fanny is “out” (debuted in society) and they determine that she is not.

I like Mansfield Park so far, especially for the colonialism aspect. Maybe this early reference is all we’ll get, but the two Austen novels we’ve read so far don’t really explore anything that’s happening outside the context of the novel. We don't find out a ton about what Fanny is really like yet, but I think that will change as the novel progresses. For next Monday, the reading is chapters 6-16.