By Nina Mitchell, author of Mansfield Park: The Wild and Wanton Edition
But don’t give up on the hero of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park just yet.
When I decided to write the Wild and Wanton version of Mansfield Park, a novel declared by many to be the least romantic of Austen’s works, I wondered at the craziness of my choice. Pairing the prudish and goody-goody Fanny Price and the equally prudish and goody-goody—if not, more so—Edmund Bertram didn’t seem to hold much promise for the sizzle Crimson readers expect from a Wild and Wanton novel.
Poor (or fortunate?) Fanny sent at the age of 10 to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle because her mother, whom Austen properly informed us married for love, had a houseful with Fanny’s eight siblings. And then there was Edmund, the second son and Fanny’s cousin, no less, destined for a modest and presumably dull life in the clergy. But as unappealing as this couple sounded on the surface, I reminded myself Jane Austen created them and Jane Austen was, well, brilliant, and it was for that reason alone they deserved a chance. It didn’t take long to realize Edmund is the sort of hero who has it in him to cause a girl’s heart to flutter and then some.
What’s not to love about a hero who cares about his heroine? Edmund genuinely cares for Fanny and is swift to make sure she has what she needs. And what fun that Austen gave him the qualities of eagerness and cheer. Writing paper? A horse? Adequate living space? Proper social connection? Edmund is there to help! Physical pleasure? At the shameless pen of Austen’s wild-and-wanton counterpart, Edmund makes certain Fanny is provided for in the ways she deems most desirable!
Integrity matters where heroes are concerned, and Edmund knows exactly when and where to do the right thing. It’s not that he’s overly moralistic when he accepts responsibility as protector and provider while his elder sibling and father are off in the Colonies, it’s that he’s downright heroic. Poor (or fortunate?) Fanny nearly swoons when Edward welcomes punishment for his family’s vulgar choice of staging a play at Mansfield. And if that’s not swoon-worthy material for some readers, there are additional passionate displays of Edmund’s integrity, because what sort of hero would walk away from Fanny in her moments of greatest need?
Edmund appears forever clueless about the details of his love for Fanny in much the way Mr. Darcy was clueless when it came to the reasoning behind his feelings for Elizabeth Bennet, and that’s what we love about him. Edmund knew he cared for Fanny, but he didn’t know exactly why he wouldn’t be able to get on without her until she wanted him to know every last detail of why. And let’s just say that in the Wild and Wanton edition he becomes a more than willing pupil where Fanny is concerned!
Mr. Darcy may forever be the quintessential dark and mysterious romantic hero remembered most as portrayed by Colin Firth in the infamous lake scene that in fact did not take place in the original novel. You’ll be happy to learn that Edmund looks equally as presentable wet in a scene from the Wild and Wanton Edition:
“Thankfully Edmund stood in the water and his only exposure was above the waist, but [Fanny] found his torso to be everything of magnificence. He was smooth as the marble of the statues and his broad expanse of back and shoulders were most remarkable, but it was the dark and shining hairs that caught her attention as they spread across his beautiful chest and down his fine arms. She could not take her eyes from him, even to look at Tom who was calling towards his brother whilst spraying him with water. It was as she watched Edmund manoeuvre his body in different poses to block his brother’s friendly attack that she saw more of him, and as she managed a glimpse at the trail of dark hairs leading downward from his navel…”
Be still my beating heart.