Review by Allison T.
The latest in the series of “mash-ups,” Mansfield Park and Mummies, weighs in at a hefty 555 pages which, as I discuss below, is quite a lot for a one-trick pony. However, while Mansfield Park—usually low down on readers’ lists of favorite Austen novels—seems an unlikely choice for a mash-up, I found that it worked somewhat less artificially than its predecessors. I mean, given the Egyptological excavations that were actually occurring at the time, it is not wholly inconceivable that Lady Bertram should start buying up sarcophagi and urns and the living undead.
The attractive cover promised well as did the announcement that the work includes “scholarly footnotes and appendices”—the latter of which made this Scholar laugh until tea came out of her nose. (Warning: don’t drink and read at the same time.)
As to the story: 3,000 years ago an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh died and was embalmed, mummified and eventually transported to Mansfield Park as part of Lady Bertram’s obsession with all things Egyptian. Of course he comes to life and of course he seeks his bride.
The Bertram family suffers under a Curse, caused by the Mummy. Aunt Norris howls at the moon. Mr. Rushworth forages for small animals in the shrubbery. Enervated by the Mummy’s “sips” of their life-force, the servants stagger around uselessly. And the Crawfords? Another of the pesky band of Undead that plague Mansfield Park. Mary is a….vampire! She has no heart. That’s why she is uncomfortable in the chapel at Sotherton….that’s why she doesn’t like the clergy….and, yes, that’s why the necklace she gives Fanny doesn’t fit through the ring of the cross. Brilliant! I really liked this touch.
Fanny alone is unaffected by these bizarre creatures and events. As mummies lurch across the countryside it is she who must save Mansfield Park and its inhabitants. It is she who must learn how to Stifle the Life Force of the Living Undead. (Warning: don’t read and eat at the same time either. Kinda gross.)
I’ll admit that I found MP&M amusing, within its genre. And I was impressed with Vera Nazarian’s writing—I’d like to read more of her work, unassisted by Jane Austen. However, I got very tired very fast of the “scholarly footnotes,” which basically consist of a “tee-hee” statement every time Austen uses the word “intercourse.” As in “sisterly intercourse,” etc. Sorry, not even funny once to this reader.
However, here’s the thing—I’m tired of these mash-ups. They are a one-joke gig and the gig’s over.
I had actually never heard the term “mash-up” until the summer of 2009 when the phrase began to be used in conjunction with P&P&Z. Apparently the word mash-up was first used in web development for a web page or application that, according to Wikipedia, combined “data or functionality from two or more external sources to create a new service.” The phrase is also used in music, “usually by overlaying the vocal track of one song seamlessly over the music track of another.”
So, OK, P&P&Z and S&S&SM and MP&M are all mash-ups. One reads “austenaustenaustenMUMMYaustenausPUTRIFYINGGOREtenaustenDEATHFORCE,” etc. (And, in fact, that’s exactly how I read MP&M: I let my eye skim down the familiar passages until I encountered a term like ROTTING FLESH and then read more carefully.)
But somehow—no matter how amusing any particular paragraph can be—this doesn’t qualify as seamless: nay, it is as obviously stitched-together as the face of Dr. Frankenstein’s creature.
Yes, the first whiff of rotting flesh coming from the mash-up of zombies and P&P was risible—the image of the pretty girls with their heaving bosoms and handsome men in really tight trousers battling with the undead is funny.
And, yes, the thought of terrorizing the stereotype of a Janeite—with our steel-rimmed spectacles, our cats and knitting, our lavender and old lace—with ninjas and mummies and sea-serpents is doubtless gratifying to the mind that apparently got locked in the bathroom at the age of six and never emerged.
So, yes, the idea was funny once. But once is enough. Once one gets over the shock value and the giggle of an Austen mash-up, they get a little….stale. They are perhaps better suited to a comic book or a three-minute YouTube video than to a 555-page tome.
And here’s my last observation, as I pen these words on the first day of 2010—I don’t think it is a coincidence that all three Austen mash-ups appeared in late 2009. Sure, there was some competitive publishing positioning going on. But I suggest that there was something more at work as well.
P&P&Z features an England in which a strange plague of Unmentionable creatures terrorizes the countryside.
S&S&SM features an England in which a dreadful Alteration has turned the creatures of the sea against those of the land, terrorizing the countryside. Mr Dashwood believes that the Alteration was caused by the waters of a noxious stream polluting the globe; Edward Ferrars attributes it to the time of the Tudors, when Henry VIII turned his back on the Holy Church and God smote the English for this impiety by turning the creatures of the sea against them.
MP&M features an England in which Edmund’s family suffers under a Curse: the Necklace of the Eye of Horus that Lady Bertram wears constantly around her neck causes evil creatures to terrorize the countryside.
Spot the theme? Plagues, curses and dreadful alterations terrorizing the inhabitants of a previously placid environment?
All three mash-ups appeared in the last few months of the final year of a decade horribilus—a decade that saw terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, the melt-down of financial markets around the world, depressed economies, high unemployment rates, and corruption and scandals in high places. The hype around Y2K seems like an eon ago—we have real worries now about our personal and financial safety, about global warming, chemicals in the water supply….about all the numerous threats emanating from sinister forces beyond our control that terrorize our formerly placid lives.
I believe that one reason why these mash-ups appeared right now at the end of this hideous decade is that they express a longing to have Elizabeth, Elinor and Fanny show us how to fight the monsters in our own back yards. After all, if gentle little Fanny, still diffident about riding her old grey pony, can shove common household implements into the pie-holes of rotting mummies, thereby causing them to turn to dust and blow away, perhaps we can triumph over the depressed state of our finances, our jobs (or lack thereof) and our dreary lives.
We’ve started a new year and a new decade. Let’s put Austen mash-ups behind us and boldly forge ahead.
Let’s even, for a change, read Jane Austen’s works, as written all by herself and without any other assistance.
AustenBlog is giving away a copy of Mansfield Park and Mummies, courtesy of Norilana Books. Respond in the comments and let us know if you would like to be included in the giveaway (you can still comment if you would rather not). All responses by Sunday, January 10, 2010, at 8 p.m. ET will be entered.