I'm at it again, comparing two very dissimilar books that I read almost right after each other. This time, it's Mansfield Park by Jane Austen and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin. This time, the two books begin with a similar situation: a young girl from a large family being sent to live with her wealthier relations. I know this was a pretty common occurrence once upon a time -- one of Jane Austen's own brothers was adopted by relatives. So it's not as if Wiggin borrowed a literary device from Austen. But I did read these two books nearly back-to-back, and the similarity struck me.
The title character of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is an irrepressible, joy-filled girl. She's basically the prototype for L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and the other spunky heroines who followed. She goes to live with two maiden aunts and grows up under their care into a spirited young woman. She makes friends with almost everyone, softens an aunt's hard heart, and generally brings sunshine into every life she touches. It's a sweet story.
The protagonist of Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, is the opposite. She's shy. Retiring. Passive. She hides her feelings, suppresses her desires, and is so delicate of feeling, she can't even bring herself to explain to her uncle precisely why she has rejected a marriage proposal. I'm afraid that, accustomed as I am to spunky heroines, I wanted more than once to reach through the pages, give Fanny a good shaking, and tell her to be a more active participant in her own life for once! This is also a sweet story, but definitely not my favorite Austen.
The last chapter of Mansfield Park feels rushed, as if Austen either was sick of the characters and wanted to be finished with the book, or else was under a deadline and spent too much time describing dinner parties and evening strolls earlier to wrap things up properly. In writer's parlance, the last chapter is almost entirely 'telling' the story, not 'showing' it to the readers.
So. Two books, published nearly a century apart. Similar, yet different. Would I recommend them both? Yes. Did I like them both? Let's just say I liked Sunnybrook Farm well enough to keep my copy, but I'm donating Mansfield Park to the library.
(Originally posted on The Huggermugger Blog on Sep. 4, 2010.)