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Monday, August 26, 2019

#TeamHenry... guest post from Jacqueline Firkins!

Earlier this month, Jacqueline Firkins stopped by to tell us why, yes, we should appreciate the Fanny Prices of the world — you can check that out here. But today she's back to take on Fanny's (almost) other half, everyone's favorite Austen bad boy, Henry Crawford.
Click through to see Jacqueline's thoughts and share your own! And remember, comments on this post count as entries in the giveaway for Jacqueline's book, Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things!

#teamhenry: A Regency Rake Enters the Modern Age

Jacqueline Firkins, Hearts Strings and Other Breakable Things, Mansfield Park, Jane Austen, Austen in August, jane austen adaptations, young adult books, ya books, the book rat, book rat misty, By Jacqueline Firkins, author of Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things (HMHTeen 12/17/19)

I started working on my adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park in June 2014. While balancing other projects, a fulltime job, and life in general, I’ve now spent 5 years in close relationships with Fanny Price, Edmund Bertram, and Henry Crawford. I love these characters. They’re all flawed and messy and riddled with unfulfilled wants. In other words, they’re the best kind of people to spend time with. Austen’s novel relies heavily on a love triangle between these three, though one could more accurately call it a heptagon with all of its permutations. At its heart, Fanny’s in love with Edmund. Edmund’s in love with someone else. Henry sets out to make Fanny fall in love with him instead. While doing so, he falls for her. Now Fanny has to make a choice.
Option A: marry the man who’s offering. He’s a rake and a flirt whose version of love goes against all of Fanny’s lofty principals. However, his wealth would pull her out of poverty and her current unwanted living situation. He also shows signs that he might be reform-able. Option B: wait and hope her soul mate comes to his senses, ditches his fiancĂ©e, and picks her instead. She’s loved him since they were children. She can’t imagine herself with anyone else. Too bad he can. Poor Fanny! What a pickle!

The conflict works in Austen’s novel because Fanny doesn’t have the agency to support herself. Both matches offer her security she can’t achieve on her own. In a modern setting, Edmund still has appeal. He’s a nice guy. He cares deeply for Fanny. And since she loves him so much, we’re at least partly rooting for him. Henry doesn’t fare so well in today’s dating market. Sure, he can still be handsome, rich, and charming, but few modern readers would cheer for a heroine to choose a guy known to be a cheat and liar, just because he has money. And, okay, he also likes her a lot, but still . . .

Thus the question arises: how can a modern Henry Crawford appeal to readers enough that they root for the heroine to choose him? How can he compete with her intense-since-childhood love so the triangle doesn’t tip toward an obvious conclusion? Other adaptors have implemented their own solutions. Here are three of mine.

Step one: my Henry isn’t a liar. He’s a game player, as he is in the original. He likes a good challenge—which includes trying to seduce the girl who seems least likely to fall for his seductions. He’s a profound narcissist with a history of casual relationships, but he’s honest about it. He owns his choices. He keeps a few of his motives to himself, but when questioned, he always tells the truth.

Step two: I dropped a key plot point from the source material. Without giving too much away here, it’s the event that really tips Henry into being a jerk. It makes readers stop thinking, Hmm, maybe he’s not so bad, and start thinking, Damn, girl. Get away from that guy! That plot point remained through several of my drafts, but eventually it had to go. Henry became discardable. The heroine’s choice wasn’t a choice anymore. The dramatic tension was absent. Again, it worked in the original because Henry’s wealth provided something of worth for the heroine. My heroine can make her own money. Henry had to improve in other ways.

Step three: I pulled out all the stops. Henry has work to do. He’s going head-to-head against the guy Fanny has loved basically all her life. That guy’s everything Fanny wants and everything Henry’s not. He’s deep and sincere. He commits to things. He cares about other people. He wants to live a modest life. He has strong career goals. He shares a lot of Fanny’s tastes and interests. How can a guy so obviously wrong for Fanny compete with all that? To answer that question, I did some research. What did readers crave in their love interests? I didn’t take that research lightly. I used it all. My Henry’s the guy every girl in the novel talks about being attracted to. He’s smoking hot and he knows it. He’s the guy every girl wants, but he’s willing to thrust them all aside for the heroine, making her seem special. He’s funny, confident, and charismatic He’s observant. He showers the heroine with attention, leaping in at a moment’s notice to spend time with her or help her out of any predicament. He plays music. He recites poetry. He buys her extravagant gifts. He revolves his world around her. Their physical chemistry is off the charts. I also did what Austen does so well with her characters, even the rakes and scoundrels. I gave him depth. Basically, I made him the guy readers wanted to see on the page. Then I set him up to see if both the heroine and the reader could resist him. If I did my job right, neither will want to. But they’ll also understand why the heroine might still pick the other guy.

One way or another, the heroine has to make a choice. She’ll gain something. She’ll lose something. I tried to make that choice feel difficult and meaningful. I wanted the choice the heroine makes at the end of the novel to feel different than the kinds of choices she made at the beginning. She’s been through a journey. She’s learned a few things about herself. She has to put that knowledge to use. Those who know Mansfield Park may predict how my retelling ends. But I did pull out that plot point. And my contemporary teenagers don’t end their story committing to marriage, which means endings can be messy. They can also be beginnings of the next part of the story . . .

about the author
Jacqueline's a writer, costume designer, and lover of beautiful things. She's on the fulltime faculty in the Department of Theatre & Film at the University of British Columbia where she also takes any writing class they’ll let her into. When not obsessing about where to put the buttons or the commas, she can be found running by the ocean, eating excessive amounts of gluten, listening to earnest love songs, and pretending her dog understands every word she says.

Jane Austen, Austen in August, blog event, Jane Austen fan fiction, JAFF, The Book Rat, BookRatMisty
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  1. Good break down of Henry Crawford and how he would need to change to have modern appeal. I can definitely see it working then. :)

  2. I was rooting for Henry until his affair with Maria which I just couldn't get over. I love variations where this doesn't happen and he is redeemed. I also agree with the ways to make him likable although he sounds almost too perfect so it seems like the triangle is definitely more on his side as I've always found Edmund a bit of a bore.

  3. Interesting to read about how you adapted things to make the story work for a modern setting (and audience)! I know there are a lot of Henry-should-have-been-reformed readers out there, but I'm afraid he always seemed like too much of a sleazeball to me. But maybe I'd feel differently about your version of Henry...

  4. Henry has always been a favorite of mine (even though maybe he shouldn't be), and your version of him sounds like a character I'll very much enjoy, too, I'm really looking forward to your book.


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