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A perusal of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park is not a prerequisite to reading this cheerful spinoff (Terry, happily, makes no attempt to echo period diction or the Great One's style); but it's more fun if you remember the inhabitants of the Yorkshire great house, most of whom are here sent figuratively flying by the narrating lady's maid, who rises from ribbon-pleating to riches. Just how did Jane Hartwell, of humble origins, lady's maid to Sir Thomas Bertram's second daughter Julia, become the wife of a fat-pursed squire? Raised near the estate of Mr. Rushworth, who will become the fiancÉ of Maria, Julia's sister (as in Mansfield Park, Mr. R. is a dud), Jane arrives at the Bertrams of Mansfield Park: there's lazy Lady B,; her horrid sister, Mrs. Norris; Julia and Maria, selfish and lusty; dashing, unscrupulous Tom Bertram; ""strait-laced"" Edmund; and Fanny Price (Ms. Austen's protagonist), ""pale, mild, somewhat insipid."" Jane will be pursued by Tom and then, in a more gentlemanly manner, by Henry Crawford--excitation of the sisters Bertram. (Jane sees what Ms. Austen sensibly omitted--what happened in Mr. Rushworth's acres between Maria and Henry.) Jane leaves the Bertrams, joins up with a saintly reformer, is pursued, raped, has other troubles, makes a success in the theater and ticks off her former employers, one of whom fires a pistol at her. A good-natured, silly, period maid's tale, plus some mildly amusing adventures within the' precincts of one of Jane Austen's masterpieces.

Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 1987
Publisher: Morrow