, Research Paper
Comparison of Mansfield Park and Metropolitan
Whit Stillman’s attempt to capture Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park on film in Metropolitan is a fair adaptation but it is unable to give the viewer the same insights. Stillman manages to have most of Mansfield Parks characters represented in some way or another, however the time needed to develop those characters is simply not there in a two hour movie. It is this development that makes Jane Austen’s books so interesting. She spends an enormous amount of time telling us the backgrounds of the characters, especially Fanny Price. We are then able to interpret their actions knowing their motives and history, whereas in the movie we are often confused about certain behaviors. Stillman is able to capture some of the significant events in Mansfield but without the background, they have less meaning.
Whit Stillman could not simply parallel his characters one-for-one with the ones in Mansfield Park, rather he had to concentrate on including the significant characteristics of Austen’s characters, sometimes in more than one person. If he had tried to copy the nature of the Mansfield Park people the movie would not have been believable. Viewers would not like a perfect character like Fanny, in fact they would probably distrust her more because she was perfect. At the beginning of the movie Audrey Rouget is introduced, obviously meant to be a version of Fanny Price. She is shy, slight, and the appears to be younger than the rest of the group. Like Fanny, she really hasn’t “come out” yet. At first, she is enamored with Tom Townsend, then hates him for leaving her looking stupid when he was supposed to be her escort. The viewer has a hard time with this because they have only known each other for a week or so, and that makes Audrey’s feelings seem trivial. With the benefit of a whole summer of the story, the reader of Mansfield is able to relate with such strong feelings because they are baked up by several examples, not just one. At the end of the movie Audrey sees that Tom cares for her a lot when he comes to “save” her from Rick Von Slonaker. Audrey is not an exact copy of Fanny though, this is shown when she acquiesces to playing in the groups cigarette/truth-telling game. Austen did not allow Fanny to participate in the play at Mansfield, but Stillman adds this touch to show that Audrey has faults which makes the viewer identify better with her.
While Audrey exhibits the nature of Fanny, the movies main character is Tom Townsend and the story centers mostly around him. Similar to Fanny, we see him in almost every scene. However, Tom’s character is a combination of Henry Crawford and Edward Price. After he first appears, he is received in much the same manner as Henry Crawford was in Mansfield. He joins up with a close knit group of friends and is accepted immediately. The women in the group all quiz him about college and insist he come to every party. Audrey takes a liking to him, but is afraid to tell him of her affections because she has never really liked anyone. Tom apparently likes her, but then he gets back together with his old girlfriend Serena Slocum and this breaks Audrey’s heart. Stillman only lets one girl in the group fall for Tom because the viewers would not believe it if all of them fell for him like Julia and Maria for Henry in Mansfield. Since the viewers do not have time enough to learn a bout Tom, they make a first impression based upon his looks, and because he’s not the best looking character they could not see him arriving and stealing all the girls without objection. Once the viewer learns a little more about Tom, about midway through the movie, he begins to take on characteristics of Edward Price. He starts to care about Audrey once he realizes that she feels hurt by him admitting he liked Serena the best, and he is convinced she is running off with Rick Von Sloneker, who interestingly enough also has Henry Crawford traits. The difference between him and Tom is that Rick has all the traits Fanny attributes to Henry, basically being a slime ball with women, while Tom is seen the way all the other characters in Mansfield view Henry, as good company with pleasant airs about him. This shows the viewer that perspective is very important when judging others. While watching Metropolitan, the viewer identifies with Tom Townsend and thinks that Audrey is basically an ultra-sensitive girl. While reading Mansfield Park, the reader identifies with Fanny Price and sees all of Henry Crawford’s poor qualities. Tom then does as Edward would when he and Charlie try to go and “save” Audrey and Cynthia from the clutches of Von Sloneker.
Nick Smith also appears originally having Mrs. Norris’s attitude. He is always disparaging someone or other and giving his opinion to everyone, whether or not he is asked. Then he gets caught making up a story about Rick Von Sloneker, and loses face in front of the group. He is constantly insulting people, especially Von Sloneker and the audience sees him as arrogant and selfish, like Mrs. Norris. He looks down on Tom for not being quite as well of as the rest of them and tries to help him become more fashionable “out of the goodness of his heart”. Mrs. Norris also claims to care for everyone above herself, but the reader sees right through that. She is just a control freak nobody even listens to. Nick goes away near the end of the movie like Mrs. Norris in Mansfield, and nobody seems to miss either too much. However, in another twist to modernize the plot line, Stillman shows that Rick Von Sloneker really is a slime ball at the end of the movie. This vindicates Nick, even though his story about Von Sloneker may have been false, he is right about him so the viewer is able to give him some credit later. While in Mansfield Park, the reader is happy that Mrs. Norris got what was coming to her because she was really bad, the viewer of Metropolitan sees that Nick at least had a good heart and tried to warn everyone about Von Sloneker. Austin has other characters say that Mrs. Norris was basically caring and sensitive inside, but she makes sure that the reader does not believe them.
Stillman includes the jealousy of the character Charlie Black to also help make the movie appeal to more modern themes. He does this to assuage the feelings the audience is having about Tom. They have a hard time believing he is so readily accepted into the group. In real life, most people would be a lot more wary about newcomers. Established groups in our culture do not just take in strangers off the street and say “have our girls and come to all our parties!”. There isn’t any reference to how long the group has been together, but it seems to have been for a long time. Charlie’s jealousy is important to make the group seem like real people living in Manhattan upper crust society. The viewers may not identify with the socialite characters in Metropolitan, but by ascribing “normal” characteristics to them, the audience can see them as somewhat believable. Since the viewer of Metropolitan does not have the benefit of knowing the past history of the group, how they came together and the relationships each member has with another, Stillman has to make the characters believable to the layman. Austin, on the other hand, had the benefit of as much time as she wanted to develop the characters in Mansfield. Most readers in England in the 19th century probably looked upon the characters in Mansfield as very different from themselves. In fact they probably identified with the Price family much more than the Bertram’s, much like people of today do not relate with the urban bourgeois of Metropolitan.
After reading the novel Mansfield Park and watching the movie Metropolitan, it is very evident that Metro is Whit Stillman’s attempt to modernize the novel. He might have been able to do a great job if he had simply rewrote the novel in modern terms, but the simple fact is that he was forced to cut away with a lot of the character developments and plot lines to fit the time frame of a movie. The reader of Mansfield can see where Stillman tries to embody characters in Metropolitan and since they have read the book, they can identify with the group by substituting the background given in the novel to the movie. If the viewer of Metropolitan had no experience either with Mansfield or Austin in general, than the movie would fail to impart the exploration into human nature that was her trademark. It is very clear that Metropolitan can not stand by itself as a work of great value without the reader being familiar with Austen’s literary works, specifically Mansfield Park.