Friday, February 26, 2010

Austen versus Kingsolver

This isn't a competition--just finished reading Mansfield Park by Jane Austen and The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver in the same week. Which set me to thinking of their similarities. Both have protagonists that are poor orphans of sorts, who are brought in to grand houses (of sorts) and taken under the wing of sophisticated patrons. Both of these main characters are shy and shrink from notice and from any show of temper. Both are basically celibate throughout the narrative, and both have wonderfully romantic and rich inner lives.
The most striking similarity, though, is at the end of the book--in the way the ending is written. Both novelists choose to wrap things up rather quickly, and cooly, without big emotion, and without the main characters voice being heard at all. In the last chapter of Mansfield Park you get a "report" in Austen's omniscient writer voice: this and that happened, and oh, yeah, they did get married after all--a real "cop out" as we Boomers all used to say.
The Lacuna wraps up more organically, since Kingsolver introduces another character in the last part of the book who ends up doing the same kind of "report," but she's someone you've come to like and trust. Another literary device, but one that works.
The oddest thing of all was reading these two novels, written two hundred years apart, and finding myself just as concerned about Fanny Price, eventually, as I was about Harrison Shepard...And reading both of the books as e-books on my ipod! What would Austen think?
hasta pronto!