Raised with four older stepcousins in a conservative, churchgoing family, Frannie Price teeters on the brink of adolescence in the summer of 1985. Her timidity and awkwardness make her easy to overlook, yet she has one true friend in her cousin Jonathan. Jonathan, her childhood champion and the best person she knows. But when the Grant twins enter her life, Frannie’s world turns upside down. Not only does the sly and charming Eric Grant set her girl cousins against each other, but his flirtatious sister makes off with Jonathan’s heart.
Only Frannie sees the faults running beneath the family landscape—not that anyone’s asking her opinion. Not her strict Uncle Paul, not her beloved Jonathan, and certainly not the Grants, who, after having their way with the rest of the Beresfords, turn their sights on her. What’s a girl to do? And why does she feel, in this uncharted territory, like God left her at the border?
With sympathy, humor and more than a nod to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, The Beresfords chronicles Frannie’s coming of age, when all around her is coming apart.
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The Beresfords begins in the summer of 1985 in southern California. Many of the characters’ names are similar or reminiscent of the ones in Mansfield Park, although not all. Fanny Price is now Frannie Price, the Bertrams are now the Beresfords. Edmund is now Jonathan, and Mary is now Caroline. But as in MP, Frannie is the odd cousin of the family, taken in by her uncle, rescued from a dingy life with her addict mother, yet ostracized by her cousins and other family members. Although too young for him in 1985, Frannie deeply loves cousin Jonathan and keeps this to herself for years on end. If I understood Ms. Dudley’s writing correctly, she changed the characters a bit so that Frannie and Jonathan would not be blood relations, unlike in many 19th Century novels where attracted cousins were a non-issue. And as in Mansfield Park, Jonathan has dreams of being a minister while wrestling with his relationship with Caroline, whom Frannie knows is not his ideal mate, as she has no interest in matters of faith. The characters go through similar story arcs as the original plot, with Frannie and Jonathan growing as individuals much as they did in Mansfield Park. However, their path to the expected conclusion takes some turns that I did not expect, which made for interesting reading.
I must say that The Beresfords took a little while to grow on me. Many of the characters surrounding Frannie were simple-minded, frustrating people. Christina Dudley captured the characteristics of certain individuals that I’ve known in my life, and I don’t care to be around those types as much as I can help it. So this is a testament to Dudley’s writing—she had me engaged with these characters, even if it was on a negative level. But I really did enjoy the characters of Frannie and Jonathan, and was pleased to see the direction their lives took. I found the conclusion of the story to be immensely satisfying, and I was more than won over by the end.
Although I have no place to thoroughly compare The Beresfords to Mansfield Park, I can say that as a stand-alone book, The Beresfords was an enjoyable read. October 2012 has been unbelievably difficult for me personally, and I cannot tell you how many times I turned to this novel to escape my situation, even if for only for a few moments while sitting in an over-air-conditioned medical waiting room. Frannie and Jonathan’s story is at times bittersweet and unexpected, but ultimately it comes to a satisfying and well-rounded ending. Those familiar and those completely unacquainted with Jane Austen’s work will find something to enjoy in this novel. We can all relate to Frannie’s desire to be loved by her family, and in particular, her romantic love interest. Janeite or no, Christina Dudley’s readers can all sympathize with that. With that in mind, I offer my hearty endorsement to The Beresfords and hope that you add it to your wish list today.
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Because of budgetary constraints, I cannot afford to offer my copy of The Beresfords in a free giveaway here on The Calico Critic. However, I'd love to share this with one of you. If you'd like me to send it to you and you're willing to just cover the shipping costs, just drop me a line and we can work something out. This is such a pleasant story, and I'd love to have one of you enjoy it as well. This paragraph will be removed when the book has been assigned.