Sunday, November 1, 2015

Old Friends and New Fancies: A Book Review

I saw Old Friends and New Fancies mentioned on Miss Dashwood's blog, and liked the description of it: "The first Jane Austen sequel". So I got it from the library, and was... rather disappointed.
I have high standards, mind you. The plot was good, the writing decent, but some of the characters were not written as I should have liked. Of course I didn't expect, nor receive, the wit of Jane Austen. So mostly what I was disappointed about was the portrayal of some of my favorites. I think that the author and I had different characters that we liked. For instance, I like Emma Woodhouse. I think I'm like her in some ways. I know some people find her intolerable and can't even get through the book. I am not one of them, but I believe Sybil Brinton might be.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, a brief synopsis. The book is set a few years after Jane Austen's six published novels. It includes at least a few characters from each: from Emma, only Emma and Mr. Knightley; from Northanger Abbey, James Morland, Eleanor Tilney, Isabella Thorpe, and John Thorpe; from Pride and Prejudice, there are Jane, Elizabeth, Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, Kitty Bennet, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, Georgiana Darcy, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, perhaps others. Mansfield Park gives us Mary and Henry Crawford, Tom and Julia Bertram, Mrs. Grant, Mr. Yates and William Price; Sense and Sensibility brings Elinor, Mrs. Jennings, Robert Ferrars, the Steele sisters, and Mr. Palmer; and Persuasion has Captain Wentworth and the Elliot family.

Georgiana Darcy (with Mr. Darcy behind her, and Elizabeth with her back to us)

The story drops into the minds of multiple characters, so it'd be hard to say who is the "main" character, but I would say the book is from the perspective of Elizabeth or Georgiana Darcy the most. The story opens that Georgiana, who is now twenty and lives at home still, has just been engaged to Colonel Fitzwilliam, but neither of them are happy about it. Elizabeth convinces them to break the engagement (despite Lady Catherine's disapproval of the action), giving both relief. Darcy, Elizabeth and Col. Fitzwilliam accompany Lady Catherine to Bath, where they meet several old and new friends. Colonel Fitzwilliam becomes acquainted with Mary Crawford while there, but she is affronted by Lady Catherine, which puts a divide in their growing relationship. Darcy and Elizabeth return to Pemberley about this point, and Kitty Bennet comes to stay with them.

It's difficult to explain much more without giving either my opinions or spoilers, so I'll just start into the review.
First, I must say that the writing style is not Jane Austen's. Not even close. It lacks the wit and cleverness that characterizes all of Jane's works. However, it's not insipid, either. The storyline is a bit slow, and the half-dozen romances are predictable (but aren't most? When Mr. Bingley walks into the room we KNOW he and Jane are going to fall for each other, and no on thinks for a minute that John Thorpe can hold a candle to Henry Tilney), but the writing isn't bad. For a non-Janeite, I wouldn't recommend it, simply because on its own it doesn't have that much to offer (I would instead recommend Pride and Prejudice). It's unfair to expect someone to live up to Jane's standard, though.
For a lover of Jane Austen, I would say it's fun to think about how the characters would interact with each other, and to fancy what their lives are like after the last page of each book. In some places, I disagree with Ms. Brinton's thoughts. All the "good" characters like all "good" characters and dislike all the "bad" characters. Would Elizabeth Bennet really be good friends with Anne Elliot and Elinor Dashwood? I'm not so sure. She would appreciate Anne and Elinor's strength of character, but honestly I don't think she'd like Elinor. *SPOILER ALERT* I'm also not sure whether or not Kitty could fall for a minister. *END SPOILER*
In my addition, anyway, there were also several typos and a few inconsistencies (ie, a "theatre party" is proposed in the beginning of Chapter X, then called a "water party" towards the end of the chapter, and in the next chapter is an "exploration party").
One thing that I really didn't like was how Emma and Mary Crawford were treated. A little while back I heard someone say that you either like Mary Crawford or you hate her (and the same with Fanny Price). Personally, I like Fanny. I identify with her in many ways (and it really bothers me that many modern movie makers think they need to convert her personality into Elizabeth Bennet's to make her a likable heroine— but I'm getting sidetracked here). I've never liked Mary Crawford. At her core she is a selfish, vain woman without modesty. Ms. Brinton, I believe, is in the class that is fooled by attracted to Miss Crawford's wit and perhaps sees more than self-gratification in her treatment of Fanny (I don't); in any case we are supposed to cheer on her marriage to a good man. Ms. Brinton also dislikes Mr. Yates, who in Mansfield Park is portrayed as a good-natured, if loose-moralled, young man.

Mary Crawford at her harp. Note: I have not seen and therefore can't recommend this adaption of Mansfield Park.
I could overlook Miss Crawford, but not Emma. Emma may be vain and sometimes thoughtless, but she really does want to help people. Ms. Brinton seems to believe that Emma seeks the matrimony of her friends for her own silly amusement only, not because she wants to be helpful. She isn't a kind woman, but annoying really. A quote to illustrate the point:
"It was always a little difficult for Emma to realize that people had important affairs of their own; and that they should have had any existence apart from that which she had chosen to imagine for them constitued the surprise." (She then spends a man's entire visit acting bewildered that he isn't in another town or in love with another girl).
One wonders that Mr. Knightley would marry such a person!

Emma Woodhouse

Is Emma as perceptive as she thinks herself at the beginning of the novel? No, but she is somewhat perceptive— and by the end of the novel she has realized her own failings and is humbler for it. She's also a well-bred hostess. She doesn't sit acting bewildered and practically ignoring a guest who she knows she won't see for some months. She may be scheming, but that isn't her main characteristic (she also isn't as obvious as Ms. Brinton makes her be).

A few other small details that I don't agree with:

  • I rather doubt that Julia would have William Price staying with her. He isn't the type of fellow to attract her attention and she is a very self-gratifying girl, unlikely to do things she doesn't like.
  • The Elliots are poor. They took up residence in Bath. I don't think we'd find them in London, unless they'd been invited to stay at the house of a friend.
  • Georgianna's character seemed inconsistent. She mostly goes about a lot and isn't shy, but then at other times she is very timid.

All that said, it really was interesting to think of what might happen to the characters at the end of their books (and fun to get to include screenshots from various movies!).

Kitty Bennet

 photo awdursignature_zps319c67b7.png

No comments:

Post a Comment

Spill your thoughts. Observe common courtesy. You'll make me happy.