Mr. Darcy’s Daughters: Deja Vu

May 6, 2008

Several authors have written “sequels” to Jane Austen’s works with sequels to Pride & Prejudice outnumbering those of her other works (based on what I have observed which is by no means a scientific method!).  Mr. Darcy’s Daughters by Elizabeth Aston is one such work.     

Set in 1818, the novel follows the 5 Darcy daughters as they take London by storm when they come to stay with the Fitzwilliams (Darcy’s cousin) while their parents journey to Constantinople for a diplomatic mission.  Ranging in age from 16 to 21, every personality type is represented by the girls.  Alethea, 16, is a musical prodigy.  Belle and Georgina, twins, are silly flirts.  21-year-old Letitia is bossy and pious despite her beauty.  And 20-year-old Camillia is supposed to be the less pretty, clever, sensible one.  With matrimony being Lady Fanny Fitzwilliams’ goal for the girls, mayhem and scandal ensue.  

I should have known better.  I had a feeling this book would not be very good, and it wasn’t.  The characters weren’t very well drawn, and plot twists came out of nowhere and made no sense.  Suddenly Sophie Gardiner is in love with some random guy with whom she barely spoke even though she seemed to be thoroughly attached to her fiance at the beginning of the book.  Lady Warren (nee Caroline Bingley) hatches a plan with her stepson to ruin Camilla that seems to peter out or at the very least seems ludicrous when it does happen.  And don’t get me started on the homosexual suitor.  I thought the character and that part of the plot was very poorly handled.  I appreciate that Aston was trying to insert a dash of scandal to the girls’ time in London, but it came off a little ridiculously and somewhat offensively to my 21st-century mind.   The book had a few errors in it as well with regards to the Darcy daughters’ lineage and even calling a character by the wrong name.

The weirdest thing is that I felt like I had read the book before the entire time I was reading it.  It was published in 2003, and I don’t think I had read it before.  But so much seemed familiar.  Maybe it was because so many of the characters and plots were taken straight out of P&P:  annoyingly pious yet beautiful Letitia=Mary with a dash of Jane.  Belle and Georgina are flirts=Lydia and Kitty.  Camilla, the second daughter, isn’t as pretty as her older sister but clever and saucy = Elizabeth.  Oh, unsuitable suitors who are not what they seem = Wickham.  Haughty suitor = Mr. Darcy. Smarmy clerics = Mr. Collins.  Yet another scandalous elopement from which Lizzy, er I mean Camilla’s lover along with Mr. Gardiner must help extricate the family.  Gee, I HAVE read this book before, and it was much better when it was called Pride & Prejudice.  I find it hard to believe that the Darcys could have had such silly, unlikeable daughters.

Unless you absolutely MUST read anything associated with P&P, you have my permission to skip this one.

Recommended (if you must):  Carrie Bebris’ Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries.  Fun and light-hearted so you don’t compare them endlessly with the originals.

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Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict: Title Says It All

February 4, 2008

Someone should ban me from the library while I have unread books at home.  I stopped by last Friday to pick up an ILL (inter-library book) and took a few minutes to peruse the “new” bookshelf where I stumbled across Confessions of  a  Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler. 

Rigler’s book is about Courtney Stone, the titular Jane Austen addict, who is recovering from a failed romance in present-day LA and wakes one day to find herself no longer in her own body but in the body of an unmarried Regency woman named Jane Mansfield (yes, really.  HA Ha ha – guess it’s not really that funny).  While in Miss Mansfield’s body, Courtney comes to appreciate the difference between reading a book about delightful characters set in the Regency period and the limitations, restrictions, and realities that a Regency woman would have had to navigate, including clothes, courtship, etiquette and attitudes.  Courtney must also try to figure out how to get herself back to her own body and life in LA.    

Rigler is a dedicated member of the JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America), and it shows.  As I read the book, I wondered if its plot or parts of its plot had been developed out of some JASNA meeting or session.  Does JASNA sponsor fan fiction?  It occasionally seemed like there were a lot of in-jokes.  Overall, I was rather underwhelmed by the book.  It’s a cute idea, but the characters were flat and one-dimensional.  The plot also seemed a tad light.  Courtney-as-Jane is supposed to solve the important mystery of whether the eligible Mr. Edgerton is a scoundrel or worthy of her love, but there was no depth to the storyline.  Rigler did a better job of helping the reader picture what life might have been like in the early 19th century as far as using a chamber pot, eating, dress and transportation. 

 I also became tired very quickly of the Jane Austen references (sacrilege?).  When troubled, in need of a boost or just plain bored, the heroine rereads Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice.  Yes, I GET it!  You are a Jane Austen addict, and apparently no other authors exist.  The book also contains a painful (to the reader) meeting between the heroine and her idol.  It was this scene in which Rigler’s authorial voice came through the strongest and indicated that there was a point she was trying to make about Austen’s fiction and movie adaptations.

Despite the criticism, Rigler is a pretty good writer.  Her prose was clean and flowed well.  It’s just everything else that was weak. 


Jane Austen: A Companion (More Jane)

January 28, 2008

You know that you’ve possibly read too much on Jane Austen when you seeth and sputter during Gillian Anderson’s introduction to Mansfield Park, the latest Masterpiece Theater adaptation (more on that later). 

But back to the book.  Jane Austen:  A Companion (Josephine Ross) follows similar ground as Le Faye’s Jane Austen:  The World of Her NovelsYou learn about Jane’s life and writing as well as the customs of Regency England and how they were portrayed in her books as well as how to interpret them. 

Interestingly, this book took me longer to read, yet I found it easier to read.  It’s well-suited for a general reader who has a strong interest in Austen and her novels.  It’s difficult for me to decide which Austen book is better (Le Faye’s vs. Ross’) because I liked both of them.  In fact, I think they complement each other well.  Ross included more information on Jane’s romances than Le Faye did, and I also liked how she integrated her discussion of the novels in separate chapters on Regency elements such as fashion, rank and politics.  The plots of the novels were not discussed as deeply as in Le Faye’s book, but I don’t think that was a bad thing since Ross’ actual interpretation of the novels was better.  I really appreciated Ross’ discussion of how Jane’s own feeings and beliefs were reflected in her novels, especially her feelings on wealth, rank, and marriage. 

My only quibble with the book was that at times, Ross’ admiration for Austen seemed to cloud the analysis she was providing.    After reading Ross’ book, though, I feel like I really know Jane and can read her novels with a much better understanding of the author and the period in which she was writing.

 Now to MP’s Mansfield Park…I thought it was awful, awful, awful, and it started with the introduction.  Jane Austen did NOT admire the character of Mary Crawford.  Mary Crawford embodies several characteristics that Austen most definitely did not appreciate or approve of.  I know the content of the introduction wasn’t Gillian Anderson’s fault, but even she seemed stiff, cold and uncomfortable as she delivered it. 

They butchered the plot and removed anything that made Fanny Price worthy of being called an Austen heroine.  I think the actors were a big problem for me.  First of all, I don’t like Billie Piper.  I didn’t like her on Doctor Who, and I didn’t like her as Fanny.  Secondly, I couldn’t look at Michelle Ryan as Maria Bertram without thinking of how much I dislike her on The Bionic Woman.  After watching MP, I had to watch Northanger Abbey to reassure myself that MT could do a good Austen adaptation.


Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels (because Jane is great)

January 23, 2008

When people ask me what my favorite book is, I answer, “Pride and Prejudice.” Sometimes I feel a little pretentious saying that, but it’s true.  I love Elizabeth Bennet, and who doesn’t love Mr. Darcy (forever visualized by me as looking like Colin Firth).  Jane Austen has been on my mind lately; it’s possibly due to Masterpiece Theater showing adaptation of her works over the next several weeks.  Whatever the reason, I wanted to read a little bit more about Jane Austen and the Regency period in which she wrote. 

Austen scholar Deirdre Le Faye gives a thorough glimpse into the world in which Jane Austen lived and wrote in Jane Austen:  The World of Her Novels.  The book provides a full biography on Austen as well as details on the clothing, education, household organization, sanitation, foreign affairs and social customs of the time.  In the last part of the book, she provides a detailed overview of each Austen book, including its critical reception and how much Austen was paid, and places each book in its geographical and social context.  Throughout the book, excerpts from Jane’s and her family’s letters appear as supporting evidence.  Intriguingly, Le Faye reveals that Jane sometimes told her family further details about her characters that are not in her books such as what happened to a character after the novel ended.   

 I thought Le Faye’s book was good, and I learned quite a bit about Austen that I did not know.  I appreciated the carefully-chosen pictures that appeared throughout and allowed me to have an idea of what the Dashwoods’ supposedly small cottage would have looked like as well as other examples of houses that might resemble the houses in Austen’s works, as well as clothing, how the characters might have looked and other important details.  I also appreciated that Le Faye explained how certain behaviors and plot points in Austen’s work have lost their significance to modern readers but would have been instantly recognizable to her contemporaries and how to interpret those elements.  Something that is always pointed out about Pride & Prejudice is that Elizabeth Bennet is never described, and Le Faye tackles why that is as well as why some people and places receive fuller descriptions than others.  In short, it is a well-researched, carefully thought-out book.

It is a little dry, though, and will likely appeal primarily to those who really like Austen and want to know a lot more about her and her world.  It says something that I could not find this book in the local public library and had to check it out from the university library.   I really enjoyed the section on manners, customs, dress, etc. and wish there had been more of that. I am reading a similar book on Jane Austen’s world as well as a few on the general Regency period, so expect those reviews soon.

Highly recommended if you want to know more about the world of the 19th century:  What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew.   I reread that book a few times a year 🙂 Also:  An Elegant Madness:  High Society in Regency England