Jane Mansfield (of Somerset, not pinup fame) awakens one morning to find herself in the body of Courtney Stone, 21st century Californian. She must adapt to both her unusual situation and the modern world, which, while difficult, she manages with a deal of finesse. I must say I like her much more than Courtney, whose irritating personality greatly impeded my enjoyment of Confessions. While Courtney, with the benefit of knowing something about the time she is in, bungles her way through Jane's life, Jane, though she commits more overall blunders, is far more conscious of her role as "steward", thereby doing more to improve Courtney's situation. I think Ms. Rigler intended both ladies to bring fresh perspectives to their respective situations but, by my way of thinking, it is not an even trade.
The one benefit Courtney bequeaths to Jane is a set of steadfast friends, without whose help Jane would really have had a hard time. With good intentions, they whisk her off to a psychiatrist when she insists she is not Courtney. I love this scene between Jane and the doctor:
She poises her writing instrument atop her paper. "Do you have any history of mental illness in your family?"But other than highly devoted friends, Courtney has given Jane a life of dead end work, overdue bills, and a wreck of a relationship. All this Jane goes about setting to right, and her observations on modern dating are some of the most intriguing moments of the book. These range from highly humorous, like this exchange ...
What an impertinent question. As if any family would reveal such information. "Indeed not."
"Have you any thoughts of hurting yourself? Any suicidal thought?"
"Of course not. Are you a magistrate as well?"
"Let me buy you a coffee. An iced coffee, if you like. And I'll tell you all about it, okay?"... to far more serious, philosophical observations on the state of gender equality ...
I manage a smile. "Only if you allow me to buy the coffee."
For that is what independent women may do with their non-boyfriend gentlemen friends, is it not?
"No man expects his wife to be untouched. Maybe our grandparents might have, but even that I doubt. Birth control changed everything."By the end of the story, Jane has succeeded in incorporating her 19th century values into the modern world. Amusingly, not much has really changed, as the solution to a lady's predicament apparently remains a good marriage, regardless of the century.
"Doesn't look to me like much has changed."
"Oh, so I suppose we can just ignore the entire women's movement."
"Movement? Towards what - a lack of respect for oneself?"
"I've never heard you talk like this, Courtney. I thought you were a feminist."
"If that means I am a defender of my sex against blackguards like you, then yes, I suppose I am a feminist."
The book is simply fascinating. I still feel like the body swapping mechanism is poorly explained but was glad, at the end, to have a better understanding of our heroines fates. I am considering rereading the series with my husband, who enjoyed Lost in Austen (my review of which you can read here) and is generally open minded to Austen based narratives, especially when there is a fantasy twist. I recommend this book to anyone who, like me, spends hours wondering what kind of reaction Marianne Dashwood would have to techno music and Emma Woodhouse to flip flops.