Friday, February 26, 2010

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

Attention Wary Readers: This review contains a few, minor spoilers, but nothing particularly ruinous to the enjoyment of the book in question. Proceed at your discretion.

I read this book after reading some pretty positive reviews, despite my reservations about the time travel scenario, which I've never really liked, having taken an aversion to books like The Devil's Arithmetic and Playing Beatie Bow when they were forced upon me at a young age. To my surprise, at the end of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict I found myself wanting more of an explanation from Laurie Viera Rigler regarding the time travel aspect of the book. How does a woman from them modern era suddenly wake up in the body of a Regency lady? I guess that's why she wrote the follow up book, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. However, while I liked the first book far better than I thought I would, I'm not ready to rush out a buy a second volume of Ms. Rigler's work. Why? Because I find I do not at all care for her heroine.

Courtney Stone is suppose to, I guess, represent the modern, American woman, with relationship troubles, a boring job, bills to pay, and body image issues. I, however, am very relieved that I know few people suffering from the degree of neurosis that Courtney displays. Yes, it is interesting to view the Regency world from the perspective of a person bordering on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but my amusement in her disgust at the lack of sanitation doesn't make me like her any more. Yes, she feels sorry for the servants who have to lug water by the bucketful up to her room so she can maintain some semblance of her customary bathing habits, but it doesn't stop her from making them do it more often than she should. Yes, her antics in the closet of an older hostess, fueled by a very understandable desire to play dress up in Georgian Era clothing, are entertaining, but they also display a shocking degree of disrespect for other people's property. She is like a teenager and, having been one, I can empathize while still feeling simultaneous repugnance for the adult who continues to behave in such an egocentric manner. I found nothing to like in this woman and bristle at the notion of her being representational of Austenites, as I sincerely believe we are not such a selfish bunch. What I do know is that we are typically not horrified at the notion of going outside without makeup on and tend to have a great penchant for empire waistlines, which, for some reason, Ms. Rigler derides at length (this was particularly painful to me, as I so adore them).

My dislike of the heroine aside, this book (a very fast read) has some absolutely fascinating moments in it, when Regency England comes alive in a way that directly plays to the sensibilities of Austen fans. I want to focus on two scenes that I found particularly affecting. The first highlights some of my complaints from the proceeding paragraph, though in this particular circumstance I feel great sympathy for Courtney's perspective. The setting is the Cross Baths in Bath and, while I find Courtney's longing for hand sanitizer annoying, I too would have great reservations about taking a dip in such salubrious conditions:
As we enter the sweltering pool in preposterous yellow bathing attire that covers us from neck to ankle, my nostrils are assaulted by a potpourri of body odors rising from the boiling flesh around me. Spiced-orange pomanders, which sit in floating bowls tied on ribbons around our necks, lose the battle against the stench rising from the steaming water before it even begins. But even the smell of this human soup is not as revolting as the sight of some of our fellow bathers. Just a few feet away from us, a stout woman grimaces as a younger female helps her unravel soiled bandages from her legs and then submerge those legs, open sores and all, into the water. Her companion isn't in much better physical shape herself. She has a loud, phlegmy cough that she makes no attempt to shield from the breathing passages of anyone within ten yards. The proximity of this pair is enough to make me scramble out of the water and stand shuddering at the edge of the pool.
In this scenario my scruples are even higher than Courtney's as I would never have set a foot in the water to begin with. But then again, I do enjoy water parks and their accompanying (properly chlorinated) wave pools, while I have a feeling Courtney does not. I guess reading the next book might be elucidating regarding exactly how germ-phobic she is. My ramblings aside, moments of historical reenactment like this are what kept the book compelling in spite of its heroine. It becomes easy to ignore her, even in the first person, when Ms. Rigler brings her surroundings alive and allows the reader to experience this unique, unpolished perspective of the era.

My very favorite scene, in which Ms. Rigler brought tears of joy to my eyes, is when Courtney accidentally encounters Jane Austen. Overhearing her name, Courtney tracks our dear lady down in the street and makes a right fool of herself, babbling rather incoherently about works not yet published and future film adaptations. Nevertheless, here is Miss Austen herself! What a wonderful moment! The first person narrative allows readers to feel, for a fleeting moment as Courtney tracks the receding bonnet through the busy town, that we too are about to meet this amazing woman who has bequeathed such a profound source of joy - her novels - to humanity. Then Courtney starts blabbing and the moment is ruined, but it was simply marvelous while the illusion lasted.

I imagine I will, at some point, read Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. I'd like more of an explanation as to how this body swap took place and am interested in learning how Jane Mansfield (our Regency lady) fares in modern LA. But as it is the glimpses of history that made Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict compelling for me, I feel no rush to sate my curiosity. For those who enjoy Austen but do not know that much about the period in which she wrote, it might be a rather valuable novel. For me, I'm not sure the elucidation was necessary, but I enjoyed nonetheless.


  1. I only read the second novel by Rigler you mention here. "Rude awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict" . I did it last summer for my Everything Austen Challenge . It reminded me of ITV Lost in Austen I had watched some time before. It was amusing and well written, I liked reading it. It was my first Asten based novel and it was not bad at all. I'd like to read this one too now. Maybe next summer. ( I know I should have read Confessions first, but I don't think it matters). Have a nice weekend, Alexa.

  2. Hi Maria! It's interesting to know that Rude Awakenings can stands so well on its own. Confessions is also reminiscent of Lost in Austen, whose heroine I also didn't care for. Enjoy your weekend too!

  3. Another enjoyable review! I, too, loved the vivid scenes Ms.Rigler depicted. I will not forget that Bath scene any time soon! I think I liked the second book more though. I think a combination of both books would make for a fun Austenesque movie!

  4. Thanks Meredith. It seems like I ought to go ahead and read that second volume. I like the movie notion - Lost in Austen was fun but a bit too slapstick.

  5. I really enjoyed this one. Yes, it was a great scene when Courtney runs into Jane Austen! I thought this was a fun read. The second one does explain what is going on with the swap.

  6. Thanks for the information, Naida. I've placed it in my Amazon cart and will purchase it on the 2nd, when The Intrigue at Highbury is released.