Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bespelling Jane Austen by Mary Balough, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard, and Janet Mullany

For my last review in honor of Halloween, I turn to an anthology of four romance writers' supernatural interpretations of Jane Austen's stories. Bespelling Jane Austen is an amusing collection with many highlights, but also a few drawbacks. It seems only appropriate to explore each tale in turn.

Almost Persuaded by Mary Balogh opens the book. It is a loose take on the Persuasion story, the characters having different names and slightly different back stories. The supernatural premise focuses on reincarnation, the Anne and Wentworth characters (Jane Everett and Captain Mitford) being soul mates: doomed to fall in love, life after life, and always tragically separated. Special insight into their plight, however, allows them the opportunity to maybe get it right this time. This is a very sweet and romantic story which had me hooked from the first page, but, as frequently happens, I was a bit uncomfortable with the amount and type of sexual content incorporated into a Regency period piece. Some of the choices the characters have to make felt, to me, to be negated by over excited libidos, but I imagine that most people would not find this aspect problematic.   

The second story is Northanger Castle by Colleen Gleason, and I think it was probably my favorite in the collection. A Catherine Moreland based character, Caroline Merrill, visits Bath with her mind full of Gothic tales, in particular a vampire novel called "The Venator" about a sect of vampire hunters and their prey, the Tutela. Everywhere she goes she sees people who seem to fit into the profile of the characters in her novels, but it begins to seem that Caro is more than just an imaginative young lady, and that her flights of fancy have some basis in fact. I really enjoyed this story, but I have one HUGE complaint that almost made me throw down the book in annoyance. The story begins with an assembly in the Pump Room. An assembly in the Pump Room? Perhaps a reader with greater knowledge of Bath history will be able to shine some light on this, for as far as I know, such events were never held in this public gathering place.

Story number three is Blood and Prejudice by Susan Krinard, who is the force behind this collection of stories. It's a cute modernization of Pride and Prejudice with a vampiric twist, namely that both Darcy and Wickham (and Lady Catherine) are members of the undead. Though shortened, it largely follows the original storyline, which I found pleasing. I particularly liked that Darcy was still the same Regency gentleman we know and love, though transposed into a modern setting and extremely old.

The final story is by Janet Mullany. Just yesterday, I reviewed Ms. Mullany's Jane and the Damned (read it here), which I highly enjoyed. Unfortunately, Little to Hex Her, a modernization of Emma, incorporating all kinds of supernatural creatures, held little appeal for me. The problem mostly derives from Ms. Mullany's blatant dislike for both Emma and Knightley. In this story, Emma runs a dating agency (almost too appropriate) in Washington D.C. for vampires (Frank Churchill), werewolves (Harriet Smith and Robert Martin), elves (the Eltons), witches (Emma, Knightley, "Missy" Bates, and Jane Fairfax, and naiads (none of our main characters). It could have been amusing, but I just felt all the characterizations were wrong. Emma is completely lacking in confidence, as is Knightley, while "Missy" Bates rambles endlessly without making any sense, unlike Austen's character, who reveals a great deal of extremely pertinent information. I found it an anticlimactic end to the collection.

Overall, there is lots of fun to be had in this book, and it was supremely appropriate holiday reading. Happy Halloween everybody!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jane and the Damned by Janet Mullany

I'm always a bit skeptical of literary "mashups" but have nonetheless found my way to reading several, and even enjoying a few. However, books featuring Jane Austen as a character, especially a vampire, have held very little appeal to me. Generally, I kind of find the entire genre of 21st century vampire novels kind of offensive. Who are these kindhearted, vegetarian creatures? Certainly not the descendants of Dracula! But when I heard that Jane Austen, as represented by Janet Mullany in Jane and the Damned, was everything a fierce vampire ought and should be, I decided to open my mind and purchase a copy. I'm very happy I did. I still had some qualms with the novel (it's rare when I don't), but I read it in a single day, barely able to put the book down, completely entranced by this story of Jane fighting an invading French army in the streets of Bath.

There's my first qualm, by the way, and one I knew would be an issue for me before even turning to page one. What on Earth is Napoleon's army doing invading England, somehow penetrating one of the most effective naval blockades in military history? I am a complete and total anglophile, and the notion disgusts me. I can't imagine what actual British people think about this revisionist history (of course, there are also vampires roaming about as an accepted part of society, so I'm probably being a bit inane in my protests). While the invasion did not hinder my enjoyment of the story, the image of a guillotine in England made my skin crawl with disgust. Nevertheless, it provides an explanation for Jane's motivation in this story, and certainly made for riveting reading, all while giving her ample opportunity to indulge her animal instincts, as in this, rather messy, first kill:
"Eh, ma petite, you walk alone?" His voice rasped. "You like to welcome a Frenchman to your town, yes?"

She hid the knife in the folds of her gown and waited. She could smell his blood now that he was closer, hear the excited thrum of his heart. As though afraid she backed against the railings that led down to the front area of her aunt and uncle's house.

He laughed and lunged at her. He was against her now, almost overwhelming her with his stink and lust and the heat of his blood, grabbing at her skirts. She raised one hand and ripped at his stock and jacket, tearing the fabric-how strong she was, how powerful-and lunged for his neck beneath the greasy pomade-scented black hair.

Now she was the one who attacked. He yelled in fear and the musket clattered to the ground.

"Silence, s'il vous plait!" she hissed at him, looking into his eyes as blood pulsed from his neck-what a waste!-and to her relief his expression became dreamy and distant. He slackened in her grip as she drank, blood spilled over them both, darkening her gown and apron, his boots scrabbling on the flagstones for purchase until he collapsed beneath her.
Now that's a real vampire!

The story begins at a Basingstoke assembly. A few of the "Damned" have amused themselves by making an appearance (in a bizarre parody of the Bingleys and Darcy's attendance at the Meryton assembly), and Jane has an unfortunate encounter with one such specimen, rendering her one of their ilk. She confesses her state to her father, who rushes his daughter to Bath, the waters in this tale having far greater curative powers than are typically attributed to them. But then the French arrive, quickly subjugating the town, and with her increased strength and prowess, Jane decides to delay her treatment until the invaders are defeated, aligning herself with a group of vampires dedicated to this cause, under the aegis of two very old and powerful leaders: a Mr. Luke Venning, who proves to be the hero of our tale, and her creator, William. The result is an exciting and thoroughly romantic tale. Highlights include Ms. Mullany's depiction of the Prince Regent, who, ironically, becomes good friends with Jane (he too, has become a vampire), and Reign of Terror styled court proceedings, which allow our dear authoress to amply display her intrepidity. I wish the battle scenes were a bit more developed, but otherwise Ms. Mullany does an excellent job of bringing this alternative reality to life.

This brings me to qualm number two, but as it cannot be discussed without spoiling the end, I suggest you either abandon this post now or continue at your own risk. Once the French are ousted (that's not the spoiler, just the inevitable), Jane must decided whether to take the cure or remain a vampire. She decides in favor of the former, largely based on the fact that her ability to write has almost completely disappeared during her stint as one of the Damned. Fans of her novels are expected, I suppose, to breath a sigh of relief that she does not abandon a legendary career, but I was actually disappointed. Again and again, throughout the course of the novel, the freedoms and empowerment that Jane gains as a vampire are emphasized. I cannot think that the Jane Austen I know through her novels would ever give up such an opportunity to escape the rigid confinements of her genteel, spinster lifestyle, especially when she is forced to relinquish true love in the process. My heart ached for both her and Luke Venning when she makes this unfathomable decision. However, I have heard a rumor that Ms. Mullany is working on a sequel, so maybe there is hope for Jane and Luke yet. I do hope so. They make a fabulous, bloodsucking couple. 

Persuasion Janeicillin: Part Four

A day late, and slightly longer than usual, but I had so much fun writing this installment! I hope you enjoy it!

Read Parts One, Two, and Three.

All the Elliots were at home when Captain Wentworth arrived the following morning, bearing a letter of congratulations from his brother, Edward, in Plymouth. His impulse was to share the contents with Anne, but as Sir Walter and Elizabeth remained present, and the content of the letter was not of the sort to please their vanity, the Captain contented himself with summarizing thusly:

“Edward and his wife send their utmost felicitations and insist that we visit them not long after our nuptials. With your permission, Anne, I will engage us to journey there upon quitting Bath, assuming the Admiralty doesn't interfere with our plans.”

“Indeed, please do! I look forward to becoming reacquainted with Mr. Wentworth, and I am sure his wife is charming.”

“I will do so this moment, if you would be so good as to supply me with paper and ink, Sir Walter. And I will ask Sophy and the Admiral to accompany us. It will be quite the family reunion.”

Anne smiled in anticipation of the happy, family circle she was soon to join, and hastened to situate Captain Wentworth comfortably at the writing desk. He had just taken up a pen when Sir Walter, who had been mulling over the exchange, felt it incumbent upon himself to voice his opinion on the subject. “As curate at Monkford, Wentworth, your brother and I did not have many occasions to meet socially, but as Anne's future relation, I do wish the man well. You may express my regards in your letter.”

Captain Wentworth nodded in acknowledgment, but allowed his true sentiments regarding Sir Walter's condescension to be revealed in his composition: “You will be gratified to learn that my future father-in-law finds it becomes him to send you his regards. How shall you contain your joy?

But Sir Walter was not yet done. “I do think, however, that a parsonage cannot possibly house both you and my tenant, Admiral Croft, comfortably. Surely he will wish to return to Kellynch once he removes from Bath.”
“Quite true,” concurred Elizabeth.

“Thank you for your concern, Sir Walter, but I can assure you, having been there myself, that my brother's home is quite commodious. We shall all be made perfectly comfortable.”

“That may be so, but perhaps you had better invite the Rector to Kellynch instead. Surely that would be much more the thing, and Anne would prefer to visit her ancestral home than an unknown town in Plymouth.”

“And you could visit the tenants, Anne, and insure the Crofts are seeing to their comfort,” contributed Elizabeth. “They would be comforted to see an Elliot in neighborhood again.”

“I am sure the Crofts are doing an excellent job in caring for the entire estate,” Anne assured her sister, before tactfully changing the subject. “Where is Mrs. Clay this morning? I have not seen her since breakfast.”

“She had a variety of errands to run. I told her she might enlist a servant on her behalf, but she insisted the exercise would do her good. Why she must walk to the post office, I certainly do not comprehend, but I thought it best to indulge her whim, as she was quite determined on the matter.”

“Mrs. Clay has been too often in the streets during the day. Such needless exposure will undo all the good affects that Gowlands has had upon her complexion. Speaking of Gowlands...”

“I see you are finished your letter, Frederick,” Anne hastily interposed. “We had best be off if we are to arrive at Mrs. Smith's in good time. She is expecting us.”

“It is good of you to indulge my daughter in these altruistic whims she insists upon, Wentworth. No persuasion of mine has succeeded in convincing her that a sick room is no place for a Miss Anne Elliot, of Camden Place and Kellynch Hall. I hope neither of you may suffer any ill-effects from such a visit.”

“It is my pleasure to escort your daughter, Sir Walter, as it pleases me to know she is firm where she feels herself to be in the right.” With that they said their goodbyes and made a hasty departure for Westgate Buildings.

“Well they certainly make a fitting pair. There is no understanding the pleasures of either of them,” commented Sir Walter.

“Do not concern yourself with the matter, Father. Unnecessary worry will only crease your brow.”

“Quite true, my dear,” he replied, examining his surprisingly smooth forehead in the nearest mirror. “Soon Anne shall be the Captain's concern. Let him puzzle over her eccentric inclinations.”

Elizabeth and Sir Walter spent the next hour complacently discussing the town gossip: the loss of Mr. Elliot to their family party, the acquisition of a man of Captain Wentworth's appearence to their drawing rooms, and the honor of Lady Dalyrymple's desire to attend the upcoming wedding. The Abby had been secured for the occasion, on a day most convenient to all, and both felt themselves generously reconciled to the arrangements. If Elizabeth's chagrin at being the only remaining, unmarried sister continued to fester, it was largely compensated for by no longer having to bear Anne's company, which she had ever found tedious. She did, after all, have Mrs. Clay, whose flattering attentions were far more to her taste than her sister's censorious eye.

But Elizabeth's feelings were shortly to suffer a further disappointment. Mrs. Clay returned somewhat flustered and overheated, causing Sir Walter to reaffirm his disapprobation for needless dalliance in the sunlight, but a few minutes revealed that it was not exertion that rendered their companion unsettled, but the reception of a most inconvenient letter.

“It is to my great sorrow that I am afraid I must depart from you, my dearest friends. My sister is quite distressed, and asks that I come to London at once. It appears that her household has been afflicted by the measles, and all three children are terribly ill.”

“Measles!” cried Sir Walter in horror. “No, my dear, you must not go to London, however much in need your sister may be. Surely she can hire an additional nurse to assist her at such a time. You must not endanger your health! The measles are a most disfiguring ailment!”

“Absolutely not, Penelope. Besides, how can I possibly spare you?”

Touched by this show of concern, particularly from Sir Walter, Mrs. Clay assured her benefactors that she had already suffered from the disease as a child, that it therefore it posed no risk to herself, and that she would return to Bath as soon as she possibly could.

“But you must not go at all. For if you do, you must understand that we cannot have you return to us here. No Elliot has ever suffered from such a disreputable disease, and we cannot risk becoming infected ourselves.”

Mrs. Clay's hopes fell. Had Sir Walter shown true concern for her own well-being, she would in all likelihood have abandoned her current scheme, but this display of self-absorption, though not unexpected, confirmed what she had long been coming to accept. Camden Place held no future for her other than that of companion. Desperation steeled her determination.

“Then I am afraid, Sir Walter, dear Miss Elliot, that I will have to part from you for an unknown period of time.” Her eyes welled in a touching display of sorrow.

“It cannot be, Penelope. First Mr. Elliot, now you, and soon even Anne will be gone. Surely you understand that this is a most disagreeable turn of events!”

“My dear Miss Elliot, you must know that I would never cause you undue distress. Indeed, it is your own example of sisterly affection that assures me I must do my duty. I cannot have spent so much time in such superior company without learning what is my duty on such an occasion.”

Elizabeth held no illusions regarding her attachment to her sisters, but pride prevented her from disputing the fact. Mrs. Clay must go. “Of course. I understand perfectly. After all, with Anne's marriage, I will find myself more frequently called upon to accompany Lady Russell about town, and with Miss Cateret's desire for my company, I will have little enough time as it is.”

“It's all settled then. When do you depart?” inquired Sir Walter.

“I shall leave on tomorrow's mail,” she replied with wounded dignity. “My brother is sending a servant to accompany me.”

“Very good. I am glad he has such forethought, for surely we cannot spare a servant to attend you,” said Elizabeth coldly.

“I shall go pack my things at once. Excuse me.” Mrs. Clay held her head up as she quickly left the room, finding consolation in the fact that the high and mighty Elliots would soon experience their own share of mortification. She did not pause to think what impact her decision would have on her father's relationship with his most important client, nor the consequences to herself in the future. Instead her mind was consumed with the knowledge that she would not be traveling by the lowly mail, but in a very handsome equipage bearing the Elliot crest. She would have what Elizabeth most wanted, and that knowledge was a source of supreme gratification.

Anne had previously revealed something of Mrs. Smith's circumstances to Captain Wentworth, namely that she was widowed, in reduced circumstances, and sickly, but she did not provide any information regarding that lady's experience with Mr. Elliot. If Mrs. Smith chose to confide in Frederick, as Anne hoped she would, it would be her choice. Furthermore, while Mr. Elliot remained in town, and Frederick maintained his absurd jealously towards the man, she did not wish to further strain relations between the two, as knowledge of the former's perfidy surely would. Her cousin's removal, however, cleared the way for a frank discussion of Mrs. Smith's situation, and Anne had suggested her friend do so in the correspondence that arranged this day's meeting.

The couple was greeted by Mrs. Smith's maid, somewhat overawed by the towering Captain in his impressive uniform. Indeed, as they were ushered into Mrs. Smith's small parlor, he seemed to fill the already crowed room with his presence. Anne received an even warmer welcome than she had been accustomed to – Mrs. Smith was tangibly pleased to meet her fiancee – and the presence, on a nearby table, of the small box containing papers pertaining to her dealings with Mr. Elliot, assured Anne that her friend did intend to relate her story to Captain Wentworth. The hope that he might be able to advise Mrs. Smith warmed her soul.

Introductions were quickly and warmly made. Anne was reminded of meeting the Harvilles in Lyme, and the instant sense of camaraderie that had pervaded their humble but welcoming home. Being able to provide him with at least this one friend whom he could value was a source of great comfort to Anne, being keenly aware of her own inferiority in this area, having no family of her own to receive and estimate him properly. Mrs. Smith regaled the Captain with a few choice anecdotes from the ladies' school days, much to his amusement, before Anne decided it was time to introduce the subject of Mr. Elliot.

“Surely your informant, Mrs. Rooke, has already made you aware of my cousin's departure for London?”

“Indeed she has. His greatest hope dashed, he has fled the field of battle, much like the man he is. But do not think he is not plotting his next course of action. As long as he perceives a danger to his own inheritance, you may be assured he continues to conspire and maneuver. He was never one to give up so easily.”

“You know Mr. Elliot of old?” asked Captain Wentworth, and the entire story of his false dealings and interest in preserving his future title unfolded.

The Captain took in every detail with rapt attention. Many of the same papers Anne had previously seen were produced, though not those pertaining to Mr. Elliot's former disregard for his patrimony. Frederick examined each one in turn, a stony expression settling onto his face as the man's true nature revealed itself. “And you knew of this Anne?” he asked in astonishment, once Mrs. Smith completed her account.

“Only since the day following the concert. Like you, Mrs. Smith believed the reports of attachment between Mr. Elliot and myself, and upon assuring her I had no such inclinations, she made his character known to me.”

“I thank you for disabusing Anne from Mr. Elliot's false facade. But this is outrageous! It would take so little for him to rectify the situation. His lawyer could handle the business in a trice! To act so falsely towards those who had proven themselves true friends is one of the most dishonorable actions I have ever heard of, and I assure you, Mrs. Smith, my career has put me in the way of more than one scoundrel. I am astounded by the man!”

“It is my hope, Frederick, that you might be able to advise Mrs. Smith as to the best way of proceeding. Is there not some way in which she can force Mr. Elliot's hand?”

“There most certainly is! I shall do it. It will mean following the rogue to London and demanding action.”

“But I do not wish to separate you from Miss Elliot! No engaged couple should be parted so soon after finding each other.”

“I will miss him, certainly, but will happily endure the sacrifice for your sake.”

“It will not be very difficult, I assure you. Less than a week will see the matter settled. Mr. Elliot knows that you have legal recourse to make him act, but he has taken advantage of your circumstances and remained idle. I will write to my lawyer this very day. He and I shall confront Mr. Elliot, and he will have little option but to act on his role as executor or appoint the task to another. I myslef will volunteer for the duty. It is not so very onerous. Indeed, it will take some time to fully reveal the state of affairs in the West Indies, but I know of many who make the trip regularly and will ask one of my associates to explore the matter on sight, thereby hastening the procedure.”

Mrs. Smith was overcome with emotion at the Captain's readiness to engage himself on her behalf, and her gratitude revealed itself fully in both words and the sincerity of her countenance. He dismissed her declarations of obligation as unnecessary – it was, after all, what any true gentleman would do – but upon leaving Westgate Buildings, he made his true feeling known.

“I understand he is your cousin, Anne, so please forgive my violence, but it will take every bit of self control I posses not to thrash the man when I see him. To leave a sick woman, the wife of his friend, in squalor while he lives in luxury, a lady for whom he is legally responsible moreover, is an act of such base monstrosity it sickens me. If he were a member of my crew, I would have him flogged within an inch of his life.”

Anne did not doubt his words, and though she could not say so about a member of her family, privately agreed it would be no less than he deserved. Any mortification she might have felt at the actions of her relation were completely overcome by pride in the man whom she would soon have the honor of calling husband.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Phantom of Pemberley by Regina Jeffers

First, I must say that I have yet to read a book by Regina Jeffers that I did not enjoy. She beautifully captures Austen's tone, represents her characters with authentic accuracy, and while she incorporates more sexuality than I am typically comfortable with, she does so in an allusive manner, thereby sparing my sensibilities (and Elizabeth and Darcy's privacy). Second, The Phantom of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Murder Mystery might just be her best novel to date. I was completely entranced by the story, astounded I could not solve the mystery before Ms. Jeffers chose to reveal it, and ready to start it over from the beginning once I reached the end (an indulgence time, unfortunately, did not allow). Regular readers of this blog know that I reread my favorite Austenesque novels aloud with my husband. This book is now at the top of our to-be-recited list.

I do not want to provide any spoilers, as Ms. Jeffers goes to great lengths to protect the culprit's identity, but I will say that lunacy is involved, and I am and always have been a sucker for any story involving insanity. This might be due to the unfortunate fact that I have the honor of being related to more than one crazy person (I mean that very literally), but regardless, the subject has always fascinated me, since I first read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden in middle school through the time when I chose the Victorian madwoman as the subject for my English Honors thesis in college. As I pursued The Phantom of Pemberley, it became increasingly clear that the murderers were far from mentally stable, and my inability to put the novel down increased. It is not often that mental illness gets to take such a central role in JAFF, as Austen certainly never explored the topic (at least not directly, though her texts implicitly reject physiognomy, the leading "science" of mental diagnosis at that time, and C.S. Lewis made a pretty compelling case that, in Persuasion, she anticipates the psychoanalytic conceptions later developed by Freud).

So now that I've rambled a bit about my favorite topic, let us explore what The Phantom of Pemberley is actually about. The Darcys have been married for a year. Lydia Wickham, already well aware of the mistake she made in marrying George Wickham, travels to Pemberley to indulge in the luxuries she herself cannot afford. As if a visit from Lydia wasn't enough of a strain on the Darcys, her arrival is immediately precipitated by the unannounced arrival of Lady Catherine and her daughter, Anne de Bourgh, the former demanding Darcy's assistance in extricating the latter from an unacceptable attachment. The situation is further complicated by a massive snow storm. When the Darcys arrive in Lambton to collect Lydia from the mail coach, they find an inn unable to to house the many stranded travelers seeking accommodations. These include Lydia's travelling companions, a Mr. Nigel Worth and a Mrs. Williams, as well as a previous, though slight, acquaintance of Darcy's: the Viscount of Stafford, Adam Lawrence. Darcy feels compelled to offer hospitality to the latter despite the fact that he is traveling with his mistress,Cathleen Donnel (introduced to the ladies as his cousin). Lydia, in turn, practically insists that Mr. Worth and Mrs. Williams are also included in the Pemberley party. Needless to say, with the house filled with virtual strangers and barely tolerable relations, mayhem ensues.

All blame for subsequent events, however, cannot be laid at the foot of the Darcys' guests. Even before their arrival, a strange man is spotted on the grounds and household items disappear. The servants attribute these strange occurrences to a local legend of the "shadow people", which Elizabeth and Darcy dismiss as superstitious nonsense. Still, as the murders and attacks multiply without any rational explanation for how or why they are being perpetrated, logical answers elude the inhabitants of Pemberley. Is one the the guests responsible, or, perhaps, one of the servants? Ms. Jeffers keeps us guessing until almost the very end of the story, displaying a mastery of mystery her previous books gave no indication she possessed. I highly recommend this novel to all and challenge anyone to put it down once begun. It is one of the best Austensque novels I have read all year.     

Interview with Elizabeth Elliot and Patrick McGillvary at Reading, Writing, Working, Playing

I highly suggest that you stop whatever it is you are doing and dash over to Jane Greensmith's blog, Reading, Writing, Working, Playing, in order to indulge in one of the cleverest blog post it has ever been my pleasure to read. Ms. Greensmith and Laura Hile, author of the Mercy's Embrace series (follow the links to read my reviews of books one, two, and three), have concocted a hilarious interview with the main characters of the story, Elizabeth Elliot and Patrick McGillvary. They are also offering a giveaway (shipping in the US only) of all three books to one lucky participant, but the deadline for entry is tonight, so hurry up and enter! This series is one of my very favorite Austen sequels out there, and I highly recommend it to all.  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd

I have such mixed feelings about this novel. On the one hand, it is an extremely compelling murder mystery, full of suspense and romance, that held me hooked from the beginning (well, chapter two) until the end. On the other hand, it turns Mary Crawford into the heroine while villainizing Fanny Price, a dynamic that makes me want to scream with frustration.

Those of you who clicked on my profile of Fanny Price last week (read it here), already know perfectly well how I feel about misrepresentations of this most maligned of Austen's heroines. I HATE it when people alter her character, especially when Mary Crawford is proffered up as a heroine in her place. Just because Mary has a witty tongue, in the style of Elizabeth Bennet, does not make her the latter's equal. Mary is a mercenary, misguided young woman, willing to act as an accessory in her brother's selfish plan to ensnare Fanny's affections and celebrate the death of Tom Bertram. She is awful, and I cannot understand why so many writers sympathize with her conniving ways. This is why I have such difficulty with Murder at Mansfield Park.

In this novel, Lynn Shepherd fundamentally changes the dynamics of society at Mansfield Park. Fanny is still the adopted niece, but here she is both orphaned and the heiress to a staggeringly large fortune. The Bertram's still have four children, but Edmund (now Mrs. Norris' son) has been replaced by William (as in William Price), and Julia is a younger woman, much in the style of Marianne Dashwood. The Crawfords, on the other hand, have diminished resources in this reimagining. While Henry still holds property (his estate at Everingham is altered into a small house in Enfield), he must work as an improver to supplement his income, and Mary has "less than two thousand pounds" (which, in this universe, is apparently enough to drive her into the working class). As something of a purist, after reading the first chapter of the book, I abandoned it for several weeks in a fit of extreme frustration. When I finally chose to return to it, it was with a great degree of skepticism. This is why I am still astounded that I actually ended up enjoying the story.

My dislike of the Crawfords aside, Mary is portrayed by Ms. Shepherd in an incredibly sympathetic manner. She is smart, brave, observant, and kind, and it is these qualities that allow her to attract the attention of not only Edmund Bertram, but also Mr. Maddox, the investigator brought in to solve the murder referred to in the title. I do not want to give anything away, but I will say that I was disappointing with the man Mary ends up with in the end. The culprit, on the other hand, I found to be a pleasant surprise, and perhaps the characterization most in keeping with Austen's original story. Remarkably, despite the massive changes in plot, the structure of the novel (or at least the first half) remains in tact. Sir Thomas travels, leaving his family unattended by his careful supervision, there is an unhappy trip to Sotherland, and a failed production of Lovers' Vows. Furthermore, Ms. Shepherd's prose are very well-written, and the story's plot highly compelling. All in all, I would say that any person long dissatisfied with Mansfield Park will find much to enjoy in this retelling. Lovers of the novel, however, will probably find it difficult to get beyond the distortion imposed on Austen's characters, as I did. To this latter group, I recommend setting aside loyalties and angry passions in order to just enjoy the ride. It might be a bit of a struggle, but this story is worth the effort.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries by Carrie Bebris

In honor of Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, I have been saving up reviews of novels involving the supernatural, monsters, and murder for this week. Most will be books I have recently read for the first time, but I thought I would begin by providing an overview of Carrie Bebris' novels, which I recently reread with my husband. These stories are, for all intensive purposes, Pride and Prejudice sequels, but each focuses on characters from a different Austen novel, and all thrust Darcy and Elizabeth into bizarre predicaments involving murder and, frequently, supernatural occurrences. It took me a while to embrace the series, a bit put off at first with the mystical elements (which are particularly prevalent in the earlier novels), but the fascinating manner in which Ms. Bebris' uses the differences in Darcy and Elizabeth's personalities to create an effective crime solving duo got me hooked. Essentially, Darcy is the supremely rational, fact focused member of the team, using deduction in a Holmesian fashion to solve the crime, while Elizabeth relies on instinct and intuition, allowing her to consider possibilities Darcy is very uncomfortable entertaining. The characterizations work extremely well, creating tales that will captivate not only the Austen devotee, but also fans of the detective genre.

The first book is entitled Pride and Prescience (Or, A Truth Universally Acknowledged), and it is the only one focused solely on the cast of Pride and Prejudice. The action begins at the Darcy's wedding breakfast, when Caroline Bingley announces her engagement to the charming and wealthy Mr. Parrish, an American from Louisiana. They are quickly married in a lavish London ceremony, but things begin to appear odd when the Darcys spot Caroline from their carriage, the very night of her wedding, walking through a most unsavory area of London clutching a bulging reticule. Her behavior becomes more and more bizarre, and her family begins to fear for her sanity. Soon other strange accidents begin to befall the members of the Bingley family in the form of a suspicious carriage accident and a potentially devastating fire at Netherfield. It is up to Darcy and Elizabeth to figure out what has brought such unrest to the Bingley family, not knowing the danger they face in the process.

The second book, Suspense and Sensibility (Or, First Impressions Revisited), places Kitty Bennet at the focus of the action. Invited to London to share a season with Georgiana, she attracts the attention of one Harry Dashwood, the young heir of Norland familiar to us from Sense and Sensibility. Despite the mercenary values thrust upon the man by his avaricious parents, Harry falls in love with dowerless Kitty, defying his mother by asking her to marry him. The Darcy's are thrilled with the match until Henry's behavior abruptly alters for the worse. Debauchery, crudeness, and a strange obsession with a deceased ancestor threaten the engagement, but there is far more to Henry's alteration than meets the eye.

North by Northanger (Or, The Shades of Pemberley) is the third book, which begins with a mystery surrounding Anne Darcy, Fitzwilliam's long deceased mother, and an invitation to Northanger Abbey from Captain Tilney, whom the Darcys have never met. The excuse for the visit is the existence of a friendship between Darcy's mother and the late Mrs. Tilney, but when they arrive at an almost deserted house, populated by only one, unprofessional servant (ostensibly the housekeeper) and an eccentric Captain, bandaged beyond all recognition, the Darcys question their host's motivations. Departing the very next morning, they are detained in a nearby town and accused of stealing a diamond necklace from the Abbey. With his reputation and freedom on the line, Darcy must uncover the many mysteries the visit to the Abbey revealed and, to his great chagrin, is forced to do so under the constant supervision of the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

The next book, The Matters at Mansfield (Or. The Crawford Affair), focuses on Lady Catherine's attempt to marry her daughter to an unsavory future viscount. Though timid, Anne finds a secret ally who helps her to escape the match by running off to Gretna Green. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy rush to the border to stop the marriage but arrive too late, their cousin having already tied the knot with none other than the notorious Henry Crawford. Returning home as a single party, they are detained in Mansfield, of all places, when Anne's twists her ankle. The Bertram family quickly learn of the unwelcome addition to their society, including Maria and Mrs. Norris, who have apparently not yet been banned to their foreign establishment. Chaos ensues, complicated by a series of startling events, including the appearance of a dead body in Mansfield Park.

As the most recent book, The Intrigue at Highbury (Or, Emma's Match) was released since I began this blog, I will direct your attention to the post in which I reviewed it (read it here), instead of providing just a brief introduction. It is my favorite in the series. Generally, Ms. Bebris' work seems to improve with each novel, and I am extremely excited to read the next book, which will most certainly be premised upon Persuasion. Will Anne and Wentworth help Darcy and Elizabeth solve another mystery? Or perhaps the action will focus on the nefarious Mr. Elliot? Whatever Ms. Bebris has in mind, it is sure to be another fun adventure with Mr. and Mrs. Darcy uncovering clues, negotiating difficult relatives, and increasing the strength of their remarkable relationship. Needless to say, I will most certainly be reviewing it here as soon as it becomes available.

Friday, October 22, 2010

No Janeicillin Today

The week has been just too crazy to pull it together (sleeping 12 + hours a day hasn't helped). I'm off to Atlanta for my nephews wedding instead of trying to pound out the tale of Mrs. Clay's departure from Camden Place. Hopefully I'll have it pulled together next week. Sorry! Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Profile: Fanny Price

The gentleness, modesty, and sweetness of her character were warmly expatiated on; that sweetness which makes so essential a part of every woman's worth in the judgment of man, that though he sometimes loves where it is not, he can never believe it absent. Her temper he had good reason to depend on and to praise. He had often seen it tried. Was there one of the family, excepting Edmund, who had not in some way or other continually exercised her patience and forbearance? Her affections were evidently strong. To see her with her brother! What could more delightfully prove that the warmth of her heart was equal to its gentleness? What could be more encouraging to a man who had her love in view? Then, her understanding was beyond every suspicion, quick and clear; and her manners were the mirror of her own modest and elegant mind. Nor was this all. Henry Crawford had too much sense not to feel the worth of good principles in a wife, though he was too little accustomed to serious reflection to know them by their proper name; but when he talked of her having such a steadiness and regularity of conduct, such a high notion of honour, and such an observance of decorum as might warrant any man in the fullest dependence on her faith and integrity, he expressed what was inspired by the knowledge of her being well principled and religious.

Name: Fanny Price

Age: 18

Hobbies: Reading, riding, and occasional stargazing.

Most charming quality: The gentleness of her nature.

Most detrimental tendency: The gentleness of her nature.

Greatest strength: Impeccable morality.

Truest friend: William Price

Worst Enemy: Aunt Norris

Prospects: Rather vague. As Sir Thomas Bertram's niece and ward, she must have some security, but all he ever says on the subject is as follows: "... we must secure to the child, or consider ourselves engaged to secure to her hereafter, as circumstances may arise, the provision of a gentlewoman, if no such establishment should offer as you are so sanguine in expecting."

Favorite quotations: "Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper? 'Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.' "

"Perhaps, sir," said Fanny, wearied at last into speaking--"perhaps, sir, I thought it was a pity you did not always know yourself as well as you seemed to do at that moment."

"How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind!" And following the latter train of thought, she soon afterwards added: "If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out."

"I had not, Miss Crawford, been an inattentive observer of what was passing between him and some part of this family in the summer and autumn. I was quiet, but I was not blind."

"Here's harmony!" said she; "here's repose! Here's what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe! Here's what may tranquillise every care, and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene."

"We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be."

Musings:  I completely fail to understand why so many readers are intolerant of poor Fanny. Certainly, she is rather unlike the "sparkling" heroines of Austen's more popular novels, but I feel the hatred people harbor towards her is totally unfounded, possibly irrational. We admire Elizabeth Bennet for her willingness to reject both Mr. Collins and, far more so, Mr. Darcy, but when Fanny behaves similarly, readers scream with rage. For though Fanny is a meek and timid creature, is it not an act of incredible courage (quite frankly, more than I feel Elizabeth displays) to reject Henry Crawford, especially when her entire family is aligned against her decision? And why would anyone want her to marry Mr. Crawford, who thoroughly proves himself a cad and a scoundrel? Do we truly believe that Fanny would reform him? Isn't such a scenario as unlikely as Marianne being able to find happiness with Willoughby? Why do so many want this poor girl, who has already suffered so much due to the mercenary values of society, to sacrifice herself for worldly gain?

I am going to be quite harsh here, because I think it warranted: when lovers of Austen censure  Fanny Price, they are acting exactly like Mrs. Norris. That's right. Your eyes do not deceive you. Cruel, misguided Aunt Norris. If you wish to overcome such harsh criticism, then please, dear Janeites, try to muster a little sympathy for Fanny. If you were a shy, affectionate little girl, taken from your home, treated as a second class citizen, and deprived of the solicitude that everyone craves, would you not grow up to be humble and diffident? And in such a state, when confronted with a situation that offends your basic morality, while all those around you urge you to act in a manner that you know to be wrong, would you have the courage to resist? I admire Fanny Price, as did Austen, who refers to her as "My Fanny", a possessive and affectionate appellation that she never attaches to any of her other heroines. Sequels and reimaginings might alter Fanny to suit the author's whim, while films portray her as something totally unrecognizable from the book, but I think she is delightful just as she is, and what Austen approved is more than good enough for me.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Babies, babies, babies!!! I can think of nothing else.

So those of you who have been reading this blog all year might remember that I had a miscarriage early last spring. It was immediately followed by another. You might also have noticed that my blogging became sporadic and irregular over the summer, as I was thrown into the worst depression (a familial trait) that I have experienced since college. The tide broke in early September, and apparently all I needed was a positive outlook to make this thing happen, because I almost immediately became pregnant again. I managed to keep my mouth shut about it this long (quite against my nature), but yesterday confirmed that my hormone levels are perfect and, most importantly, that we have a regular heartbeat. I can remain silent no longer. I want to shout from the tree tops that I am pregnant! I'm pregnant, I'm Pregnant, I'M PREGNANT!!!! Now all I can do is pray that nothing goes wrong again. It is still early days, but I feel like the more people out there rooting for me, the better off I am.

Now that things are on track and proceeding appropriately, it's only logical (or hormonal) for me to start panicking about what exactly I have gotten myself into, right? My mind keeps returning to a scene from from Illusions and Ignorance: Mary Bennet's Story by Eucharista Ward (later republished by Sourcebooks under the title A Match for Mary Bennet), in which Elizabeth gives birth to her first child. I will not transcribe the entire episode, as it frankly terrifies me, only my favorite part, which focuses on Mary's emotions as she sees her sister in such terrible pain:
Darcy reached the top of the stairway, sent Delia to summon Mrs. Bennet, and said he would go for the surgeon immediately. Meanwhile, Mary struggled to keep Elizabeth on the bed, pushing with her knees while holding her writhing sister's hands. Lizzy's fitful jerking seemed always to hurl her to the bed's edge, her hands clenching harder with each jerk. As intermittent shrieks escaped through Lizzy's clenched teeth, Mary felt her own tears rising, and she fought them off. Lizzy's face, bathed in sweat and contorted in pain, made Mary long to bathe it with a cool damp cloth, but she had neither cloth or a free hand to hold it. Mrs. Reynolds tried to still Elizabeth's legs, saying "There, there, Mrs. Darcy," and she held one foot down while raising the thin gown covering her mistress' legs. Mary, seeing blood, turned away and could not look more. She concentrated on her sister's pain-wracked face and fought down her own panic. What could she do to relieve her? All the while a terror within her warned: if this is childbirth, she should have no part of it. She would certainly tell her father she had no wish to marry, not ever. She was sure of that now.
I once felt precisely as Mary does at this moment, after my mother gave birth to my sister when she was forty and I was thirteen. However, just like Mary does in this wonderful novel, I eventually realized that it is worth it (though I find myself extremely thankful for the existence of epidurals). As I proceed through the next seven and a half months, I will endeavor to not dwell on my terror. Frankly, at least at present, my nausea, simultaneous hunger, and body aches make me want to just hurry up and get the whole thing over with, regardless of my labor fear. I am likely to write about this experience at length, and hope you will all bear with me as my brain fogs over and I babble incoherently. Your support and good wishes mean more to me than I am currently capable of articulating. And so I ask if you would please pray, meditate, or project your happy vibes my way - whatever suits your fancy. In return, you will have my eternal gratitude.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Persuasion Janeicillin: Part Three

Read Part One and Part Two

“You will not believe the news!” cried a beaming Henrietta, rushing into her mother's rooms at the White Hart. “Where is Mama?”

Mary Musgrove turned from her station at the window overlooking the entrance to the Pump Room, where she had been eagerly engaged in watching the morning bustle of Bath, to confront her sister-in-law. “You need not be in such an excited state, Henrietta. I saw you racing down Bath Street, and I am not the only one whose attention you captured. Try to compose yourself.”

Henrietta's smile faded slightly, but the import of what she had to share negated any hesitancy she felt at proceeding, “Oh Mama! I saw Lady Russell in Molland's, and she told me the most extraordinary thing. Anne is to be married, and you will never guess to whom!”

“Anne engaged!” cried Mrs. Musgrove, clasping her hands together in delight.

Mary rose quickly and crossed the room to Henrietta, her face a picture of shocked rapture, “Oh Henrietta! Is it my cousin, Mr. Elliot, my father's heir? I know Elizabeth would have him, but the whole town is abuzz with his attentions to Anne. A more perfect match I cannot imagine! Elizabeth will be livid! Imagine both Anne and I married, and she an old maid!”

“It is not Mr. Elliot,” Henrietta revealed, gleefully bringing a halt to Mary's conjectures.

Mary's countenance fell. “Then whoever could it be?”

“You cannot be more surprised then I myself was. She is to marry our own Captain Wentworth!”

Mary fell back into a conveniently situated chair, thoroughly astonished. “Captain Wentworth?” she questioned her own ears.

Mrs. Musgrove appeared equally befuddled. “I had not the slightest notion they were attached! Surely, I have never seen them exchange more than a few words, in all our time together.”

“Nor have I,” concurred Mary.

“Lady Russell says it is an attachment of long standing. They fell in love eight years ago, when the Captain was visiting his brother at Monksford. Mama, do you not see, this is why she would not marry Charles! Her heart was not her own!” Henrietta sighed contentedly, thoroughly enrapt by the romance of her tale. Lady Russell had told the story succinctly, betraying none of the many complex emotions with which she struggled, but to a mind like Henrietta's, particularly under the influence of her own engagement, the story was pure romance.

Mary, who had recovered her senses at mention of her husband's earlier proposal to Anne, began to muddle through the facts of the case, “Eight years ago … when they had previously met … oh my! She must have rejected him!”

“Oh no, Mary,” Henrietta insisted. “Lady Russell said he was too young to marry at the time. I am sure no one would reject the Captain.”

“Gracious me, no,” concurred Mrs. Musgrove. “Yet I did wondered at how quickly he seemed to recover from Louisa's attachment to Captain Benwick.”

“Exactly!” cried Mary. “And how could he have paid her such attentions if he was already in love with Anne? Why, they barely acknowledged each other when they first met again at Uppercross Cottage! Indeed, they seemed to avoid each other. What explanation have you other than a falling out?”

“The way Lady Russell tells it, I seriously doubt he proposed previously.”

“But nothing else makes sense!” Mary insisted. “To think that they might never have come to this happy conclusion, had I not kept Anne with me this autumn! I must go to Camden Place at once!”

“Call for the carriage, Henrietta. We shall all go. After all, I owe Miss Elliot a call.”

The Musgroves were not Elizabeth's only visitors that morning. The drawing-rooms at Camden Place had rarely been more eagerly sought than now, as news of Anne's surprising engagement spread through the town. To everyone's gratification, Anne was at home and entertaining her fiancee. Elizabeth greeted each influx of cards graciously, saying all that was proper on such on occasion to those select few admitted into her company, but Mary immediately perceived the chagrin lurking behind her practiced elegance. Pleased with the accuracy of her first prediction, she eagerly sought confirmation of her other suspicions.

“I am so happy for you, my dear Anne! How I marvel that I could not see it before! All that time we spent together last year, and none of us had the least notion that you and Captain Wentworth had formed an attachment. How very secretive you both have been!”

Anne smiled at Frederick, saying only, “I can well imagine your surprise.”

Mary did not find this response terribly satisfying and looked to Henrietta for support in her interrogation, but the younger lady was so absorbed in the romance of the situation that she proved thoroughly unhelpful. Mrs. Musgrove was equally disobliging, busily engaged as she was in sharing with an apathetic Elizabeth news of the Uppercross tenants' well-being. No matter what approach Mary attempted, Anne and the Captain both continued to respond to her many questions in a vague, unrevealing manner. The more evasive they were, the more her spirits began to fail. Mary was transparent enough that both Anne and Frederick harbored no doubts as to her purpose, but neither had any desire to indulge her. Happily did they divulge the date of the wedding, determined just that morning, and they even conceded to her the fact that their time in Lyme had been instrumental in illuminating their mutual attraction, but regarding a previous attachment, they would say nothing at all.

“Tell me, Captain, were you so blinded by the high spirits of my Musgrove sisters that my sister's attractions remained unobserved by you?”

“I have always admired Anne's elegance, Mrs. Musgrove.”

“But it must have been Henrietta and Louisa's engagements that allowed you to develop affection for Anne?”

“All of your sisters are charming, Mrs. Musgrove, and I wish the Misses Musgroves great happiness. Their future husbands are fine men.”

“Yet I thought there was a decided coldness between you when you first met at Uppercross Cottage, perhaps dating back to your previous acquaintance, when you visited your brother at Monksford?”

“That was years ago, Mary. We met again as near strangers.”

“But Lady Russell told Henrietta that you had been long attached!”

“We did enjoy each other's company, Mary, but eight year may bring about unforeseen changes.”

“I was certain there must have been some sort of previous agreement between you.”

Though Captain Wentworth was able to derive some pleasure in denying the proud Mrs. Musgrove her purpose, Anne did not enjoy her sister's peevishness, regardless of the circumstances. She might endure it for the sake of protecting her own privacy, but it was against her nature to not attempt to alleviate Mary's ill-temper. With her thorough knowledge of the character she had to pacify, Anne proceeded with her usual skill in altering Mary's mood. “It is you we have to thank, Mary, for our present happiness. It was all the time spent at Uppercross that brought us to an understanding. You must take a good deal of pride in the connection, as it began under your very own roof.”

Captain Wentworth looked somewhat askance at his betrothed but said nothing in protest to this construction of events.

“Indeed I may,” concluded Mary, sitting up a bit straighter. “You must have the fondest of memories of your time at the Cottage. You must both come to stay with Charles and I again once you are married.”

“Indeed we will, Mary. Nothing could bring us greater pleasure. Do you not agree, Frederick?” she smiled at him with a sparkle in her eye.

“Certainly. Musgrove is an excellent companion.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mrs. Clay. “Penelope! There you are,” said Elizabeth, revealing a tinge of annoyance in her tone. “I have been waiting for you an hour at least. We have had innumerable callers, and I could have used your assistance in providing refreshment for our guests.”

“Oh, Miss Elliot! Never was there such a crush! I thought I might never succeed in procuring the correct shade of silk for your screen, but eventually I prevailed. Do you not think it precisely the correct blue?” She held up a small skein for inspection.

Elizabeth took the thread and eyed it critically. “Yes. I believe this will do. Will you ring for tea?”

“Not on our account, my dear,” cried Mrs. Musgrove. “We had best be on our way.”

“Indeed, yes,” concurred Mary, eagerly abandoning her seat. “Charles should return shortly, and I cannot wait to share with him your magnificent news!”

“Perhaps Mrs. Clay spotted Mr. Musgrove during the course of her errands,” suggested Anne. “ I believe you said he and Captain Harville had business in Milsom Street, did you not, Mary?”

“Yes, at least that is where I think they were bound,” replied Mary, not at all pleased with the notion that Mrs. Clay might have beat her to the honor of conveying to her husband the story of Anne's engagement

“I am afraid I did not see him,” replied Mrs. Clay. Mary's smiles were restored.

“Did you run into anyone else of our acquaintance, Penelope? I expected Mr. Elliot to call, but he has not made an appearance.”

“Yes, actually. I did see Mr. Elliot, though only briefly. He says he has business in London and must quit Bath soon, but he will certainly visit Camden Place before his departure to bid his farewells to Sir Walter and his cousins.”

“Business in London? But surely he will not remain away long? I thought he was to spend the rest of the season in Bath!” Elizabeth exclaimed, no longer endeavoring to disguise her chagrin.

“He did not reveal the nature of his errand to me, but I am sure he will explain the situation most thoroughly to Sir Walter.”

“To be sure he will. He is never deficient in his deference to my father,” insisted Elizabeth, though unwanted memories of a time when he was not so attentive were beginning to plague her.

Mr. Elliot did indeed call that evening, in the familiar way he had become accustomed to since his arrival in Bath. He offered his congratulations to his cousin Anne with an appearance of sincere joy he could not possibly have truly felt, and expressed the sad necessity that took him from Bath at this critical time.

“Nothing could keep me from your nuptials, my dear cousin, but the utmost necessity. My business cannot be delayed. Indeed, I am afraid I have been remiss by putting it off for as long as I have.”

“We will miss your presence at the wedding, Elliot. Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret will be in attendance, you know,” boasted Sir Walter.

“So I have been told. It is sure to be a most memorable occasion.”

“Will you not return to Bath upon completion of your business?” questioned Elizabeth.

“I cannot say how long I need remain in London, Miss Elliot. I assure you, it pains me to part with such dear friends as I have found at Camden Place.”

“Yes, of course it does. Let me know when you plan to return, and I will have Shepard see to securing you the best of lodgings.”

“You are all kindness, Sir Walter.”

The departure of Mr. Elliot left a disparate variety of sensations in the inhabitants at Camden Place. Sir Walter felt most complacent. Though Mr. Elliot was a very agreeable and appropriate companion, he could not help but acknowledge that Captain Wentworth's fine appearance more than made up for the loss of his loss of his heir's presence in his drawing-rooms. After all, he had always maintained that Mr. Elliot was sadly under-hung. Anne saw her cousin go with much gratification. Their society could only be improved by not being subjected to such an underhanded character, and as she had every intention of introducing Captain Wentworth to Mrs. Smith on the morrow, the absence of Mr. Elliot would alleviate any awkwardness Frederick might feel in having to endure the dishonorable man's company in future gatherings. Elizabeth's feelings, on the other hand, were quite opposite to her family's. She saw her cousin's withdraw as an insult: the second one he had leveled at her through the course of their acquaintance. To be twice abandoned by the most eligible applicant to her hand was mortifying in the extreme, but her pride would allow her to reveal none of what she suffered. Perhaps only Mrs. Clay, as her confidant, had any true notion of what Elizabeth endured, but her own gratification in the situation trumped any desire she might have to provide condolence. Fortunately for her, Elizabeth was far too dignified to seek it. 


Come back next Friday for another weekly dose!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Strange Marriage of Anne de Bourgh by Skylar Burris

I picked up The Strange Marriage of Anne de Bourgh following my disappointment in Dancing with Mr. Darcy (read my review here), hoping to discover some Austen based short stories that were more to my liking. It was a very satisfying decision. Apparently, the three stories in the collection were originally part of Ms. Burris' novel An Unlikely Missionary, as she explains in the introduction (published in 2005):
Currently, I am revising An Unlikely Missionary, a novel that shines a spotlight on one of Austen's lesser characters, the practical Charlotte Collins. As part of that revision process, I have removed a number of subplots from the novel, and I am rewriting it with a more consistent focus. Yet the subplots were entertaining, and I hate to see them discarded altogether. Consequently, I have revised them into stand-alone short stories, and you will find three of them here.
The first and longest story, The Strange Marriage of Anne de Bourgh, focuses on the Darcy's reunion with Lady Catherine and her newly acquired rector, one Mr. Jonson, who bears little resemblance to his predecessor, Mr. Collins. Charming and handsome, he might be considered a vast improvement, were he not also avaricious and worldly. Upon meeting him, Mr. Darcy is concerned that his aunt is stepping beyond the bounds of propriety in her relationship with him, encouraging a familiarity he finds very troublesome, but what he does not realize is that Mr. Jonson's real target is Anne. The story, like so many others involving Anne, creates the appearance that she will act foolishly in her desire to escape her mother's tyranny, but there is a surprise in store for presumptuous readers (whom I count myself amongst). I was thoroughly delighted with how the events of this sweet tale concluded.

The second story, A Battle of Wits, is written in the epistoalry style, chronicling the letters exchanged between Elizabeth and Darcy while the latter is in town on business. Have I used the word delightful already in this post? Well, I must employ it again, for no other word so properly captures my feelings regarding this tale. The focus is on the couple's ability to challenge each other intellectually (as the title implies), and it is precisely the kind of exchange one expects from these beloved characters. I was particularly charmed by Darcy's parody of a Shakespearean sonnet:
My Lizzy's eyes are nothing less than fine;
They shimmer with a sort of suspect gleam.
And though she's independant, still she's mine,
But there are times I fear it's all a dream.
If that is so, then pray, love, let me sleep
The slumber of the never-waking dead,
For if that vision withers I will weep
Alone inside the prison of my bed.
But if you come to me and hear my heart,
As it beats firmly by your yeilding side,
And promise me that you will never part,
Then you will be the object of my pride.
I was a selfish being all my life,
Until the day you deigned to be my wife.
Any one else feel inspired to write their own Pride and Prejudice sonnets? If so, I might be willing to share the terrible one I wrote after reading this story.

The final and shortest tale is entitled Mr. Darcy's Homecoming, and it chronologically follows A Battle of Wits (arguably, neither are truly stand alone). This one was the least to my liking, because what can one expect the married Darcys to do upon reuniting than to race off to the bed room? Though it is far from lewd, I was still a bit uncomfortable with the content, but I imagine that most readers would find it a touching story of marital bliss.

As I began this post by referencing Dancing with Mr. Darcy, I will finish on the same topic. My biggest complaint with several of the stories in that collection is that the writers seemed to strive to reject pure fanfiction in favor of more "literary" endeavors, resulting in rather contrived memoir-esque ramblings. This offended me. Coming out of that experience, I was delighted to read the following conclusion to Ms. Burris' introduction:
The novel was once considered a low-brow genre, and any respectable writer wished to be known for his or her poetry. Fanfiction now bears the same stigma the novel once endured. Will it, too, one day emerge as a respected and major form?
I certainly hope so! Some of the best pieces of writing I have encountered in recent years have been works of fanfiction. Sampling is perfectly acceptable and respected in the music industry. Film is constantly rehashing old tales. I believe we are not far away from the day when fanfiction will also receive its proper due.

Profile: Elizabeth Bennet

... she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous.

Name: Elizabeth Bennet

Age: 20

Hobbies: Long walks, reading, and analyzing the foibles of her neighbors.

Most charming quality: A sharp and witty tongue

Most detrimental tendency: An inclination to judge character based upon appearance.

Greatest strength: Intelligence

Truest friend: Jane Bennet

Worst enemy: Another difficult call. I nominate George Wickham.

Prospects: Her share of the 5000 pounds her mother brought to her marriage, about 50 pounds a year.

Favorite quotations: "Lady Catherine has been of infinite use, which ought to make her happy, for she loves to be of use."

"Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains?"

"He is also handsome," replied Elizabeth, "which a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete."

"This is the consequence, you see, Madam, of marrying a daughter," said Elizabeth. "It must make you better satisfied that your other four are single."

"If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness. No, no, let me shift for myself; and, perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may meet with another Mr. Collins in time."

Musings: What is there to say about Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Like Mary Poppins, she often seems "practically perfect in every way", but is she really? When compared with some of Austen's other heroines, particularly Elinor Dashwood and Anne Elliot, she is decidedly flawed, yet she is by far the most beloved and an eternal source of fascination to readers. Perhaps she is precisely what Austen meant when she said, "Pictures of perfection, you know, make me sick and wicked". As imperfect as Darcy is at the beginning of the novel, Elizabeth is equally so. Her prejudices are in complete control when she makes her initial assessments of both Darcy and Wickham, and they are totally premised upon how each man effects her pride. She likes Wickham because he pays her special attention, while disliking Darcy for his initial slight.When her assumptions are shattered after reading Darcy's letter, she decries her past behavior:
 "How despicably have I acted!" she cried. -- "I, who have prided myself on my discernment! -- I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. -- How humiliating is this discovery! -- Yet, how just a humiliation! -- Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. -- Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself."
So she claims, but I believe that she does know how prejudiced she is all along, even if she does not acknowledge the negative repercussions of her biases.  In chapter sixteen, when chatting with Wickham at the Phillips' home, she thinks to herself: "A young man too, like you, whose very countenance may vouch for your being amiable". Though the Victorians may have adored physiognomy, Austen wisely teaches us the dangers of judging character based upon appearance (Wickham, Willoughby, Mr. Elliot), and Elizabeth, with all her insight into human character, should certainly know better. Again in chapter eighteen, at the Netherfield ball, she says jokingly to Charlotte: "Heaven forbid! -- That would be the greatest misfortune of all! -- To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! -- Do not wish me such an evil." While the statement is certainly a fine piece of wit, it is also acknowledgment of her determined prejudices. The reason why I love and admire Elizabeth anyway is because of her eventual willingness to acknowledge her faults and amend her behavior accordingly. It is for this same reason that I find Darcy the most appealing of all Austen's heroes. Both characters are able to be self-critical and change accordingly. It is easy to see the faults you yourself posses in others and decry them. It is far more difficult (and courageous) to turn such censure upon oneself.