Colonel Brandon’s Diary by Amanda Grange

Colonel Brandon’s Diary by Amanda Grange

The latest in Grange’s series of journals of the key Austen men begins with an enlightening reunion between James (Colonel Brandon) and Eliza as he returns home from Oxford for the summer at age 18. That joy is quickly tempered by two subsequent reunions: 1) with his pig-man brother who emerges from a barn after an encounter with some girl and 2) with his brutal father, who mocks James mercilessly and demands to know how James’ friends can be of “use” to James. (Otherwise, he argues, why have them?) The sister is just as bad, but we don’t meet her until life takes a serious downturn for our hero: he is forcibly removed from the house when his plan to elope (because his father insists on marrying off his ward, Eliza, to the horrible older brother) gets foiled.

We meet our next familiar character—Sir John Middleton—on page 84. At that point in time, we are told that Mrs. Dashwood has just two daughters, which helps us put the events of the diary in the chronology we know. Shortly after James meets John, he hears that a former servant of his brother’s is in a sponging-house and goes to offer assistance—at which point James finds his beloved Eliza, and her daughter. James rescues all three by hiring the servant to help care for Eliza, who is already dying, and her daughter, whose life now has some real chance at happiness. There is a beautiful scene of the emergence from darkness into light, and we see just what a hero Marianne is about to catch.

James’s friends turn out to be of great use—but because they are friends, rather than their being friends because they are useful, as his father had taught.

I read 95 pages in about an hour at this point because the story just flew, and I wanted to know what would happen (even though, of course you could reason, I already knew what would happen). What fun it was to watch Colonel Brandon inherit Delaford and bring little Eliza there—but oh! Two set-ups for bitter disappointment. Since we know what will happen to her, this was a bit hard to watch, but . . . (no more spoiling now).

I also never really noticed Mary Middleton in S&S, but now I really like her and could at least get a glimpse of her in the shadows of John and her mother, Mrs. Jennings.

Grange adds scenes between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon that Austen would not show, and, suffice it to say for here, they are quite pleasing to the reader who wants to see the former thrown down and the latter raised high. And I’m sure learning a lot lately about pistol duels, deloping (shooting straight into the air, which our sequel heroes seem to do), and issuing challenges to ne’er-do-wells.

Most important, the diary reminds us that James Brandon and Marianne Dashwood have a lot in common. Besides the love of music and poetry, they also share a passion for their first love and an initial determination never to veer from it. Interesting—somehow I never thought about it this way before—that Marianne ever feels adamant about the futility of second love given that she is, herself, the product of a second marriage. There are deeply emotional scenes during Marianne’s illness and, when she is finally ready for a hero, some beautiful Marianne-esque lines of poetry and reason—now directed to, and about, James, as we always imagined it must be.

Published in: on August 12, 2009 at 7:45 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Oh It sounds great – another one to the must read pile which is getting huge.. 🙂

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