Intimations of Austen by Jane Greensmith

Intimations of Austen by Jane Greensmith

Greensmith has written a series of short stories that involve Austen’s characters, sometimes simultaneous to the Austen work, and sometimes some time after its conclusion. The narrators range from the daughter of Anne and Frederick to Mrs. Bennet; the subject matters range from a nighttime discussion with the Fates to a study of human character through “color” readings.  These nine stories offer glimpses into the Austen world in a quick, sweeping way. Though they can be read one right after the other, this reader enjoyed some time to reflect on what Greensmith had done with each work before plowing into the next.

In at least two of the tales, Greensmith cleverly leads the reader to certain assumptions about who the characters being described actually are or about what will happen to them, only to turn those assumptions on their pretty little heads within the span of a few pages. We are taught through this device, for instance, that Anne Elliot’s adherence to Lady Russell’s advice might not have been so foolish as we often believe through the example of Mrs. Price, who had no Lady Russell to advise her. We’re also cleverly led to sympathize with Mrs. Bennet’s plight as a not-so-smart woman who knows she isn’t (don’t we often assume that the not-so-smart aren’t aware of it, so it’s not as bad as we’d imagine?) and even envies Lizzy’s intelligence and Mr. Bennet’s attention to it.

Greensmith’s stories often take characters through pain and insecurity, but they conclude with peace, and hope, and even sometimes happiness. It’s important to keep that in mind as we go to dark places with our heroines and heroes. Greensmith asks us to contemplate:

1) What if a Mrs. Danvers-like character were the housekeeper at Thorton Lacey? Though at first, I was a bit put off by the idea, the parallels began to assert themselves (Mary Crawford as Rebecca, Fanny as the unnamed heroine, Edmund—the slightly older man who has little idea what his wife is suffering—as Max DeWinter).

2) What if Jane Bennet really had fallen in love long before Charles Bingley came around? What if Gideon were the reason her heart wasn’t, as Mr. Darcy observes, likely to be easily touched?

3) What if Darcy never came back to Longbourn to assess Elizabeth’s feelings towards him, so she married Colonel Fitzwilliam instead? This story confused me a good deal at the beginning (probably because many of the characters are new to us and because Greensmith actually changed what I knew about the characters in Austen’s work), but it also brings new meaning to the expression “delayed gratification.”

Given the length of these stories, you won’t need much delay to get the gratification each provides.

Published in: on August 26, 2009 at 9:04 am  Leave a Comment  

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