Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton

I arrived about 10 minutes early to yet another first (coffee) date and decided to use my time wisely by browsing in the nearby bookstore until the time arrived to meet the man. Imagine my delight when I discovered a new printing of a book originally written in 1913 and containing characters from all six of the major novels! It was like a dream come true!

This story looks at what might happen if all our beloved (and not so beloved) characters lived at the same time and could know and meet each other. It uses language that somehow feels more authentic (given that it was written closer to Austen’s time than any sequel written today could be?) than usual and offers intrigue you would well expect in a world where Lady Catherine has tea with Lady Dalrymple and where Georgiana checks out William Price for Kitty Bennet’s benefit.

William Price says to Georgiana, and it hit home especially given the circumstances of my finding this treasure, that “if you found you positively had to do [some things you had to do], and there was no way out, then you would decide to like them [because] it would make them so much easier,” right? Georgiana and I were both struck by this way of looking at the world.

I suspect quite soon that Kitty is not the right match for William, largely because Mrs. Knightley (Emma’s still doing this?) is promoting the match, and because William seems to pay far more attention to Georgiana. Meanwhile, Catherine Morland’s brother, James, has fallen hard for Kitty, and we know he has already experienced such heartache over unrequited love. She rejects him, but her older sister rejected the right suitor at the wrong time, so I still feel hope for that match—especially because Mr. Bennet likes him and is sensitive and funny when approached for Kitty’s hand.

Sir Walter Eliot, meanwhile, is busy courting Mary Crawford, who has captured Colonel Fitzwilliam’s heart; Mary Crawford successfully draws Georgiana out, just as she did Fanny, but Lady Catherine wants nothing to do with her. John Thorpe, of course, has plenty of useless—and maybe worse than useless—things to say at the opera, and Captain Wentworth and Colonel Fitzwilliam have mutual friends, which makes sense.

The sheer number and variety of characters we love to watch in action acting together here makes for quite a spectacle. One dinner scene alone would be worth almost anything to attend as the proverbial fly on the wall: in attendance are Wentworth and Anne, Mr. Knightley, William Price, Caroline Bingley, the Hursts, and Georgiana. The pairings in the text are so much fun: friendships between Elinor and Elizabeth, Anne and Georgiana, and Mary Crawford and Mrs. Palmer, and matches between—well, I won’t ruin those for you! Mrs. Jennings is as ridiculous and simultaneously charming as ever, with Kitty replacing the Dashwood and Steele girls as her plaything. Even the riddle idea from Emma gets some replay time here, as does the play idea from Mansfield Park, and the Elton proposal, refurbished, with Georgiana in the Emma role. Given the possibilities here, the only wonder to me is that Brinton controlled her desires to throw everyone together!

One possible fault, lest I praise the text without cease: Emma is far too annoying and still up to her old (bad) antics. I know, I know: that’s how she is in the book. I respectfully disagree, as I always have, in my defense of Emma’s solid character. Mr. Knightley, too, here is positively scary, not a moral exemplar who looks hot in his breeches, as he should be (and as Jeremy Northam perfectly portrayed him) (at least in the first few appearances; towards the end, he is the hero I always knew him to be). Fanny and Edmund are deemed “dreadfully good.” I’m not sure I should quibble with that one, but aren’t we supposed to like the good ones? Or only if they’re funny?

OK: back to what I love about this book. Some of the lines are positively Austen-esque. The friendship between Elinor Ferrars and Elizabeth Bennet, for instance, is described in this way: “Their friendship was of a particularly sincere and well-balanced kind, and was not marred by their constant intercourse, as each knew how to maintain that degree of reserve which prevents indiscriminate confidences and so greatly strengthens mutual respect.” In another instance, Bingley observes that “nowadays it is the fashion to admire loudest what one understands least.”

Isabella Thorpe seems to make a play for Tom Bertram; though many others characters are drawn in by her, the discerning reader is no fool. We immediately pity the poor guy.

Perhaps we would feel the same way about my date. He arrived, poor chump, and found me giddy with my book purchase, but alas, Mr. Bennet would never have approved the match. “Natasha,” he would say, “let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

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Published in: on August 30, 2010 at 5:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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