North by Northanger by Carrie Bebris

Note to readers: Forgive my delay in posting! All my new Jane Austen now is designed for toddlers, and while I have much to say on that delight, for now, I’m reposting a review (that originally appeared in JASNA-SW’s newsletter) of a more mature work.

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I had been saving this book as a special treat for myself for this spring, post-research papers and AP exam. Even I couldn’t have imagined how much I would love reading it.

Everything is handled well: the language, the relationships between characters, the little details that only a person who has read the novels several times, and closely, would notice, but that make all the difference. If I weren’t concerned about the overuse of asyndeton, I could easily list here every detail I loved about this book. Instead, I will highlight some of its strengths.

It is funny. Lizzy is now pregnant, and she and her loving husband are having a running spat about the gender of the child. There are jokes about possible names for the child: Nancy Darcy, Quincy Darcy, Chauncey Darcy. Though the reader doesn’t know until the end, the name they ultimately choose for the baby is perfect—on multiple levels. It is a beautiful way to turn humor into meaning, and to conclude this satisfying experience.

The characters are real. I always love Bebris’ mysteries, but the magic never fails to surprise me. By the end of chapter one, I was hooked. I cared about her version of the characters and really believed their love. Bebris does what so many Austen “sequel” writers attempt to do, but she, I think, really does capture the spirit and language of the characters that we know and love/scorn. Here she does this to the letter with not only Lizzy and Darcy but also Lady Catherine, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Lydia and Wickham, and a whole host of Northanger Abbey characters.

The relationships we would have loved to see in the novels between characters in different novels finally come to be: Lady Anne Darcy and Mrs. Tilney (both dead before the Austen novels begin), Henry and Catherine Tilney and Lizzy and Darcy, even Lady Catherine and Lady Dalrymple (the ladies are buddies in Bath). The traits we see in Austen’s characters express themselves clearly but subtly here—there are hints at who everyone is, but Bebris doesn’t hit us over the head with them. As a result, we feel clever for “getting” the twists and the references. I made notes to myself while reading and returned to them at the end to see which ideas were right and which weren’t. That is fun!

There are multiple mysteries. The reader knows she is receiving clues, but, like the characters, has to piece them together. Why does Lizzy keep dropping and misplacing objects? Why is Dorothy so eager to hear what Tilney says? Have the servants been drugged? What is the significance of that cane? The scent on Lady Catherine? Wickham is around again—is he at the center of trouble, or does it just always look that way? Are some of our forebears secret Catholics? Who is this Jenny servant, and why does she keep popping up everywhere? Is Lady Anne actually present (the latter mystery both begins and ends the novel, and I would be willing to debate with you whether Bebris answers it definitively).

There are real heroes and villains here, and they get what they deserve. Unlike in our world, where sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s what and even when you can, they don’t always get treated as such, in Bebris’ cleverly crafted one, things are different. The hero dismisses the arrogant patronizer of women and rides off into the sunset after his loved one’s treasure. The evil doers are universally recognized as such, and punished appropriately (pities to the people of New South Wales). Gut instincts in our heroine are almost always right, and the ridiculous but harmless people simply faint when they’re in the way, and thus are in the way no longer.

Bebris gives us the back story for Darcy’s parents, via letters. They fell in love over The Canterbury Tales and suffered a great deal before Anne’s death, but beyond that, there is too much intriguing here for me to reveal in this review. You simply must read the book—for that, for the great twist at the end (I should have seen it coming!), and for a thoroughly entertaining read.

I have, thus far, practically spilled my glee with this text onto the page and into your eyes. I do, however, have a complaint about an unpardonable flaw of this text: it prevented me from doing what I needed to do on several occasions. It delayed my sleep, my meals, and my laundry. It functioned as a procrastination-inducing monster that reached out and grabbed me into its clutches. I hope it grabs you, too.

*Ed.’s note: the omission of conjunctions.

(Republished from Spring/Summer 2007)

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Published in: on January 2, 2018 at 2:34 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I can’t wait to read this! Hugs to you and your lovely family. ❤️❤️❤️

    Sent from my iPhone

    >


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