A Guinea Pig Pride & Prejudice

I’m always a little surprised when someone presents me with a Jane Austen variation about which I haven’t even heard, but I was pleasantly so when two former students, Ryan Kuromiya and Jake Zeleznick, brought it to me for my baby daughter at our annual reunion picnic earlier this week. Their comment was they wanted me to “start her off with good literature early.” Though Briella crawled away while I was still reading her page 1, I read it on my own the following morning in the few quiet minutes before another delightfully frenetic day began, and I can recommend it without reservation.

The adapters, Tess Gammell and Alex Goodwin, clearly know and respect Jane Austen and her text. They are also properly humble, giving front of the book space to the guinea pigs who star in the show but not to their own bios or even names, which finally appear at the end of the text after Jane Austen’s and after a wish that readers, if we have “fallen a little bit in love with guinea pigs as well as with Mr. Darcy” as a result of their little book, consider “supporting [a] local rescue center.”

The text itself honors Austen as well, maintaining her three volume structure and keeping as many of the lines as the authors could reasonably fit into this type of adaptation. The structure is consistent and easy to follow: the text appears on the left, formal and eloquent like Jane’s with occasional simpler summary sentences and a small relevant picture of something (e.g. a violin on the page describing the Netherfield Ball or a soldier’s drum on the page introducing Wickham); a photo of guinea pigs dressed in period costume appears on the right with a quotation, either of Austen’s narrator or of one of the characters, unattributed.

The photos are adorable, largely because the guinea pigs are, and I say that as someone not particularly fond of rodents in any shape or form. My favorites included the shot of Lady Catherine in a ridiculous multi-colored costume with hat larger than she is and the close-up of Elizabeth behind a comment on the inability to describe her fine eyes. In the two failed proposals, Elizabeth is higher up than the man and therefore looks like the authority figure.

I missed Mr. Bennet here, but that’s really the only flaw I could find with this charming adaptation. It isn’t really designed for children, but my own may get to enjoy it a little before the general public would (okay, the general public probably won’t be purchasing this text). And you, dear reader, will definitely find it worth a few quiet minutes one morning before the world makes its demands, however pleasant, of you.

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Published in: on July 19, 2016 at 9:19 pm  Comments (3)  

Pemberley Manor by Kathryn L. Nelson

I’ll admit that when Diana first handed me Nelson’s new tome, my thoughts were less than 100% enthusiastic. Yet another Pride and Prejudice sequel? What more could possibly be done with the characters we know and love that would be believable and heartwarming and in character with the spirit of Austen’s novel?

I was well-rewarded for my reading efforts. In this version, which starts at the wedding ceremony, it is not so easy as “happily ever after.” Darcy’s parents’ unhappy marriage (a prequel, if you will, to our P&P) has led to his estrangement from his father (prior to the death of the latter), his denial of the truth about his mother, and a reticence to broach any of these topics with his similarly lonely sister, Georgiana. We see Darcy suffering from the unhappy ghosts of his past, and of course it falls to our Lizzy to help him confront and banish them, without pressuring him to do more than he feels at any given moment.

There are some delightful new characters, but not too many to obscure our enjoyment of their presence. The Alexanders, for instance, are Darcy’s version of the Gardiners, except that his mother has somehow led him to rebuff them until Lizzy enters his life. Just when Elizabeth most misses her father and Darcy wishes he knew more about his own, Mr. Alexander, in all his paternal glory, comes to help them. Trevor Handley is a character of intrigue whose plight parallels Darcy’s, but then veers sharply in its own course. The novel also has some quite beautiful uses of figurative language that most modern sequels do not attempt. A few are potentially hackneyed (“Darcy and Elizabeth rested for a moment at the top of the long stairway they had climbed, little realizing that a mountain still lay ahead”), but several I found uncommonly fresh (Mr. Bennet prefers “the rich tapestry of a good book to the coarser fabric of society”; Lizzy’s love for her husband is “as impossible as the rising and setting of the sun, and as unlikely to end”). Lizzy has a line that made me laugh aloud (perhaps in contemplation of my own nature): “I have never been able to master my faults for more than a short interval.”

That is not to say there are no awkward, seemingly inappropriate clichés and modernisms. Phrases such as “women of their dreams” and “let it go” seem not quite to fit, and Lizzy calling Darcy “Will” may be going a bit too far for many Janeites. A few scenes just seem unlikely: Darcy physically hitting someone who hurt him emotionally, Lizzy rocking miserable Darcy to some state of peace, characters reacting to an “alternative” lifestyle with open-mindedness in the 19th century. My largest complaint, excuse the pun, is that this book is just too heavy! Physically, that is; I had difficulty holding it up with one hand. Unpardonable.

There are also some interesting explanations of events and shifts in feeling that occur in the original novel. Elizabeth finally tells Darcy, for instance, the moment she actually fell in love with him. We now come to understand that several servants at Pemberley were concerned he might marry Caroline Bingley. (At first I thought it odd that they don’t know their master well enough not to suspect him of such ill judgment, but then it turns out they were right, and he had entertained the thought!). Darcy’s reserve makes sense as a result of psychological trauma in childhood: it’s not arrogance then, but insecurity, that causes him to shy away from people he doesn’t know. In his arc in this text, Darcy finally conquers his anger once his strategy of storming out of tense situations hurts those he loves most dearly.

Nelson deftly handles several key interactions between our characters. The socializing at the wedding feels just like it would have if Austen had written a sequel. Though Lizzy and Darcy’s first moments together are not anything Austen would have given them, or we’d expect, these moments provide the impetus for us to explore further what made Darcy who he is, and how Lizzy’s presence will change Pemberley—for good, and for the better. Jane Bennet knows her sister so well—well enough to coax her to talk by making Elizabeth worry about Jane and then defend Darcy. Caroline Bingley is bitchier than ever—but Colonel Fitzwilliam is given the enviable task of making her eat crow.

As the novel progresses, Nelson has the Bennet sisters transform Caroline (details not to be disclosed by me) in a way that seemed unbelievable to me—at first—but within a few pages, I found myself really touched by the change (which means I must have started to believe at some point along the way, so kudos to Nelson for her fortitude in making that work). Nelson nicely develops Georgiana’s character—and her relationship with her older brother and the other new people in her life. Most significantly, Nelson takes Austen’s statement about Lizzy livening Darcy and makes it come to life: we can see him attempt humor and irony the morning immediately following the wedding (of course, Elizabeth doesn’t yet understand that he’s doing that, but it’s hilarious because we know). Lizzy, in turn, is more self-aware, less likely to judge immediately, and more willing to hold her tongue and to find the right, rather than the first, words.

Lesson-wise, a primary theme comes from the mouth of Jane Bennet, but accurately reflects the philosophy of both Bennet sisters—and, I’d argue, all happy people: “Happiness,” she tells Caroline, “is a choice we make for ourselves.” Nelson shows us that even with the right man, a woman must daily choose happiness in order to secure it.

I recommend that you choose happiness—by reading this book.

(republished from Spring 2008)

Published in: on April 10, 2016 at 5:10 pm  Comments (1)  

Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love by Patrice Hannon

Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love by Patrice Hannon, republished from Winter 2006

The premise of this work is that Jane Austen is somehow receiving letters from modern-day would-be heroines seeking her advice on love and life. All Jane’s responses are punctuated by actual passages from the novels and juvenilia to lend legitimacy to the responses, so while we get interesting modern problems, we are also treated to delightful snippets from our favorite books.

Overall, it is a clever idea and fairly well executed, aside from inevitable choppiness, one description of “Sex and the City” as being unrealistic (hmmph), and several paragraphs that feel just a bit too long for modern-day readers. Jane is, in essence, Dear Abby, with similar sharpness of tongue and strong views about the choices her correspondents make. In one of the early letters, for instance, Jane responds to a would-be heroine who fears she’ll die if she doesn’t marry soon; Jane tells her that she needs some “self-command” rather than the “hysterical raving” of the Bronte sisters, who set women “back hundreds of years with stories full of improbable circumstances and unnatural characters.”

The journey to heroine-ship relies on several important “rules” for being a heroine (such as “a heroine does not try to win a hero’s love” and “you will only recognize your true hero when you know yourself”), but most important is remembering to distinguish reality from fantasy. Jane advises every would-be heroine to read the novels again in order to become “as much a heroine as…Catherine, Elinor, Elizabeth, Fanny, Emma, Anne, and yes, even Marianne,” but this book takes us through the novels and forces us to apply the principles therein to modern-day relationships. Though some of the would-be heroines have problems that even a dating simpleton should recognize as too obvious to require guidance (“I’m in love with a guy who hits on my sister”—are you serious? Does any self-respecting woman ever consider such a man seriously?), most of the issues Jane addresses here deal with far more subtle themes, and the modern single woman looking to be a heroine in her own life could use the lessons.

The crux of Austen’s argument (as channeled by Patrice Hannon) comes near the end, after she takes us through her stories and wrings forth lessons from them for our benefit. In a somewhat ironic twist, Jane cautions us that “an essential element in the achievement of that perfect felicity [her] heroines enjoy is the conquering of romantic illusions and expectations.” Besides sounding disturbingly like my mom, Jane here asks us not to judge the men we date by comparing them directly to Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, but instead to assess our relationships with our men using the principles of compatibility established in Pride and Prejudice or Emma. Jane urges us, as in the novels the real Jane urges her heroines, to “choose happiness” and reminds us that, more so in our times than in hers, women have the power to do so—hero or not.

[Ed.’s note] Author Patrice Hannon writes to us with the exciting news that Plume will be bringing out a new edition of DEAR JANE AUSTEN in July. The Publisher of Penguin, Kathryn Court, came into Patrice’s antiques store on Bleecker Street in November, bought a copy, and came back two weeks later to talk to her. A great New York story.

Published in: on January 31, 2016 at 8:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma by Diana Birchall

When I first heard that Diana’s book was coming to Barnes and Noble, I was very excited—not only for her, but also for all of us. Though I had heard of the book for years, the expensive hardcover editions never quite found their way to my library, and I was left only to imagine what story remained untold to me.

So last week I gleefully found my copy at my local B &N. I started Diana’s book immediately, hoping I’d like it. By the end of chapter one, I was so engrossed I had temporarily forgotten that it was Diana’s book! Several parts of the story hooked me right away: the warm sibling bond between Henry and Jane (reminds me of my relationship with my own dear brother), the potential makings of Chloe (the “good” Wickham daughter who manages to develop moral character despite all odds), the doughty Kitty (who doesn’t fare so well, but whose gardener husband I found endearing), and the horribly bitchy “new” Lydia, Miss Wickham, who wants to trap Fitzwilliam, the eldest Darcy boy.

Diana is a master of dialogue. So vivid and so realistic, it immediately endeared me to Chloe and distanced me from Bettina. Even an occasional surprising phrase that may have more meaning that Diana intended—“their ability to give tongue”— that stopped me in my tracks, only did so momentarily. I soon recognized the depth of cleverness here: the Wickham sister we like is in a position similar to Elizabeth’s before Darcy saves her sister’s, and therefore her own, reputation. The Darcy son most like his father is the one who tries to save the shameful product of the Wickham union from self-immolation, just as Darcy and the Gardiners did years before for her ancestors. The parallels don’t end there. The powerful Elizabeth/Lady Catherine exchange when Lady Catherine suspects an alliance between Lizzy and Darcy is revived here in the Collins’ new
home—the same place it occurred a generation earlier. Chloe, like her aunt Elizabeth, fights back, politely, and we admire her for it. This pride also keys us in—in case we were a bit slow before—to her appropriateness for Henry, just as Elizabeth’s zest proves her worthy of Darcy. And Mr. Collins once again gets to offend us, this time via Lady Catherine, with the suggestion that a heroine would be better off had her shamed relative died—Bettina standing in for her mother this time.

In addition to all the plot twists and clever parallels, Diana also has some fun in brief mentions. Kitty’s husband is a real gardener, or at least likes gardening. If we are to read the Gardiners as people who act in concert with nature, then this man, too, is morally wise. He calls his deity “the great Gardener;” thus Diana reminds us that our characters who enjoy the outdoors are the ones who understand what really matters. She also nicely gets revenge on Caroline Bingley; Caroline gets to marry at last, but her new surname is Babcock. Better to stay single, one might argue.

The only really sad moment in this story is Mr. Bennet’s passing, but even this moment, which brought me to tears, is done gently and calmly, to give as little pain as possible to all. I really think we could have missed this part (I didn’t want to see this!), but the plot wouldn’t work as well without Longbourne falling victim to the Collins, so I guess I can forgive Diana this one choice.

Especially because it’s so soon followed by Darcy’s laugh out loud comment to his son, about to “inherit” the Wickham family via his selected wife, that since Darcy has been burdened “this five an twenty years” by the Wickhams, he “shall be quite glad to pass them on to” his son. Since, as Elizabeth declares, “a good wife, you know, makes a good husband,” all Henry’s efforts—and all Darcy’s—are well worth their trouble.

(republished from Summer 2008)

Published in: on January 1, 2016 at 1:39 pm  Comments (6)  

Jane Austen for Babies

I’ve been on an amazing adventure since my baby girl was born in July, and though there hasn’t been much time for the usual Austen-related book reading let alone reviewing, I have recently read four Austen-related books designed for babies and have some thoughts to share.

Pride and Prejudice Cozy Classics by Jack and Holman Wang: 12 words and 12 pictures of felt characters to go with it. They do manage, I was surprised, to convey the basic story. It is rather a dull read for an adult, but that’s not the point of these books.

Little Miss Austen Sense and Sensibility: An opposites primer by Jennifer Adams with art by Alison Oliver: so this one is upfront that it is about opposites, not really about any story in particular. Thus, Empty and Full pages, one with an empty henhouse and one with a full one, need not bear any connection to the Austen tale. But maybe, since I wanted to introduce the little one to Austen, they should? Some pairs do (Big=Norland Park, Little=Barton Cottage). Why not all? I also thought it strange that the spoiler (Single and Married, with the names on the cakes) was not last, but the non-specific Day and Night were. Was the logic that this is a bedtime story? That everything ends with night? That parents of new babies are too exhausted to notice?

Little Miss Austen Pride and Prejudice: a counting primer by Jennifer Adams with art by Alison Oliver: same concerns as in the previous review that some pages are relevant to the original book (“2 rich gentlemen”) while others just aren’t (“6 horses”). Why? Pictures are cute, and the spoiler comes on the fourth page. This one comes with an optional playset with pieces from the story that stand up (pop out of thick paper), and I think we’ll have fun with this when she’s ready for it.

Goodnight Mr. Darcy by Kate Coombs and illustrated by Alli Arnold: Very clever. It takes the original story (Goodnight Moon, that is, not Pride and Prejudice) and parodies it on every page. Everything from the first page—“In the great ballroom there was a country dance and a well-played tune and Elizabeth Bennet—“ to the father saying “hush”—reminds me adorably of the classic my brother and I loved as kids (which I have in various forms for my sweetie, too). The color schemes, the rhymes, and the repetition are all delightfully parodied here, and people who know Goodnight Moon (so, everyone) will really appreciate this take on it. It also has many details from the Austen story (ex: “Mr. Darcy surprised by a pair of fine eyes”), and I was only slightly annoyed that the end spoiled “Goodnight Elizabeth Goodnight bride.” Does no one else want their kids to be surprised the first time they read the real Pride and Prejudice? Do we assume they already know? I didn’t know when I read it.

So this is what I have been reading lately—and I have never been happier.

Published in: on December 1, 2015 at 7:42 am  Comments (2)  

Lydia Bennet’s Story by Jane Odiwe

It’s always a good sign when Diana Birchall is quoted on the cover of a book. And though, at first, Lydia’s observations here didn’t feel quite like Lydia’s would, the text does ultimately make Lydia into a sympathetic character, one a lot more like her sisters Jane and Elizabeth than Pride and Prejudice would leave us thinking she could be. Lydia does many things of which her sisters would be ashamed. She flirts with her own family’s servant, she kisses some guy at a dance, and she does things just so her sisters will be jealous. At the same time, in this text, the narrator has the girl thinking more deeply than I think she would. On the first page, for instance, Lydia confesses that Mr. Wickham “has a way of looking into [her] eyes which [she finds] most disconcerting,” which seems to me something Lydia wouldn’t think. Later, Lydia wishes that her father would say something nice about her; at least this time, the narrator acknowledges the incongruity between her words here and her behavior in P&P: “Despite the appearance Lydia gave of caring little for his remarks . . . .”

Her diary and the omniscient narration of the events in it also reveal more than I want to know about the character whose scenes, even in P&P, are my least favorite. We perfectly understand now how Lydia and Kitty came, with money enough for shopping, to greet Elizabeth on her journey home from Hunsford; their father needed them out of the house, and was willing to pay to make sure that happened. We learn about how Lydia came to dress Chamberlayne in women’s clothes, how much like her mother Lydia really is (she gets “flutterings” all over her when she’s excited about Brighton, for instance), how Wickham really gets to Lydia (by embarrassing her), and how Lydia decides that Wickham is no longer the “rightful property” of Elizabeth.

Ultimately, what this work achieves, more than the capturing of the P&P Lydia‟s voice, is the development of sympathy for her in an audience that is unlikely to begin reading the work with a shred of any. That development begins early on, when Wickham first offers to show Lydia around Brighton and she does not plan to take him up on his offer. Our feelings devolve into real pity when an eligible bachelor with money and interest in Lydia kisses her badly. It isn’t her fault, after all, that Wickham knows what he’s doing, and this other poor shlep does not. It is Wickham who interrupts an unfulfilling make-out session between Lydia and this handsome captain—and Lydia and Wickham slap each other. The violence and unkindness that will soon dominate their relationship is lightly hinted at here—but Lydia, in her silly 15-year-old naiveté, doesn’t see it.

So Lydia feels repulsed by the touch of a man who really could court her, and it’s almost inevitable that Wickham sweeps in and seduces her. When Wickham finally kisses her—in a dark cavern, away from all their friends, mind you—Lydia is not wholly innocent (she has blown out the candle), but she is not prepared to handle the treachery of this man, and for that, we feel for her. Wickham continues to court another woman, runs out of money, tells Lydia he needs to leave town immediately, and is offered this gift: Lydia has a little money and will give it and herself to Wickham, but only if he takes her with him. He, with sighs, agrees, and Lydia has duped herself into thinking he proposed marriage. We—and he—know he plans no such thing. “Poor, stupid girl,” indeed.

The interaction with Darcy offers reasonable explanations. Why was Lydia not home when Darcy first visited Wickham? She was finally permitted a shopping excursion. Also interesting is that Wickham knows he needs Darcy’s help, and he actually instructs Lydia to be polite to Darcy, but she doesn’t want to. We see Wickham for exactly what he is, but Lydia, though she is learning, still doesn’t.

The wedding day offers moments of pride—in Mrs. Gardiner, whose performance in scolding Lydia is awesome, and revulsion—in Lydia, who fake cries after getting angry at Wickham for threatening to “thrash” her if she tells anyone Darcy was at their wedding. This is a disgusting spectacle. Still, the reader feels sorry for Lydia, who has been threatened by her new husband on her wedding day, until she wonders how her poor mama can“get rid” of Elizabeth and Jane, whom, she predicts, will soon be old maids.

Just when you’re thinking that maybe she deserves her fate after all, Lydia catches Wickham cheating and unrepentant, and the whole charade begins to crumble. Once Lydia sees that he has never loved her the way she loves him, she begins to change into someone we can not only tolerate, but also want to be happy. Lydia is soon admitting—but only to her diary—what a huge mistake she made, and now she assumes full responsibility for it, even as she decides to show the world only her former, giddy, gloating self so that no one triumphs over her.

This sudden and painful self-awareness and isolation make her attractively sympathetic now, and not just to us. A handsome brother of a friend of Lydia’s keeps appearing, and though Lydia thinks he’s constantly judging and scorning her, we recognize these behaviors from a certain laconic gentleman and know what should happen. Thanks to an additional act of Wickham’s past, all we have to do is wait for it to unfold, and the waiting is so much fun to read.

I can see now why Diana so enjoyed this romp. Only a woman who felt the need to bring some attention to Mrs. Elton’s side of the story could so thoroughly sympathize with Odiwe’s plight in making us care about Lydia as anything other than her sisters‟ sister, but much to my surprise and enjoyment, Odiwe—like Birchall before her—succeeds.

(republished from Spring 2009)

Published in: on November 3, 2015 at 9:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Another Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin

This modern teenage version of Persuasion begins with an interesting parallel to Sir Walter Eliot’s studying of the Baronetage: “Some people are like a venereal disease.” Jared Steele, musical phenom, is our protagonist’s ex, and she is having trouble listening to him sing on the radio. In southern Connecticut, the “much-whispered but never-confirmed” truth is that Claire is the subject of his songs. Best friend Kristen does her best to distract Claire from Jared’s music and to focus on her own. Claire’s band, Stabbing Shakespeare, does well with the “Jared Steele sucks” theme but not much else—yet.

The cast of characters parallels Persuasion decently but incompletely. Claire’s mother has been gone a year, and she has a sister, April, who seems more conventional but a little too whiny for our taste (Mary Musgrove, of course). In a span of five minutes, her sister drops the news that they are moving, and her father, that he has invested her “college money in a fun that has since run dry.” He is being followed around by his preposterously made-up secretary, Nikki (Mrs. Clay), though he no longer has a business needing her assistance. Her dad is Sir Walter Eliot, and they need to “retrench” by staying with family in New Hampshire (while their new condo at home gets its kitchen renovated). He seems as bad as the original, but I’ll leave you to discover what surprises he provides for us and for his daughter. Eliot Beach serves as Bath.

Claire describes falling in love with Jared. He does sound pretty perfect for her (and pretty Captain Wentworth to us)—teaching her guitar and praising her musical talent, volunteering with underprivileged kids, and soon, writing songs with her. She broke up with him because her dying mother asked her to. That kind of leaves Lady Russell out of the story, unless we consider Kristen a sort of Lady Russell figure in that she is the only one who really knows about Jared. Cousins Lisa and Hannah are the Musgrove girls (Louisa and Henrietta), and they don’t know the history between Jared and Claire.

Claire is a disciplined heroine, stopping herself from thinking two days in a row about Jared, seeking a job so she doesn’t take out her father’s flirtatious secretary Nikki in a “murderous rage,” and not complaining about having “to give up [her] spot in Brown’s freshman class.” In Eliot Beach, Claire gets a job in a small grocery store. Her father snobbishly disciplines Claire for getting a “menial job” he says is “beneath” her, while he seems content doing nothing at all. On her first day at work, Claire gobbles down some fruit for lunch, and then, bam, stares smack into familiar blue eyes . . . Jared is there, in the market, where she least expects to see him.

This young lady, like Anne Elliot, is quite aware of her own heart and actively working to understand her reactions to the world around her. She feels he wronged her by writing about her badly in his songs; he feels she wronged him by choosing her snobbish family over him. Though she thinks she’s “supposed to be furious at Jared,” she instead recognizes that she cares more than she should what happens to him, so she tries to “stuff” those feelings “into the darkest, coldest recess” of her soul. Claire’s dad, meanwhile, has changed his tune with respect to a young woman going out with Jared, which angers Claire, who had to sneak around. Claire gets roped into attending a concert—on a double date with her ex and her cousin. Before that, though, she confronts her dad about his expectations and treatment of her and of Jared. She is learning how to speak up for herself and for her choices.
In her effort “to prove” herself, Claire enters a local battle of the bands. Her journey will include transitioning from “mere musician” to “performer,” but first she needs the confidence “to perform on [her] own.” At this point, however, her favorite Janis Joplin song is “Piece of My Heart,” which she has made her “anti-Jared anthem,” and one of her bands’ songs includes these lyrics: “I’m stabbing Shakespeare, burning Austen in the fire I’m strangling Cinderella, and all the other dirty liars.” She has some distance to go before she can forgive, understand, and be happy.

Jared is really a nice guy and, in fact, has trouble dealing “with all the public attention” he gets as a Grammy-winning musician. After all the tension between them, Claire at least allows Jared to make her laugh with an inside joke, and she laughs so hard her “stomach hurts.” I could feel the tension break. Shortly thereafter, Claire realizes that she agrees with other people’s demands too often, and maybe she “should have held firm” instead of breaking under her “parents’ pressure and dump[ing] Jared.” There is no clear Lady Russell figure, but she’s clearly discussing the power of persuasion.

Cousin Lisa is a lesbian and a sophomore at UNH. Her best friend Mike is hosting a party. (He turns out to be Jared’s friend, so he could be Harville or Benwick.) At the party, she meets Zach Stevens (Mr. Eliot), who smells like beer and makes her temporarily forget Jared. (Link I’m not sure works: Hannah is smoking a lot; what’s the equivalent in Persuasion? Taking unnecessary risks? ) On another outing, Hannah ends up flirting with Mike instead of Jared (so Mike must be Captain Benwick). But of course that’s followed by a fall, and Claire quickly takes charge, like Anne before her, to get Hannah home safely. Meanwhile, April is researching how to poison the Mrs. Clay character.

Now at this point I will say I was confused by the choice: the Hannah character should be Henrietta, and it should be Lisa, Louisa, who falls down, and then falls for Captain Benwick, but that gets changed for no clear reason. Captain Harville could be any of these guys. Are the aunt and uncle supposed to be the model of a good marriage, and therefore the Crofts? They offer Claire advice and take care of her, but they aren’t linked to Jared in any way (though they know about their history, so maybe that counts?). There’s also no real Elizabeth Elliot, but no one really misses her. I kind of missed Charles Musgrove and the Musgroves in general—maybe they’re the aunt and uncle? That makes more sense, but how can you retell Persuasion without the Crofts? Charles Hayter could be Hannah’s supposedly gay friend at the start of the story, which is certainly a modern way to handle it, except that she, or at least Henrietta, ends up with him in Persuasion. Besides Persuasion confusion, there are also a couple grammar errors that detracted a bit from the fun of this 2013 creation. One example: “He doesn’t want to have to chauffeur April or I anywhere.”

Claire is pretty delightful, but she doesn’t always make perfect decisions, even apart from pronoun case. She reacts badly, for instance, to her band’s news that, after this gig, they “just don’t think it’s going to work out,” telling them that even that gig isn’t worth their time and realizing “everyone else gets to move forward” except her. At this point, the old struggle we knew early on she’d have to fight emerges. She believes she doesn’t “give off the same kind of aura” as a natural performer like Jared, so a solo journey is not an option. On another occasion, when it’s time to make out with Zach, she tries to get herself drunk enough not to be repulsed. That is not okay. Worse, she plans to drive home. For such a smart girl, she really fails on every count here.

Claire has moments of great maturity, too. She defies her father’s demand that she quit her job with no notice—and Jared hears it, so he learns she has learned when to be persuaded and when not. She, meanwhile, learns his real feelings about Hannah and what it is actually like being a star. When Claire catches Zach conspiring with Nikki, she makes two strong moves. The way Claire lets Zach know she knows is awesome here: via text message. He asks her out; she says no, but Nikki’s free; he says who is that again; and she says, you know, the one “whose mouth your tongue was in last night.” No way to misread that! Later, armed with the Nikki-Zach photos, Claire decides that her younger sister “needs a better role model in her life” than what she has, so Claire chooses to accept that job and not share the photos with her father.

The story climaxes with two shifts: 1) in the relationship between Jared and Claire, and 2) in Claire’s sense of herself as a performer. With respect to the first, it’s obvious to one of their favorite singers in a few minutes—and the reader, in a bit more time—that these two belong together. In a beautiful scene on the beach, they build each other up, each targeting the other’s dip in confidence with exactly the right evidence to prove they should have confidence. There is some lovely writing here, including Jared’s comment: “Your band didn’t break up, because you are the band.” Words she needs to hear—and to believe before she can take the critical step of performing alone.

Open mike night is exactly what the reader would want it to be—and more. And, just like in Persuasion, now that Jared Steele is doing so well, our heroine’s dad is happy to discuss his connection to the young man. There is a beautiful ending, followed by a kind acknowledgement of author Tracey Martin’s eleventh grade English teacher, Mr. Baker, who made her “believe [she] should give this writing thing a chance.” You’ll be glad she did.

Published in: on October 1, 2015 at 1:34 pm  Comments (1)  

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

Our first person narrator begins pretty angry, wanting “to chew thorns” that “would tear at the tender flesh on the roof of [her] mouth” so that “the sweet, salty taste of blood would linger on [her] palate.” Mary is apparently listening to her parents discuss Kitty’s prospects with a Mr. Walsh, one of Mr. Bingley’s friends “whom she had met during a lengthy stay” with them. This Mary chuckles inwardly, imagining her mama “casting” her papa “a severe look.” Would Austen’s Mary enjoy that, I wondered. We soon learn, however, that while this Mary looks like Austen’s, she has come a long way since last we saw her. Mary has consciously “tried to change,” seeing “Jane’s and Elizabeth’s happy, contented lives,” and wanting something that brings her happiness, too. She then overhears her mother tell her father that her mother “cannot think of any man who would have” Mary. No wonder she is angry.

Mary has benefitted from her older sisters’ marriages, even studying the pianoforte at Darcy’s expense and improving “dramatically.” (So does she now know how lacking her performances were? She knows her singing still makes “people squirm.”) Still, her mother is unkind, even if without awareness. Mr. Bennet, though, is paying more “more attention than he used to,” and Mary hopes to “replac[e] Elizabeth in his affections.” He defends her against her mother’s cruelty, saying Mary should have a say in her future. Kitty, too, shows Mary more attention, even “inviting [her] to sit with” Kitty and Mrs. Bennet and sharing local gossip. And then, just as Mary fights back about having to go to Lydia for her confinement, a very pregnant Lydia shows up at Longbourne, announcing she is moving home.

Wickham apparently told Lydia not to “begrudge him a little fun” (with a Miss Susan Bradford) while she is pregnant. We hardly have time to pity Lydia, however, because it turns out that Lydia has some explaining to do, too, and also, our pity returns to Mary, who, it turns out, loves the man supposedly interested in Kitty and continues to get verbally abused by her mom. When Mary comments that babies kick in the womb, for instance, Mrs. Bennet says, “What do you know about it? Nothing! Nor will you ever.”

Jane, meanwhile, hopes to “swap Kitty” for Mary (so this is a changed Mary because no one, even sweet Jane, would have done that voluntarily in Pride and Prejudice). At the same time, Mary would rather stay home with her “books and [her] solitude,” so she is not entirely new, except now the books are better. Jane shows more authority now that she has experienced “marriage and motherhood,” and she stands firm in the face of Mrs. Bennet’s selfish and Kitty’s naïve desires.

There are very few mistakes in this text and many delightful parallels to the original. One errors occurs when the text says that, in securing Wickham’s future by purchasing his commission, Darcy “received all the respect and gratitude due him from” the Bennets; they don’t actually know. Interesting that this version says after Mary was embarrassed at Netherfield, Lizzy told Mary “she was sorry about the way Papa had treated” Mary; though it seems characteristic for Lizzy to feel it (more Jane, though), it doesn’t seem likely she would speak against her father. I was baffled by the comment that “there are no novels among [Mr. Bennet’s] personal collection.” Why? In the “about the book,” Mingle misspells Knightley (leaving out the e). Otherwise, this is a solidly constructed story.

Delight-wise, the parallels most strongly suggest Mary is the Elizabeth of this text, and her would-be partner, Mr. Darcy. Lydia is still Lydia; Jane, Jane; and Kitty, to be determined. In her role as Elizabeth, Mary has a close bond with her father. He calls on her when he receives a letter regarding Lydia. She tried to warn him about “tak[ing] the trouble” to check Mrs. Bennet’s inappropriate conduct (when Mrs. Bennet even excitedly asks Lydia about her “other” man). As he did with Elizabeth’s warnings about Lydia, he says he is not going to do anything. Mr. Bennet speaks to Mary as once he spoke to Lizzy, even taking responsibility in front of her for Lydia’s behavior and attitudes, blaming himself for being “so remiss as a parent.”

Mary also has a secret admirer. Like Lizzy before her, Mary has been observed playing piano, but Mr. Walsh seems to have enjoyed it! She must really have improved—or, more likely, he must be in love, as Darcy was. The language here—Mary’s sister “exaggerates” her talents—seems designed to trigger that memory for people who know the novel. Like Lizzy, Mary reads when most other guests in the Bingley home are playing cards. Mr. Walsh tells her he has “always admired those who are able to read while there is so much to distract them.” In another parallel, Mary and Mr. Walsh discuss perfection of character and ultimately, his faults, just as Darcy and Elizabeth discuss his faults early in their acquaintance. Walsh notices later that Mary “walk[s] every day,” which Darcy notices about Lizzy, too, but this, too, is a big shift from the Mary we knew. Their conversation, like Lizzy’s and Darcy’s, tends towards “mundane things,” such as “how long the excellent weather would last.”

There are some, but not too many, new characters to meet. Mr. and Mrs. Ashton are visiting Jane and Bingley. The Bingleys now live in Derbyshire, as many sequels have them do, to “live near Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.” Henry Walsh will also be there, and it’s now clear that both Kitty and Mary would welcome his attentions, but Mary really has strong feelings for him. Amanda Ashton is surprisingly eager to make Mary’s acquaintance, but Mary dislikes Amanda, a “cursed woman” who keeps up a “barrage of questions” even when Mary doesn’t reply. Something is suspicious about Mrs. Ashford, and I suspect it is too keen interest in the affairs of Mr. Wickham, pun intended. She reminds me of Lucy Steele, too eagerly befriending a relative stranger (here, Mary) and saying too direct things (like she “cannot be blind to” Walsh’s “preference” for her). When she impolitely inquires as to the relationship between Darcy and Wickham and then tries to cover her impropriety by telling Mary that she, Amanda, thought Mary would like to know, Mary responds like Elizabeth responds to Lady Catherine: “If you didn’t credit it, I rather wonder you took the trouble to ask me about it.” Mrs. Ashton becomes even worse, after the ball commenting on “Mr. Walsh’s neglect” of Mary, which “one could hardly help noticing.” That hardly helps matters, but Mary wisely doesn’t rise to the bait. When, much later, we learn who Amanda Ashton is, her behavior at least makes more sense.

Though Mary has improved, it seems she feels less confident in herself than she does in P and P; thus, though we can see clearly that she has won the admiration of people she values, she is busy imagining that people see her as “a prig” and “ridiculous and boring, too.” Mr. Walsh shows ease with the Bingley baby, David, owns an estate nearby, and shows politeness to Kitty’s silly excitement about the “lace she purchased for her gown” but more keen interest in the music and books Mary enjoys. When they go to Linden Hall, Mr. Walsh’s estate, Mary describes it much as the narrator describes Pemberley in P and P, the house “set atop a gently rising slope, with a broad expanse of verdant lawn reaching toward a small lake.” It’s Pemberley Junior. Like Georgiana, the lady of Mr. Walsh’s house, his mother, has heard of Mary’s skills on the pianoforte and is eager to hear her play. Like Elizabeth, Mary is surprised the man in question has praised her talent. Trout fishing among the gentlemen follows. (I wondered if Mr. Ashton supposed to be the new Mr. Hurst, belching and then “sprawl[ing] out on one of the chairs.) Mr. Walsh doesn’t directly ask Mary’s opinion about the house but instead about a temple he is contemplating building. Jane, as with Lizzy and Wickham at Longbourne, frees Mary to speak alone with Mr. Walsh. Just when he tells Mary that he “admire[s] [her] very much,” an express arrives, requiring the Bingleys to “take [their] leave.” This time, it’s Elizabeth to Jane, the reverse of in P and P, but no doubt, still about Lydia.

Convinced even still that the man she loves does not love her, Mary chooses, in her disappointment, to give her Mr. Walsh “a taste of the old” Mary, which immediately surprises and horrifies Elizabeth, who now obviously expects better from her. When she chooses to sing, however, and deliberately selects a song whose notes she cannot hit, we understand the depth of her despair. This time, however. Instead of being scolded by her father, she is rescued by a gentleman who clearly has romantic feelings for her. The “guests beg[] for another song,” no doubt a first for Mary, and at least some order is restored. Elizabeth and Jane demand to speak with her afterwards about her behavior, and Lizzy understands what Mary won’t articulate: that Mary is “afraid of risking her heart . . . because she has always felt unloved.”

Like Darcy before him, Mr. Walsh’s proposal does not go smoothly. We can only hope there will be a second one, and it will go better. (Still, Mary’s reaction here seems unwarranted, but it does at least nicely set up her later request for him not to “mention” her earlier bad behavior.) Like Darcy, Walsh is in the doghouse with Mrs. Bennet, who thinks he has slighted Kitty. Like Darcy, Henry asks permission to “introduce” Mary to a young lady very special to him “during [Mary’s] stay at” High Tor. Henry even admires Mary for her “quick mind, [her] candor, [and her] sweetness.” Like Elizabeth, Mary worries “what must [the man she loves] think of [her] now?” when Walsh learns the truth about Lydia. Little does she imagine that, just as Mr. Collins is publicly declaring that Mary has been “tainted” by Lydia’s behavior and will now have no chance “for a happy union,” Mr. Walsh is resolving to try again.

Once Mary returns to Longbourne, she becomes more a mother to Lydia’s baby than Lydia is (other than the physical feedings), but she still longs for Mr. Walsh. Even Mrs. Bennet notices that Lydia “does not seem to have the natural feelings of a mother.” Kitty, meanwhile, has formed another attachment, as we imagined she would since she never really loved (or knew) Mr. Walsh anyway. Now, suddenly, when Lydia causes problems, the primary concerns are the baby’s well-being, Kitty making amends to Mary, and Mary’s being able to form a match. How those concerns are resolved, I leave it to you to discover in this delightful look at Mary Bennet.

Published in: on August 2, 2015 at 6:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Darcy and Elizabeth: nights and days at Pemberley by Linda Berdoll

I loved Pride and Promiscuity. Once I started Mr. Darcy Takes (in more positions than could be easily imagined) a Wife, I could hardly tear myself away. The only part of Bride and Prejudice I resented is when Lalita and Will Darcy don’t actually kiss on-screen.

So you know, it’s really my own fault I dove head first into Linda Berdoll’s second sexy exploration of the life of Darcy and Elizabeth after the happily ever after.

This is not to say I was not rewarded; on the contrary, there are multiple delights (of the orgasmic nature and otherwise) in this text. A sampling: the size of Darcy’s bulge (introduced on page six, since it’s of obvious import), an erotic nursing scene (the Darcys have twins), Darcy telling off Lady Catherine for her behavior in the previous sequel, Bingley finally learning his way around a woman’s anatomy and using it for Jane’s—rather than for a mistress’—pleasure, an awesome and shocking Georgiana/Fitzwilliam revelation on their wedding night, Anne de Bourgh as an equine creature whose mother resents her for not procreating, Lizzy making sure Darcy doesn’t fall asleep as usual post-coitus when they do it in the lake, and Darcy’s adorable daughter expelling the contents of her nose on her father’s coat as he looks on in horror.

This being said, these delights come from the first half of the book because I made the choice not to finish it.

Why, you ask? The book is titillating, creative, fun-spirited. But it is also a lot of work to read. The vocabulary feels heavy, only some of the characters are familiar or easy to keep track of, and the interconnected stories are confusing and become rewarding, no doubt, only near the end. I loved the Lizzy/Darcy scenes and even some of the others, which I know, somehow, Berdoll will make affect Lizzy and Darcy, but I have reached a point of exhaustion. Pleasure reading is supposed to come more easily than this.

If you, however, discerning audience as you are, look for a challenge and a lot to piece together—and literary sex scenes I haven’t seen any other respectable Austen writer attempt—than Darcy and Elizabeth should be next on your “to read” list.

(Keep a dictionary and a willing partner close by) ;-).

Republished from Spring/Summer 2007

Published in: on June 25, 2015 at 5:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brant

Beth Ann Bennet, 26, is gathering “sociological data” for Soc 369 with best friend Jane Henderson, planning to avoid getting “emotionally invested” in any way as she tries to follow the instructions of her professor (1). They’re using a website called Lady Catherine’s Love Match (2). And I thought jdate was too much. Beth Ann lives in Chicago, struggles financially, and has a six-year-old, Charlie. Two of the website’s offerings are Reverend Ezekiel Collins and Will Darcy. Jane encourages her friend to use the alias of Charlotte Lucas and to “have a little fun” with her profile (5).

Dr. William Darcy has a goofy cousin, Bingley McNamara, and practices in the Regents General Hospital. Bingley is a gambler whom Darcy accuses of just “overseeing [his] trust fund” (7). Darcy has an ulterior motive in on-line dating, too; Bingley will help fund Darcy’s clinic only with “evidence that (Darcy has) scored a little balance” in his life (8).

Darcy is a compelling hero right away: he makes a ninety-year-old woman feel special, and he has big dreams of helping people with his clinic. Beth is a bit less so but has potential as a single mom who lies—but has a conscience about it and does it to be able to earn a degree and thus more money to support her kid. Soon, though, we see her preparing to help (in the role of social worker) the same elderly people Darcy helps. Pete Wickham is Charlie’s dead-beat dad.

Their first date begins awkwardly—or Beth thinks it does, but we know that’s because she saw the arrogant cousin (why do this to Bingley), not the big D himself. Such a different take than P and P–there’s nothing remotely negative about Darcy (though he keeps putting himself down for having motives he isn’t sharing), and Beth is drawn to him immediately, but lies to him anyway. Darcy does plan their future without really consulting her, but it’s a lovely vision of possibilities.

Clever: Lydia is a young, single mother who received hardly “any prenatal checkups because she didn’t have a job” (26).
Not sure who characters Abby (Beth’s co-worker), Robby (also), Mr. Moratti (Charlie’s “stand-in grandmother”), and Anne Marie Dermott (“cantankerous” elderly patient) are supposed to be in P and P (32, 30).

Interesting twist: Beth actually hopes (not really) that her project won’t get into trouble because her “positive first impression” of Darcy was wrong! (35) it takes until date #2 for him to offend her; thinking she is someone different from who she is, he says that social workers are basically “cruise directors” who often “cause more trouble than they solve” (37). Now, we know he was raised by a single mother and no doubt had trouble with a specific social worker. We also know that Beth is a social worker and single mom. But each of them knows only his or her own secret, not the other’s.

Beth goes into this hoping to prove her assumption: “men had a tendency to avoid relationships where they had to raise another man’s offspring” (41). So frustrating how they misunderstand each other during the conversation about the children of single mothers! The whole time, Beth thinks he’s saying he’d want nothing to do with her or her child because they’re “left-overs,” and really he’s talking about himself and his mom! (46) But then—miraculously—he does tell her, and she’s immediately sympathetic, imagining both young Will and her own Charlie in that situation.

Typo: “I’m an impatient man who likes be where the action is” (42). We were doing so well.

Oh, ew. Then the Bingley situation reveals itself, and it’s pretty bad, even if Darcy is doing it for a good cause. Sample: Bingley says if Darcy brings Beth to his place in one month “with an engagement ring,” he’ll “double the money” he promised (55).

Great advice from Mrs. Hammond: “life don’t come smooth, but you make a path, even with all them rocks in your way, that you can walk on and be proud of” (59).

Meanwhile, Darcy is in talks with Dan Noelen, who heads the group where Beth works. That will be interesting. Just when things seem to be going well between them, Beth thinks Darcy pities single mothers and decides she can’t see him anymore—but doesn’t explain any of that to him.

In a rare moment of Bingley seriousness, he acts more honorably when he tells Will this is the first time he has seen his cousin “more concerned with a woman’s reputation than with [Will’s] . . . ambition to seek revenge on the system” (87). That is interesting. Jane, too, is doing some changed talking. (Since the two of them need to get together, too, this parallel works well.) Both of them have kind intentions and a much more responsible side by the end of the story than I had sensed at the beginning, Jane always bringing over good food and babysitting, Bingley really trying to free Darcy for love.

Then the moment we were waiting to happen happens, and Beth thinks everything has fallen apart; we, by contrast, think it’s going to get worse if she submits her paper on the experience, a paper in which she doesn’t quite lie but certainly doesn’t tell the truth. Both hero and heroine are forced to confront some unpleasant perceptions by people close to them at work about their own attitudes.

Nice little parallel to P and P: after their big “fight,” Beth goes to the Koffee Haus, hoping “she might run into Will Darcy there” but also hoping “she wouldn’t,” the same ambivalence Elizabeth Bennet feels at Pemberley when Georgiana is hosting the ladies (123).

Published in: on June 2, 2015 at 6:12 am  Comments (1)