In the last dozen years or so, a trend that I've noticed is the amazing revival of Jane Austen's novels into the mainstream of modern culture. Long considered the best of England's early novelists, Jane Austen had a short life (she died at the age of thirty-seven) but her six novels, detailing the courtship rituals of the gentry in the countryside and London, have been read and sighed over for nearly two centuries now.
But along with the revival, there have been some strange detours along the way. One trend that fills me with dismay are the never-ending stream of so-called 'sequels' to the original six that are usually nothing more limp shadows, trying to tell the stories of minor characters, children of the courting couples, and so forth. Other novels are a bit better, usually those with modern heroines who suddenly find themselves living a life very close to an Austen novels. But nearly all of them left me with some dissatisfaction as many of them just could not catch the language and poetry of Miss Austen's original works.
Written in 1913, and published the year after that, Sybil G's Brinton's Old Friends and New Fancies was the only novel that she published. And not only does she take on just one of the novels, but all six.
As the story opens, Mr. Darcy and his Elizabeth has started a family in his grand home of Pemberley. His younger sister Georgiana has a tentative engagement to their cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, but it seems that neither of them are very happy about their forthcoming union. It is agreed that a forthcoming holiday to the popular resort of Bath would help to resolve the situation, and both parties will be able to part as friends.
Which is exactly what happens. Colonel Fitzwilliam finds himself drawn to the enchanting Mary Crawford, and Georgiana is watching the Steele sisters working their wiles on her aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. In the meantime, the reader discovers that the Ferrars have moved nearer to the two married Bennet sisters, and that another Bennet sister, Kitty, is looking to enter society, and already has a pair of men interested in her -- a naval officer by the name of Mr. Price, and a young clergyman, Mr. Morland. And just when it seems that Colonel Fitzwilliam is about to ask Mary Crawford to be his wife, it seems that she is already engaged to someone else -- to none other than the shallow Sir Walter Elliot.
Georgiana Darcy is more of an observer of these events, but it seems that young men everywhere are falling for her and over time, she is being crushed by the burdens of the men falling for her instead of her friends. She is witty, and innately kind, and it hurts her to watch her friends be disappointed in their own affairs. And when she does find someone that she can respect and love, that very same kindness will prove to be her undoing...
Yes, there are quite a few romantic entanglements going on. At times it was getting tricky to keep everyone straight, but the author has thoughtfully provided a scorecard, as it were, in the front of the book, listing all of the characters, and from which of the original novels they are from.
The best part of the book, however, is the language. Miss Brinton lived in a time where there rules to courtship, and how to behave in public, at least if you were to be thought a gentleman or lady. In our very modern world, such a way of behaving would seem very stilted and contrived, but back then, it was a way of figuring out who could be a suitable partner, and more importantly -- who could not.
Along the way, there are vivid descriptions of balls, assemblies, an evening of tableux and charades, plenty of whispered confidences, and the like. What I really enjoyed was how the author managed to take relatively minor characters from Miss Austen's books, and give them a life and vitality all their own. Mary Crawford is musical and reserved, Kitty Bennett longs to fall in love and be swept off her feet, and Georgiana Darcy is serious and a bit shy.
This is one sequel that I can happily recommend. True, there are parts of it that I didn't like at all -- the omission of Marianne and Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility is one of them -- but others had me chuckling in a quiet way, such as the ever-enthusiastic Mrs. Jennings, and that Lydia Wickham is now cooling her heels in the West Indies.
For those who have loved the original novels, here is a sequel that manages to catch the right tone and feel of the originals, without any over the top behavior, modern foibles, or anachronisms to clutter things up.
Five stars, and happily recommended.
Old Friends and New Fancies: An Imaginary Sequel to the Novels of Jane Austen
Sybil G. Brinton
2007; Sourcebooks, Inc.
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