Most Truly: A Pride and Prejudice Novella, by Reina M. Williams – A Review

Most Truly A Pride and Prejudice Novella by Reina M Williams 2013 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

The thing I like best about novellas is that they are typically quick, fun reads that don’t take up much time, but offer a lot of fun in return. When I first mused reading Most Truly by Reina M. Williams, I was intrigued as it seemed to have all of these good characteristics of a novella and was a Pride and Prejudice sequel to boot. Additionally, although this isn’t the first time I’ve read something that featured Kitty (I’ve also read Maria Grace’s Twelfth Night At Longbourn), it is always a treat to find something dedicated to the Bennet sisters who don’t steal the headlines in P&P. So, with that in mind I set aside a short block of time and dove right in! 

Most Truly begins with Col. Fitzwilliam having recently returned from war, weary and happy to exchange his fellow soldiers for members of his family and friends. This is no fleeting visit though, as the Col. is in possession of a tidy sum of money for his efforts.  As such he now intends to enter into a marriage and begin life anew as a civilian husband. He travels to Pemberley, where his beloved cousins Darcy, Elizabeth, and Georgiana reside. There he finds Kitty Bennet, who surprises him completely by catching his eye. Her charms and mannerisms make him think twice about his values and his position as a gentleman and what that entails. Kitty, meanwhile, does not want to get embroiled with military men (as she did in her past), and will not risk attracting attention from her family. She has settled into a happy new life at Pemberley, and can’t risk ruining it. However, she can’t deny her feelings for Col. Fitzwilliam, and he in turn has eyes only for her, bringing him at odds with the wishes of his aunt, Lady Catherine and his parents. What will become of this tense situation? Will Kitty have her moment in the spotlight?

I liked the dynamic of Kitty attempting to improve herself, and I especially liked to see the inner turmoil that she went through during this transformation. As a relatively unbridled individual in her youth, she was carefree and fanatical about redcoats. After the Wickham debacle she sees the error of her ways and begins her quest (with Elizabeth and Georgiana’s help) to becoming a proper and poised lady worthy of marriage. In Most Truly we see the evidence of her new outlook on life. She’s graceful and worries about saying and doing the wrong things. She truly puts forth a great effort in showing Darcy and Elizabeth that she’s dedicated to not being that girl that was Lydia’s shadow. But when Col. Fitzwilliam shows up, she begins to waver inside. Will falling in love with him prove that she is still that carefree youth? It was this inner debate that Most Truly impressed me with.

On the other hand, parts of the novella could have definitely been fleshed out more, where descriptions of characters seemed to just be told to the reader instead of shown. This lack of embellishment made the work more concise, of course, but it also detracted from becoming immersed in the story. I understand that novellas are written with the intent of being short stories, as things tend to move relatively fast, but this just felt too fast. For example, Anne de Bourgh and Alfred Fitzwilliam (Col. Fitzwilliam’s youngest brother) become engaged and you’re not really sure why. You’re told that they love each other and are given one tiny morsel of a scene together and that’s it. I would have loved seeing them have a conversation with another character (or with each other) explaining how their love blossomed, or even how they had remained steadfast in their love over the years. Small things like this would have greatly enhanced my appreciation for the novel.

In the end, if you’re able to look past the rapid story development, Williams’ Most Truly is a sweet romance with Kitty at its center. For those of you who love stories starring Austen’s supporting characters, this is definitely one for you.

3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Most Truly: A Pride and Prejudice Novella, by Reina M. Williams
Amazon Digital Services, Inc. (2013)
Digital eBook (85) pages
ASIN: B00H07FW5E

Cover image courtesy of Amazon Digital Services, Inc. © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: The reviewer purchased a copy of this book. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Northanger Abbey: The Austen Project, by Val McDermid – A Review

Northanger Abbey Austen Project Val McDermid 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

In the second installment of The Austen Project, bestselling Scottish crime writer Val McDermid takes a stab at a contemporary reimagining of Jane Austen’s most under-appreciated novel, Northanger Abbey. Written in the late 1790’s when Austen was a fledgling writer, this Gothic parody about young heroine Catherine Morland’s first experiences in Bath society and her romance with the dishy hero Henry Tilney is one of my favorite Austen novels. Fresh and funny, the writing style is not as accomplished as her later works but no one can dismiss the quality of Austen’s witty dialogue nor her gentle joke at the melodramatic Gothic fiction so popular in her day. I was encouraged by the choice of McDermid as author and intrigued to see how she would transport the story into the 21st century.

Our modern heroine, sixteen-year-old Cat Morland, is a vicar’s daughter living a rather disappointing life in the Piddle Valley of Dorset. Her mother and father seldom argued and never fought, and her siblings were so average she despaired of ever discovering any dark family secrets to add excitement to her life. Homeschooled, she can’t comprehend history or French or algebra, but delights in reading to fuel her vivid imagination, favoring ghost stories, zombie and vampire tales. After years of exploring the narrow confines of her home turf she craves adventure abroad. Rich neighbors Susie and Andrew Allen come to her rescue by inviting her to travel with them and attend the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland where Cat “is in her element, seeing potential for terror and adventure around every twist and turn of the narrow streets.”

Introduced to theater, art and books, and thanks to fashionista Mrs. Allen, Cat soon acquires a new wardrobe and dancing lessons where she partners with a charming and witty young attorney, Henry Tilney. After researching Henry on Facebook and Google she discovers that his father is the much-decorated general who made his name in the Falkland’s war before she was born. Even more interesting to Cat’s Gothic infused imagination, he owns Northanger Abbey, a medieval Borders abbey in Scotland. Cat also meets Mrs. Allen’s long-lost school friend Martha Thorpe and her three daughters, one of which is just Cat’s age. Bella, who recognizes the Morland last name, knows Cat’s elder brother Jamie who is attending Oxford with her brother Johnny. Before long they were “gossiping about the things that entertain young women of a certain age and type,” and becoming bff’s.

Blowhard Johnny Thorpe arrives in his racy red sports car with friend James Morland in tow. He attempts to court Cat but all she can think of is Henry and his sister Ellie. When Cat attends a céilidh, she anticipates dancing the Highland fling and hopes to encounter Henry Tilney again, who will surely save her from the unwanted attentions of crude Johnny Thorpe. As she and Bella scout the room they notice a beautiful, pale young woman dressed all in white:

“Who on earth was that?” Bella asked, “She acts like she’s in Pride and Prejudice.”

“That’s Henry Tilney’s sister Ellie.” Cat stared after the disappearing figure. There was something about Ellie, something out of time and out of style, like there would be if you were a two-hundred-year old vampire, she thought with a mixture of dread and delight.”

The story continues, mirroring the text of Northanger Abbey page for page, and scene for scene. Cat travels to Northanger Abbey as guest of the Tilney’s and the story turns Gothic and mysterious – just as Austen had devised.

McDermid made clever, creative and sensible choices in modernizing Northanger Abbey by moving the action from England to Scotland. The Edinburgh Festival easily replaces eighteenth century Georgian Bath allowing for a social hub similar in context: theater, shopping and country dancing. Later, we are treated to a really creepy medieval setting for a Scottish castle/Northanger Abbey. Cat is appropriately addicted to modern Gothic novels rivaling the famous Northanger Canon: Herbridean Harpies, Ghasts of Ghia and even Pride a Prejudice and Zombies! McDermid builds the vampire theme slowly, allowing Henry and Ellie to be pale in complexion, anachronistic in demeanor and just mysterious enough to trigger Cat’s imagination. Her characterizations are spot on: Henry is droll and swoon-worthy as ever, Cat a bit air-headed and impressionable, Bella a slick piece of work, and General Tilney deceptive and tyrannical.

The plot plays out as one would expect, and if you had not read Northanger Abbey before you would not notice that the author has really created a complete translation, scene for scene, and sometimes word for word—a No Fear Shakespeare version of Northanger Abbey. While I admired McDermid’s creative choices to bring the story into the modern world (cell phones, Facebook, language and culture), I was immediately puzzled by her choice of narrative style. This novel is really a retelling instead of the reimagining that it was advertised as. The downside of a translation is in its creative limitations, resulting in McDermid’s sentences being affected and unnatural. I just wanted her to break out of the stranglehold she had placed on herself and use the plot and characterization as a spring board, and not a noose. Limiting herself in this manner may have been her way of honoring Austen, but I think she has done a great disservice to her own writing. Having not read any of her acclaimed crime novels I have no idea of her real talent. I believe that Austen herself, who honed her craft so precisely, would be baffled at one author lessening their gifts at the expense of another.

Like the reaction to Joanna Trollope’s contemporary reimaging of Sense and Sensibility published last year, whenever you fiddle with the classics there are bound to be those who are open to the concept and those completely closed off. I read this novel in anticipation of enjoying it. In hindsight, I do not think that it was written for an Austen fan familiar with the original, but for the uninitiated who may view it in a completely different light.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Northanger Abbey: The Austen Project, by Val McDermid
Grove Press (2014)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0802123015

Cover image courtesy of Grove Press © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Pirates and Prejudice: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Kara Louise – A Review

Pirates and Prejudice Kara Louise 2013 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

When I first heard about a novel that turned my beloved Fitzwilliam Darcy into a pirate, I was apprehensive. HOW could anyone believably transform that noble gentleman into scurrilous brigand? He was so proper, so refined, and orderly. Picturing him as a swashbuckler…well, I just couldn’t imagine it. Enter author Kara Louise and her novel Pirates and Prejudice. I shouldn’t be surprised that Louise was able to seriously sell me on the idea, considering I loved her earlier novel Darcy’s Voyage (another version of P&P at sea.) Her characterization and unique storyline had me hooked on this new and intriguing way of looking at one of the most iconic romantic heroes ever created.

Feeling deeply spurned after Elizabeth Bennet rejects his offer of marriage, lonely and forlorn, Fitzwilliam Darcy eschews his friends and family, preferring instead to hide away at the London docks where he drowns his disappointment in drink. There, he is mistaken for an escaped pirate Captain Lockerly and imprisoned. Even though he claims “disguise of every sort is my abhorrence,” he aids the local authorities and agrees to impersonate the notorious pirate to help capture him. What was once something he would have never imagined for himself, the pirate life now calls him into action. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s Aunt and Uncle Gardiner cancel their vacation plans to tour The Lake District leaving Elizabeth open to sail to the Isle of Scilly with her father to see her ailing aunt. On their return voyage, however, they are set upon by pirates and rescued by a Captain Smith. Imagine her surprise when she discovers that this is no ordinary Captain, but the ex-pirate impersonator Mr. Darcy himself! How will Darcy explain how he came to be a sea Captain? Will Elizabeth fall in love with this new and improved version of the Mr. Darcy she once so coldly rejected?

Pirates and Prejudice is first and foremost a fun variation of P&P. Darcy’s attempts to shed his educated, genteel upbringing is at times hilarious. The scenes where he tried to make his speech sound coarse and unrefined brought tears to my eyes. Over the course of the novel, he evolves into an adventurous, suave pirate, the likes of Errol Flynn in Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk. Though Darcy’s path to inner transformation happens differently than Austen would have imagined it, yet it still happens. Pirating offers him the time he needs to think about Elizabeth’s rebuff and his former feelings, and it also offers readers the opportunity to take this journey with him.

For as much as I’ve said about the pirating elements of this novel, Pirates and Prejudice is also a wonderful romance filled with twists and turns. Due to Darcy needing to disguise his true identity, his reintroduction to Elizabeth is immediately slated for trouble. He knows that his false identity (when it is finally revealed) has the ability to tear them apart all over again. Darcy’s struggle with doing right for his country, while trying to do right by his heart is excellently written. Louise accurately depicts his struggle and inner war.

In the end, Pirates and Prejudice gives us a fabulously heroic Darcy, action packed sword fights, damsels in distress, and a heartwarming romance sure to please each and every reader. While the premise seems outlandish, I beg you to give it a shot. Louise is a writer with a genuine talent that will surely draw you in to this story.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pirates and Prejudice: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Kara Louise
Heartworks Publications (2013)
Trade paperback (276) pages
ISBN: 978-0615815428

Cover image courtesy of Heartworks Publications © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: The reviewer purchased a copy of this book. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels, by Janet Todd – A Review

Jane Austen Her Life Her Times and Her Novels by Janet Todd 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

One of my greatest discoveries while touring Jane Austen’s England last year was on our first day in London. Our group was at The British Library to see Jane Austen’s writing desk (awe inspiring) and of course we hit the library gift shop on our way out. We were delighted to find a whole table display featuring books by and about Jane Austen. Dead center was the striking purple cover of a large, over-sized book that I did not recognize entitled, Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels. It had just been released in the UK in honor of the bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice. On first impression it appeared, by its size and design, to be one of those glitzy oversized gift books that had pull out facsimiles of letters and documents along with big glossy images – a trophy book that you might place on your coffee table as a display piece or give as a gift to friend that you were trying to convert into a Janeite. When I noticed that the author was the celebrated Austen scholar Janet Todd, my first impressions changed immediately.

Weighing in at 2.7 pounds and sizing up at 11 X 10 inches, this full feature Jane Austen experience packs a wallop – a giant adrenalin rush for any fan or neophyte. Not only is the book beautifully bound and designed, it seeks to dispel any speculation and myth about the author’s life and works. The text has been laid out logically within twenty-two chapters covering biographical material, her early writing, published and unpublished works, history in context to her life and writing, and concludes with her legacy entitled, The Cult of Austen. Drawing on previously unseen documents from The British Library and the archives of The Bridgeman Art Library, Todd offers sixteen facsimile copies of Austen’s handwritten letters, manuscripts and notes, period maps and illustrations, and a frontis piece from the 1833 Pride and Prejudice. Her brilliant introduction will draw you into Austen’s Georgian world and the handy index in the back allows for quick reference to facts and details.

Jane Austen Her Life Her Times Her Novels

Stylish, expertly crafted, and surprisingly illuminating to this long-time Austen fan, Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels is just superb. You will consume this book like the richly flavored and decadent confection that it is. It now holds pride of place in my extensive Austen library and will be on the top of my list as a gift book to friends. And, as a word of extreme warning, there is a pirated copy of this book for sale on eBay which includes Todd’s text and lists Deirdre Le Faye as the author. Please do not support these thieves by purchasing it.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels, by Janet Todd
Carlton Books (2013)
Hardcover (112) pages
ISBN: 978-0233003702

Cover image courtesy of Carlton Books © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner: A Pride and Prejudice Farce, by Jack Caldwell – A Review

From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner by Jack Caldwell 2013 x 200

Back in the day I read a novel entitled Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell and found myself totally impressed with the original reimagining of my beloved Pride and Prejudice (from a male author’s perspective!). I remember heading over to Caldwell’s website to see what else he had written that was available for me to get my hands on. I wound up finding a story he was publishing piece-by-piece on his site entitled Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner. I decided to read the entire story from start to finish in the course of one evening (ok, maybe some very early hours of the day were involved too….). Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I found it on sale for NOOK earlier this year. Being able to readily remember the pleasure it gave me several years earlier had me all the more excited to read it again.

We are all familiar with Mr. Darcy’s haughty nature, but it is no match for a little furry kitten in Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner. An encounter with Elizabeth’s pet cat causes Mr. Darcy to fall and injure himself, leading to a long recovery at Longbourn of all places. Because of a lack of space, Darcy is actually put up in the parlor, and he is subject to the exploits of the Bennet family, including every wail of Mrs. Bennet and every antic of Kitty and Lydia. Things get even more hectic when Bingley, Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh come to visit Darcy in his invalid state. Hilarity ensues when these guests further antagonize the pressure cooker of emotion and frivolity that is present at Longbourn. Will Darcy and Lizzy be able to survive his recuperation? While most of us would erupt in anger and frustration at this impossible situation, Darcy shocks us all by doing quite the opposite. He shows us a kinder, gentler side of himself by taking an interest in all of the Bennet sisters, not just Lizzy.  He brings his horse to Longborn for Lydia to ride, helps Kitty with her sketches, and compliments Mary on her pianoforte pieces. In all, we see a Darcy that is quite refreshing and new, which made the story spring to life off the pages.

This book can truly be described as a comedy of errors, all thanks to a cat! I found myself just as delighted and charmed with Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner this time around as I was the first time I read it. Caldwell has a real knack at infusing comedy into Darcy and Elizabeth’s lives realistically. The scenes with Darcy confronting Mr. Collins are among my favorite. Mr. Collins is just such an odious man. Seeing him (comedically) get knocked down a few pegs had me cheering at my nook (very) loudly.

My biggest concern with reading the book was that it would get stale or drag considering much of the book takes place solely in the Bennet household. I’m happy to report that Caldwell was able to keep the book moving along at a happy pace and found many plot ventures in the Bennet sisters. It’s not often in the Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) world that we see what the entire Bennet clan would look like with grace, manners, decorum, and some education. Darcy gets a chance to show the reader (and Elizabeth) what a great older brother looks like. One that truly cares about his sisters, not just their financial wants or needs, but the parts of them that make their souls sing. Caldwell’s Darcy in Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner is one of the best representations of Austen’s vision that I can recall to date. His manners towards the working class are kind, his attention to detail and expectations of carrying out said details are sublime. He tries to better those around him but refuses to offer his respect or time to those that show idiocy (Mr. Collins) or selfishness (Caroline Bingley).

Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner is a comedic tale that offers readers a new view of our favorite characters while giving us the chance to laugh-out-loud at some of their more outlandish moments. If this all sounds slightly familiar to you, it is because it is based on the play and film The Man Who Came to Dinner, originally written for the stage by Kaufman and Hart in 1939.  Just like the original work, Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner is sure to stand the test of time. It is a sure bet for the female (or male!) Jane Austen Fan Fiction reader in your life.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner: A Pride and Prejudice Farce, by Jack Caldwell
White Soup Press (2013)
Trade paperback (256) pages
ISBN: 978-0989108003

Additional Reviews

Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Secret Betrothal: A Pride and Prejudice Alternate Path, by Jan Hahn – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd:   The Secret Betrothal by Jan Hahn (2014)

Marriage in Regency times was the rock that built Society’s foundation. Not only was it the most important step in a young woman’s life, the union could advance her family’s social standing and wealth. Throughout Jane Austen’s novels we are shown the maneuverings of families to obtain advantageous alliances for their children, so when we see the secret engagements in Emma and Sense and Sensibility, and their outcome, we know the risk and scandal that can ensue. With this in mind, I am both curious and uneasy by author Jan Hahn’s choice of The Secret Betrothal as a title of her new novel. Furthermore, in this reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, she has boldly chosen to explore what would happen if Elizabeth Bennet entered into one herself! Whatever would possess our favorite Austen heroine to take this risk—and what would Mr. Darcy do to save her from such a folly?

For reasons I shan’t give away here, Elizabeth must keep this betrothal a secret and when she was told she could tell no one, not even her beloved sister, Jane:

“…she felt a chill crawl up her back….Although he lacked fortune, it was due to no failing on his part, and he had the promise of an adequate future awaiting him. But the possibility of waiting two years provoked a sigh from deep within her. He had warned Elizabeth that they must avoid paying close attention to each other when in public so as not to raise talk among the gossips of Meryton. Being a sensible woman, Elizabeth knew that was necessary as talk of matches and mating was primary among Hertfordshire society. Still, it did not set well with her.”  (63)

A chance meeting at Rosings Park, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth re-new their acquaintance and he comes to find out soon after his unpropitious declaration of love that she is already engaged. Secretly engaged! But he cannot comprehend why such an intelligent and fine a creature as Elizabeth would allow herself to enter into such an agreement. (Me either. Why, Elizabeth? Why? But of course, that frustration is what we are designed to feel.) Through a comedy of errors, the two are thrown together once again to aid the inhabitants of both Hunsford Parsonage and Rosing Park who have all taken ill after partaking in Lady Catherine’s apothecary’s prescribed tonic, helping Elizabeth change her former prejudices against Darcy. Meanwhile, as the weeks pass and Elizabeth receives scant letters from her secret amour, but continues to hear troubling news regarding his behavior from her youngest sisters, Elizabeth further questions her predicament. Not long afterward, Darcy’s physician suggests Mrs. Charlotte Collins might best recover at the seaside, so off to Lady Catherine’s Brighton home they go. There at Waverly, the story really heats up with some very sweet, romantic scenes along the ocean’s edge.

“Why did I not recognize Mr. Darcy’s true character earlier, long before I pledged myself to the one man he could never forgive?” At that moment, Elizabeth realized she truly loved him. She loved Mr. Darcy, and it was too late.

She rose to her knees and leaned out the window, allowing the wind to softly drift through her nightgown, causing her hair to blow from her face. How she yearned to reach him, to tell him how greatly she regretted all that happened!

Unexpectedly, the figure on the beach ceased his pacing. Accented by the moon’s brightness, Elizabeth could see him turn to cast his gaze toward Waverly. She became aware that most likely he could see her outline, that the candle behind her must be illuminating her figure in the window. He did not move but stood absolutely still, staring at her. Neither of them moved until a sudden gust blew through the window and quenched the candle. Now there was darkness.

Elizabeth watched the figure walk out of the light, and although she kept her vigil at the window for some time, he did not return.” (215)

(I declare, I was most inelegantly chewing my nails at this point.)

In The Secret Betrothal, award winning author Jan Hahn explores the heights and depths of a secret engagement and takes us on a frustrating, breathless, sentient and oh, so satisfying ride. I love all Jan Hahn’s previous works and have been anticipating her latest offering for months. This was worth the wait! Originally published on-line as a shorter story called “The Engagement”, this published work has undergone a thorough concept edit, tightening the story and expanding where the on-line story lacked. As always, Hahn writes excellent romance, but I did not relish that Elizabeth and Darcy did not take the straightforward approach to solving their quandary. But then that would have been a totally different story, and a bit of angst in Austenesque fiction is most deliciously, tantalizing. The Secret Betrothal felt authentic enough to Austen & Regency times. I am a sucker for happily-ever-afters. Fans of Jan Hahn will surely inhale this book, and those new to her work should add this to their to-be-read list—sooner than later.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Secret Betrothal: A Pride and Prejudice Alternate Path, by Jan Hahn
Meryton Press (2014)
Trade paperback (324)
ISBN: 978-1936009329

Cover image courtesy of Meryton Press © 2014; text Christina Boyd © 2014, Austenprose.com

Jane Austen, Game Theorist, by Michael Suk-Young Chwe – A Review

Jane Austen Game Theroist Michael Chwe 2013 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

According to Wikipedia, game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent, rational decision-makers.” So, what the heck does that have to do with Jane Austen and her novels? A lot, as it turns out. In Jane Austen, Game Theorist, we explore how Austen’s works tie into contemporary theories about strategic decision-making nearly two hundred years before they came into fashion.

The book doesn’t presuppose any familiarity with game theory. This was a very good thing, as I knew next to nothing about this branch of the social sciences before picking up the book. Really, the simplest way to explain game theory is to say that it’s the study of how people make strategic decisions. Most people will make a decision based on what they would like to do. In other words, they make a personal choice. But, a good strategic thinker will also consider what others might do in turn. Basically, when choosing, you also consider how others will act.

Let’s look at an example from Pride and Prejudice to illustrate the point. Mr. Darcy agonizes over whether or not to marry Elizabeth Bennet, a woman who he is slowly falling in love with despite his best efforts to resist her charms and fine eyes. A choice like this can be represented visually through a decision tree. Mr. Darcy’s would look something like this:

Jane Austen Game Theorist image 1

As Mr. Darcy sees it, he must decide whether or not to marry Elizabeth. In the end, his objections can’t outweigh his love and he makes the choice to tell her how ardently he admires and loves her.

But, one of Mr. Darcy’s biggest mistakes is that he doesn’t seem to realize that the decision tree that will lead him from love to matrimony with Elizabeth actually looks something like this:

Jane Austen Game Theorist image 2

Mr. Darcy’s choice isn’t to marry or not marry Elizabeth. He can only choose to propose. He seems to forget that the lady also has the right of refusal. Or else he never really considers that a viable possibility. Elizabeth must be wishing and expecting his addresses, right? That’s why he lets her in on his honest feelings and struggles, which she considers highly insulting. Mr. Darcy has made his choice, but he has entirely forgotten about Elizabeth’s preferences. She would prefer not to marry an arrogant, prideful man who has insulted her along with her family all while trying to profess his undying love.

Luckily, Mr. Darcy’s strategic thinking improves throughout the course of the novel and he’s able to turn Elizabeth’s point-by-point refusal into a strategic plan for winning her heart. Or at least that’s what game theory would say.

The author goes through each of Austen’s six novels giving countless examples of both good and bad decisions, characters that excel in decision-making and those who don’t. Elizabeth Bennet may be a good strategic decision-maker, but she is also blinded by prejudice when it comes to Mr. Darcy. Anne Elliot and Elinor Dashwood come ready-made with good strategic skills. Catherine Morland and Fanny Price must learn to act strategically. Emma Woodhouse completely overestimates her own ability to guide others, read situations, and see eventual outcomes.

We not only dive into the ways in which Jane Austen’s work ties in with contemporary game theory, but the author explains how he believes Jane breaks new ground with her novels. Her characters use strategic thinking within themselves to control the interior picture they present to he world—think Anne Elliot or Elinor Dashwood. They also sometimes change their preferences (which is a very good thing for Mr. Darcy). In the end, Austen seems to be saying that the best spouse is someone who you can partner with to work strategically in the world. It’s more romantic than it seems.

One of the most interesting points the author makes about game theory is that good strategic thinking often develops naturally among people who find themselves in an “inferior” or “outsider” position in society. Austen writes as a female in a world where women are almost totally dependent on men. Her heroines don’t think strategically in order to win wars or navigate economic markets. They do it to survive and insure the best possible life for themselves in a system that’s stacked against them. Indeed, characters in positions of power—such as Lady Catherine, Sir Walter Elliot, and General Tilney—often have the biggest blind spots when it comes to making good decisions.

Since the book was written by a professor who teaches game theory and political science at UCLA, the language sometimes felt overly academic and scholarly. While he does a good job explaining complicated concepts to readers, the book isn’t aiming to simplify game theory or Austen for a mass audience. It’s no Freakanomics or The Tipping Point. It definitely doesn’t qualify as light reading, though it is extremely interesting. I tend to like academic writing, but I found some chapters very difficult to get through because the material was so dense.

One of the things that made the book so tough was that it seemed to lack balance throughout. In the beginning, the author spends quite a bit of time (helpfully) explaining game theory. But, he uses examples from other literary works such as Shakespeare or folk tales. It isn’t until Chapter Five that we start to get into Jane’s novels. At that point, the Austen examples became so dense and numerous that it began to feel like I was reading a laundry list of quotes that had been culled from her six novels. More Jane was needed in the beginning, and less, more illustrative example from her work would have helped the last part be much more clear and impactful.

I’d recommend the book if you have an interest in learning more about the science of game theory or if you’re already on your way to being an expert. Austen is a fun backdrop to that. The casual Janeite, though, may be overwhelmed with how dense and academic the language is throughout the book. I know I had my moments of confusion even though, overall, the subject and ideas were really engaging.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Austen, Game Theorist, by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
Princeton University Press (2014)
Trade paperback (296) pages
ISBN: 978-0691162447

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Princeton University Press © 2014; text Lisa Galek, Austenprose.com

Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued, by Emma Tennant – A Review & Rant

Emma in Love Emma Tennant 1996 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

When a book is universally acknowledged by Janeites as the worst Jane Austen sequel ever written, why would I want to read it? Temptation? Curiosity? Due diligence? Take your pick. I like to think that I am open to carefully drawing my own conclusions before passing judgment. After-all, Austen told us through her observant character Elizabeth Bennet, “It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”— Pride and Prejudice

So, it was with wide eyes and an open heart that I began Emma Tennant’s Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued. Published in 1996, it was controversial before it even hit bookstores. Eager to cash in on the release of two film adaptations of Emma staring Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale, Tennant’s UK publisher chose to move up the publication date to stymie its competitor, Perfect Happiness, by Rachel Billington. That might seem like good business (or mercenary tactics by some), but that was not the real controversy. Tennant had chosen to include a romantic relationship between the married Emma Knightley and a new female character, Baroness Elisa d’Almane. Her reasoning for this provocative choice? Why, historical precedence by scholars of course! When interviewed in 1996 Tennant boldly stated, “I am not taking any liberties. Emma is known as the lesbian book in Jane Austen’s oeuvre. It has strong lesbian overtones and undertones. In the original, Emma absolutely adores Harriet Smith, her protégé and spends a lot of time with her. There’s a passage where she describes how Harriet’s soft blue eyes are just the type of eyes that Emma loves. I am not the first to draw out her lesbianism. Serious academics have found many clues to it in Emma.” 1.

Perfect Happiness by Rachel Billington 1996 x 150I am not an Austen scholar, nor had I picked up on the hidden subtext that some have discovered in female relationships in Emma, but I was curious if Tennant’s claims were based on a real academic debate. The amiable Austen scholar Devoney Looser kindly answered my inquiry with a list of several essays on the subject and offered this comment, “Discussing lesbianism in Emma has a longer history than we might assume, as many scholars have pointed out. Sixty years ago Edmund Wilson and Marvin Mudrick remarked directly on Emma’s same-sex attractions, though in a generally unsupportive way. 2. Wilson’s essay suggests that if the novel were continued, the married Emma would continue to indulge in infatuations with women.”

We don’t know which essays Tennant read, but she obviously ran with this notion and incorporated it into her novel. Even if the premise is founded on scholarly research, the question in my mind was how far a sequalist can stray in continuing Austen’s characterizations, and would the reading public of 2014 accept it?

With nine 1 star reviews on Amazon since 1999, it appeared that the forewarning I had received was not unwarranted. Trying not to be a partial and prejudiced reader I downloaded the new digital edition onto my NOOK and settled in for a weekend in Highbury with an author who might rival Austen’s heroine as the ultimate imaginist.Dorian Goodwin as Emma Woodhouse, Emma (1972)

Doran Goodwin as Emma Woodhouse, Emma (1972)

The Plot:

It has been four years since Miss Emma Woodhouse and Mr. George Knightley were united in matrimony. They are in residence at Donwell Abbey, the large Knightley estate that borders Hartfield, Emma’s childhood home and residence for two years after her marriage until the death of her father, dear Mr. Woodhouse. Emma’s elder sister Isabella has also met her maker after catching a fever in London (just as Mr. Woodhouse predicted) leaving five young children and husband John Knightley in deep grief. Jane Fairfax is working as a governess to August Elton’s friend Mrs. Smallridge after her feckless fiancé Frank Churchill jilted her at the altar for a northern heiress with £50,000. It is July and the charms of the Surrey countryside have drawn the two former lovers back to Highbury; unbeknownst to each other until their arrival. Frank Churchill is staying with his father Mr. Weston and his wife at Randalls, and Jane Fairfax, obliged to travel with her employer, is staying at the Parsonage with Mr. and Mrs. Elton. Both have brought a mysterious guest with them: Frank’s brother-in-law Captain Brocklehurst, and Jane’s friend, the exiled French Baroness d’Almane.

Two beautiful strangers have come to Highbury in one day! Remarkable as this is to Emma, she only sees the marriage possibilities for the single people around her and reneges on her promise to her husband never to match make again. Determined that Jane should marry her widowed brother-in-law John Knightley, she devises a dinner party at Donwell to bring them together. While walking to Hartfield to visit him and his children, she meets the very handsome Captain Brocklehurst who confides that Frank Churchill is devastated by the fate of Miss Fairfax and still in love with her. Astounded, Emma is also anxious to meet the other new visitor in Highbury and travels to the Parsonage to extend an invitation to the Baroness, Jane, the Elton’s and Mrs. Smallridge to her soiree. On the path she encounters Frank Churchill picking wildflowers in the hot sun. He entreats her to deliver them to Jane. Emma begs off and is concerned by his emotional behavior. At the Parsonage, Mrs. Elton introduces Emma to the beautiful and beguiling Baroness. She is mesmerized by her charms and annoyed by her lingering touches and loving gazes at Jane Fairfax. Feeling a pang of jealousy, Emma wonders if they are more than friends? Conflicted, Emma feels compelled to warn Jane and learn all she can about this intriguing creature.

Gwynth Paltrow in Emma (1996) x 350

Gwynth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (1996)

My Review:

Told in Austen’s inventive third person narrative style, Emma in Love reunites us with many of the Highbury characters we adore: Miss and Mrs. Bates, Harriet Martin, Mr. & Mrs. Weston, Mr. & Mrs. Elton, brothers John and George Knightley and the nonsensical girl herself, the clever, rich and handsome Emma Knightley. That is where any similarity to Austen’s tale ends.

Heavy on exposition and light on dialogue, the story begins well enough with a curious setup and conflicts, but soon lacks a balance of show and tell—and logic. To compensate, Tennant pulls in links from Austen’s original novel to tie the two together with generous abandon: Frank mends Mrs. Bates glasses again; John Knightley threatens with warnings of bad weather; Mr. Woodhouse’s worrisome predictions come to pass even from the grave; and many more. Some readers might enjoy these ah-ha moments, but after three or four they became intrusive heavy-lifting to me. Tennant continues to channel Jane Austen’s characters steadily until they go off in directions that Austen would never have broached head on: same sex relationships.

Things are definitely not as they should be in Highbury. Tennant’s Emma and Mr. Knightley’s marriage is very odd. They are indeed “brother and sister” – platonic and unromantic. He treats her like an errant school girl while engrossed in estate business and sleeps in his own room with his landscapes. Immature and insecure, Emma clings to the advice of neighbors Harriet Martin and Mrs. Weston before every move. Even dimwitted Harriet can see the writing on the wall. “Mr. Knightley was no more – and no less – than a father to her in reality.” 53 Mesmerized by the exotic and bewitching Baroness, Emma recognizes her intimate gestures to Jane Fairfax? My first reaction was a question. How would a Regency era woman raised in a sheltered country village, who has the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old (according to Tennant), know about, let alone detect, same sex relationships? According to my esteemed Janeite friend Diana Birchall, who I hounded over this issue (and other annoyances about the book), “… mention of such things certainly wouldn’t have been bandied about among gentlefolk, as they are today. Certainly Jane Austen knew about homosexuality, her joking proves that, but it wouldn’t have been a topic for polite conversation among the middle class. Probably much more so among the aristocracy – you’d think Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and her set would know all about it. Fanny Hill and other such books certainly showed female/female action, but Fanny Hill et al would NOT have been in the library of the Rev. George Austen, or in the lending-libraries Jane Austen frequented!” This only confirmed my astonishment. Tennant was beginning on very shaky ground. I didn’t believe her premise for one moment.

Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (1996)

Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (1996)

Spoilers:

After Emma meets the Baroness and becomes passionately infatuated with her, she is witness to many eye-popping events in Highbury: Captain Brocklehurst in drag, Miss Bates suddenly and uncontrollably issuing expletives during a dinner party (Tourette’s?), the Baroness passionately kissing her in her bedroom, and Frank and Captain Brocklehurst engaged in a love that shall not be named. It was all so far-fetched and sensational that it just smacked of exploitation of Austen’s characters for pure monetary gain.

Had enough yet? Well, there is more. To wrap up the novel in a slapdash fashion, Tennant ends with a boating party where Emma witnesses the estranged Baroness, Mrs. Weston and her husband Mr. Knightley conversing on an island in the center of the lake while the narrator conjectures that the fake Baroness is the secret love child of Miss Taylor (now Mrs. Weston) and Mr. Knightley. WHAT? As I shut off my NOOK in a defiant gesture of disgust I remembered, in ironic Austenian fashion, that it had been bantered about by Austen scholars that Jane Fairfax was the secret love child of Miss Bates and Mr. Knightley and Tennant had not only got the sexual subtext all wrong, she had the incorrect lovers as well! HA!

Emma (2009)

Romola Garia as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (2009)

My Rant: 

Reading Emma in Love brought up more questions than it answered for me. I was continually puzzled. So much so, that I sought the help of others to understand it. Why did Tennant write it? Who was she trying to appeal to? Was it written as a joke or was she truly attempting to promote the notion that Emma is a lesbian novel? Is it the book that she set out to write, or an abbreviated version because it was rushed to press? Only Tennant can answer these questions. Maybe one day she will be interviewed and reveal the answers. In the meantime we are left up a tree.

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet (2008)Was Emma in Love truly the worst Jane Austen sequel ever written? Quite possibly, at least by a professional, award winning novelist. (Colleen McCullough’s The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet comes in at a close second.) It failed not only because it did not present the same sex love relationship in any believable way, but it relied on sensational social issues as its axis that Austen would never have written about directly. It lacked “honour, decorum, prudence — nay, interest” as Lady Catherine would say. Yes interest. I was just annoyed and bored.

Let this novel serve as a warning to all who take up their pen to channel Jane Austen. Sensationalism may sell a few books and feed the circus animals in the press, but writing a pure bravado piece like Tennant’s Emma in Love will not earn you the respect of your readers, nor will it ingratiate you to the academics you may have wanted to please. If you do choose this route, be comforted in the fact that you will never have to meet the original author in heaven, because you will surely be in a place far below where they do not serve ice in their cocktails.

1 out of 5 Regency Stars

Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued, by Emma Tennant
Fourth Estate (1996)
Trade paperback (229) pages
ISBN: 978-1857026634)

1. Nigel Reynolds, Emma Sequels & Allusions: Perfect Happiness – How Jane Austen’s Emma Became a Lesbian, The Telegraph, 1996

2. Edmund Wilson, Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties (New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1950), 201-2.

Cover image courtesy of Fourth Estate © 1996; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com