Second Impressions, by Ava Farmer – A Review

Second Impressions, by Ava Farmer (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

With her husband’s solemn assurances that he did not regret his marriage to her as the cause of no heir, his generous and reasonable reflections on the matter, and his half-jest that , ‘should Georgiana never marry, one of the Bingley boys will do very well,’ Elizabeth could have no cause to repine.  She had daily the very pleasant female society of Georgiana, and could visit the Bingleys whenever she chose.  Mistress of her days, spent in the informed intercourse and agreeable companionship of her husband and his sister, Elizabeth regarded her own as the best of blessings.  Elizabeth was as happy as even the wife of Mr. Darcy should be.

As a continuation of Pride and Prejudice, Second Impressions is a monolith of good Austen example, a shining beacon of this-is-how-we-do-it research technique that is so prettily put together – the original author of Pride and Prejudice would be dazzled.  And me?  Well, I was dazzled too.

The very first, uh…impression that you get of Second Impressions is this.  The amazing proficiency that Ava Farmer shows is astounding, and as she flexes her Regency muscles on the page your mind will reel.  Just how long did it take her to figure this out?  To write as Jane Austen wrote without second guessing every word or running to an encyclopedia, making it seem as natural as if she were simply channeling our beloved author?  26 years, actually.  It took Ava Farmer 26 years to put this baby together and believe me, it shows.  Paragraphs about architecture, medicine, education, climate, horticulture, and the care of animals bubble up everywhere and fly out of every character’s mouth, both in England and abroad.  Beyond the research, Farmer’s writing positively smacks of Austen, even down to inserting the next word after the page-turn at the bottom of the one before it, a cute and clever addition to the elegant prose.

The story loosely revolves around Georgiana, Elizabeth, and Darcy while they live out their days in all the luxury and stimulation that Pemberley has to offer.  They wine and dine and dance and visit and play music, all the while shaking their fists at the sky over the lack of an heir.  Elizabeth’s sister Jane’s pregnant with her fifth, however, and seems to slowly be settling into exhaustion just as younger sister Kitty nails down a suitor for herself.  The reader becomes privy to the fabulous background stories of Cousin Fitzwilliam and Lady Catherine DeBourgh as the story continues, and later, even familiar Austen characters show up, both as representations and as the real thing.  Darcy asks Mr. Knightley (from Austen’s novel Emma) “on a tour of the Pemberley collieries” and “often of a morning joins Captain Wentworth (from Persuasion) at the Corn Exchange to review the news.”  Sidney Parker from Sandition is a favored confidante of Mr. Darcy, and the less-than-loveable windbag character found in Emma’s Miss Bates is reproduced for the portly, voluble Parson Overstowey.  Yes, it’s a veritable feast for any student of Austen or lover of Pride & Prejudice, and certainly not unworthy of enormous praise and passion.

Yet despite all the beauty of Second Impressions (First Impressions was the original title of Pride and Prejudice…but you already knew that), I did find flaw with the tendency for all the scholastic research to cloud and impede the forward movement of the story.  There were a few moments that drew out like a stick through molasses, slowly and heavily trudging toward an unknown end, and one particular comment from Elizabeth that forced my brow to furrow and my mouth to form the words, “Uh…when would Jane Austen ever write something like that?”  The characters sometimes act more like caricatures, intricately arranged to display the research in greater detail rather than take part in the scene.  The resulting plot is a bit slow, and is particularly arduous during the Darcy’s family trips abroad.  BUT!  My quibbles are small, and yours will be too.  There was great enjoyment during my time in Ava Farmer’s world, and truly, the study and examination that went into its creation cannot be lauded enough.   This one should go on your shelf.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Second Impressions, by Ava Farmer
Chawton House Press (2011)
Hardcover (412) pages
ISBN: 978-1613647509
Kindle: ASIN: B0079M51RY

© 2007 – 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

11 thoughts on “Second Impressions, by Ava Farmer – A Review

  1. 26 years in the writing! ALMOST as long as I’ve been working on MY screwball comic novel, an homage to the witty screenplays by Preston Sturges. In university literature courses the profs tend to brainwash you into believing that tragic literature is more profound than comic literature — utter nonsense! — these establishment stooges have got it backwards! — comedy is not only more diffisult to write well, but in the grand scheme of things, comedy is more life-affirming and profound. Maybe I’m delusional, but I can think up a dozen tragic plots a day — BUT, as composer Igor Stravinsky often said, “Who NEEDS it?” Not many “tragedies” approach the awe and grandeur of classic Greek drama, or, to a lesser extent, those of Shakespeare — I still say Preston Sturges wrote better dialogue than Shakespeare, and William Faulkner’s hilsrious “The Hamlet” is better literature than Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Am I stirring up a hornet’s nest? LOL!

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    • Typo alert — “hilsrious” should be “hilarious.” Anyone need a proof-reader? I used to be good at it in an amateur way, helping my friends who were authors.

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  2. I had not heard of this book and I love it when authors tackle the ‘what happens after the HEA’. Thanks for sharing your review. It was helpful in explaining the book.

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  3. Wow!!! 26 YEARS?!?! That’s a LOT of work & research!! The story sounds wonderful, and I like the idea that several characters from other JA novels are included… seems like it would make it a little more interesting seeing how they would all “interact” within a combined novel. Really enjoyed your review & adding this to my HUGE to-read list ;)

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  4. The cover is really lovely. You had me write up until, “the tendency for all the scholastic research to cloud and impede the forward movement of the story. There were a few moments that drew out like a stick through molasses, slowly and heavily trudging toward an unknown end, and one particular comment from Elizabeth that forced my brow to furrow and my mouth to form the words, ‘Uh…when would Jane Austen ever write something like that?’ The characters sometimes act more like caricatures, intricately arranged to display the research in greater detail rather than take part in the scene. The resulting plot is a bit slow, and is particularly arduous during the Darcy’s family trips abroad.” With so much to read these days, and so little time, I really can’t abide a slow book. Regrettably, of late, I have started a couple novels only to set aside for another day because the movement forward unfortunately stalled. And if you know anything about how many books I read a week (sometimes as many as four)– that is a failing indeed. I think there is much to be appreciated for the gifted writer who can show not tell, especially in a historical fiction that is dependent on indepth research. Perfect examples are of the stellar writing by Stephanie Barron in the Jane Austen mystery series and Lauren Willig in the Pink Caration series.

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      • Totally agree here. Some authors are just naturals – words pour forth like a wellspring. Others, alas, have to work at it and the differences are often telling in the flow of the story. Christina offers two examples of “naturals:” Barron and Willig. Everything written down just so appropriately, effortlessly, with nothing wasted.

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  5. Thank you for reviewing this excellent book. I could not agree more that Second Impressions belongs on my shelf (as well as the shelf of any reader who appreciates fine literature). I will, however, offer a bit of a dissenting opinion regarding the forward movement of the story. I think too many people have grown accustomed to an egregious lack of detail and scholarly research in modern books attempting to give voice to the past. Any Austen-inspired book worth its salt would seem to require exactly the sort of consideration and attention that Farmer bestows not just on her characters, but also on their environs.

    Without the colorful descriptions of the travel, clothes, landscapes and customs, this book would risk losing one of the key elements that sets it firmly apart from lesser works. Thank goodness Farmer did not choose to advance the plot through fast-forward summations, sword fights, duels or other weak tricks of the trade. Instead, she gives us the gift of plausibility.

    Farmer invites us to accompany her characters, not just to observe them. She gives us insight that allows us to fully embrace the narrative. By the end, we truly understand the process by which Georgiana has found her voice. Her revelations come to her through extended travel, and we have the privilege of accompanying her for the voyage. Precisely because Farmer gave me the tools to completely participate in all aspects of the journey, I found the destiny of the characters to be entirely credible.

    In an age when “I couldn’t put it down” and “it’s a page-turner” are common, albeit unfortunate, literary compliments, I deeply appreciated discovering a novel that offers an all-too-rare opportunity to learn. Moreover, Farmer employs consistent wit and humor — sometimes overt, sometimes subtle, and always intelligent. To learn and laugh in the process was a breath of fresh air.

    In short, I did not find one ounce of this book to be arduous. There was no trudging. I did not envision a stick through molasses. On the contrary, I luxuriated through its pages happily. Reading Second Impressions is an enlightening, peaceful and entertaining luxury delivered with the kind of care, deliberation, and accuracy that I believe Austen, herself, would have enthusiastically endorsed.

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    • It’s always great to get a dissenting perspective from an adult who is not afflicted with today’s attitude of impatience and/or short attention span. Normally I prefer fast-paced fiction and fast-talking classic screwball comedy films — but at times, I enjoy stopping to “smell the flowers” in a work of art that proceeds at a deliberate pace — in fiction, for me, Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” would be such an exemplar — and in cinema, I am fascinated by the slow detailed pace of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’Avventura,” a film that is often booed when it’s shown. As an example of a fast-paced screwball comedy film, one of my favorites has always been Howard Hawks’s “His Girl Friday” with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell talking at breakneck speed (often at the same time, in a miracle of understandable overlapping dialogue).

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  6. Lauragclark you convinced me to try this book, thank you.

    I would love to know if there is a divide in book lovers between the younger, employed, busy ones who need and relish quick-moving page-turners — and the older, retired, readers with more leisure who will appreciate Ava Farmer’s “Second Impressions” with its slower pace. Were it not for your review I would have passed on this book.

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  7. Just read in my latest JA Regency World that Ava Farmer is the nom de plume of Sandy Lerner! Okay, I will have to put this BACK on my To Be Read list — anyone who owns a real property where JA actually lived, walked, talked, ate, etc. must know what she is writing about ;). (See how easily I am persuaded?)

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