Love & Friendship, by Whit Stillman – A Review

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman: 

Lady Susan is my favorite of Jane Austen’s minor works. A scheming widow who also happens to be “the most accomplished coquette in England,” Lady Susan Vernon is intelligent, attractive, and unscrupulous, agreeing with her immoral friend Alicia Johnson that “Facts are such horrid things!” (256) Her letters to Alicia detail her plans to snare wealthy husbands for both herself and her daughter Frederica, while causing pain and suffering to those she deems detestable. As she includes her own daughter in this camp, calling her a “stupid girl,” she has no qualms in forcing Frederica to marry a decidedly silly man with a large fortune. Lady Susan is a terrible person, but a wonderful character. While the novella lacks the depth of later works, it is a wickedly funny short story in epistolary form; its tone is reminiscent of the snarky comments found in many of Austen’s letters.

Who better to capture Austen’s witty social commentary than filmmaker and writer Whit Stillman?  His first film, Metropolitan, was one of my favorites from the 1990s, but I confess that I didn’t catch its similarities to Mansfield Park until many years later. Now Stillman has written a companion piece to his latest film Love & Friendship in straight narrative form. He introduces a new character to the story: Rufus Martin-Colonna de Cesari-Rocca, Lady Susan’s nephew. Rufus has penned his “true narrative of false-witness” to expose Austen’s supposed hatchet job on his aunt. His loyalties are made clear with the novel’s subtitle, “In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated (Concerning the Beautiful Lady Susan Vernon, Her Cunning Daughter & the Strange Antagonism of the DeCourcy Family).”

Readers familiar with Austen’s Lady Susan will notice an inversion of good and evil from the outset. Rufus has dedicated his novel to none other than the Prince of Wales, mimicking Austen’s dedication of Emma to the Prince Regent, but in a much more effusively toad-eating style. After two knowing winks from Stillman in two pages: consider yourself warned. Rufus is the quintessential unreliable narrator, writing his rebuttal of Austen’s version of events from debtors prison in Clerkenwell in 1858. The vindication of his maligned aunt, riddled with inconsistencies and bizarre logic, is peppered with tirades on a range of subjects: history, theology, and grammar. These make for some of the funniest passages in the novel.

As the reader has perhaps noticed, great care has been taken with the punctuation used in this account. For me, as regards literature, punctuation is what separates true greatness from the merely good—and certainly from the false. I would commend the reader to glance (no more) at the spinster’s mendacious account included as an appendix to this volume; even a cursory look will show gross carelessness of her attention to punctuation. Can someone so careless of the rules of punctuation—known to everyone and most apparent in the breach—be counted upon to strictly adhere to truth in the absence of such direct surveillance? I think not. (131)

With a list of principal characters, locations, and a genealogical table, Rufus seeks to present his defense of Lady Susan Vernon in an authoritative manner, while simultaneously revealing his agenda. In a list displaying his own mastery of the use punctuation, he describes Jane Austen as “The Spinster Authoress, a writer careless of both punctuation and truth, zealous only to do the bidding of her Aristocratic patrons.” The inclusion of Austen’s original story as an appendix, perfect for comparing scenes between the two versions, is another strength of Love & Friendship. Rufus begins the appendix by annotating the first fifteen letters, but his weak arguments further undermine his creditability. He then tries to save face by questioning the publisher’s motive for including the letters:

I cannot forget the troubling factum that Mr. Murray is also the publisher of this Lady’s final so-called “novels.” Could his true interest be to attract Readers to these other works by attaching her history to a superior volume? Such a conflict of motives is not unknown in the world of book-jobbers, though I make no accusation. I have therefore decided to refrain further comment on these letters, the malicious falseness of which should be self-evident. (202)

I was hard-pressed to find fault with Love & Friendship, apart from wishing that Stillman had chosen a different title for his reimagining. Austen did write another short story with this name, but I doubt many readers will be tripped up by the change, so it is a minor quibble rather than a serious issue.

Since many movie tie-ins offer little more than a printed version of the screenplay, Love & Friendship surprised and entertained me. Stillman’s playfully Austenesque sensibility delivers an imaginative interpretation of the story that Austen abandoned “to the great detriment of the Post office Revenue.” (273) His clever tribute to the original Lady Susan showcases tongue-in-cheek humor perfectly suited to this comedy of manners.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Love Friendship Blog Tour graphic banner x 500

Award winning writer-director-filmmaker Whit Stillman tours the blogosphere June 13 through June 24, 2016 to share his latest release, Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated. Thirteen popular book bloggers—card carrying Jane Austen fans one and all—will feature interviews, book excerpts and reviews of this highly acclaimed novel. A fabulous giveaway contest, including hardcopies of the book will be open to those who join the festivities. 

THE LOVE & FRIENDSHIP JANEITE BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE: 

  • June 13                  AustenBlog (Interview)
  • June 14                  The Calico Critic (Review)         
  • June 15                  Diary of Eccentric (Excerpt)      
  • June 16                  Laura’s Reviews (Review)
  • June 17                  My Jane Austen Book Club (Review)
  • June 17                  Confessions of a Book Addict (Excerpt)                            
  • June 20                  Austenesque Reviews (Review)
  • June 20                  Austenprose (Interview)                      
  • June 21                  So Little Time…So Much to Read (Excerpt)
  • June 21                  Luxury Reading (Review)                    
  • June 22                  Just Jane 1813 (Review)                                         
  • June 23                  Savvy Verse & Wit (Excerpt)                         
  • June 24                  Austenprose (Review)           

   GRAND GIVEAWAY CONTEST

In celebration of the release of Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, Mr. Stillman’s publisher, Little, Brown & Co has kindly offered a chance to win one of three hardcover copies of the book!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on the The Love & Friendship Janeite Blog Tour starting June 13, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, June 30, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Austenprose on July 1, 2016. Winners have until July 07, 2016 to claim their prize. Shipment is to US addresses. Good luck to all!

Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, by Whit Stillman
Little, Brown and Company (2016)
Hardcover, eBook & Audio (288) pages
ISBN: 978-0316294126

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

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.”

Cover image courtesy of Little, Brown and Company © 2016; text Tracy Hickman © 2016, Austenprose.com

Jane and the Waterloo Map: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 13), by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Waterloo cover x 200From the desk of Christina Boyd:

As a fan of the Being Jane Austen Mystery series, I have been all anticipation for the latest edition, Jane and the Waterloo Map. Author Stephanie Barron knows her Austen lore, as well as a being a masterful storyteller and researcher; writing in a most Austen-like style. She is also The Incomparable when it comes to Regency mysteries. Given that disclaimer, and holding the series in much esteem, I feel quite at liberty to share my impressions herein.

The novel opens with our dear Miss Austen attending her sick brother Henry at his London residence while editing the proofs of her latest novel, Emma, for her publisher John Murray. Summoned to Carlton House, the opulent London mansion of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, Jane meets his toady Historiographer, Mr. James Stanier Clarke, who not only arrogantly invites her to use the Royal Library to write her next novel, but welcomes her to dedicate her work-in-progress to the Prince Regent himself. As she holds the prince and his profligate ways in contempt, Jane cautiously makes no commitment and politely continues on with the tour. Upon reaching the library, they come upon a Colonel MacFarland, hero of Waterloo, collapsed upon the floor in an apoplectic fit. As Mr. Clarke finds help, the colonel utters his last words to Jane, “Waterloo map.” After a curious inspection of the colonel’s vomit, Jane speculates that the colonel may have been poisoned. The next day, word reaches her that the colonel did succumb, and it is not long before the royal physician confirms that the hero of Waterloo was murdered. Thus begins the intrigue—and danger—for our clever authoress as she exposes whodunit in this thirteenth of Stephanie Barron’s mystery series. Continue reading

Brinshore: The Watson Novels Book 2, by Ann Mychal – A Review

Brinshore 2015 x 200From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

Open any of Jane Austen’s six completed novels and you’re guaranteed a moving story told with wit and insight, but what fan doesn’t wish Austen had time to complete more books. That’s why I treasure well done Austen-inspired fiction, so when I discovered Ann Mychal had written Brinshore, her second Austen themed book, I was full of hopeful anticipation. Mychal’s first novel, Emma and Elizabeth, is among my favorite adaptations. It completes Austen’s intriguing unfinished novel The Watsons by telling the story of two Watson sisters, Emma and Elizabeth, daughters of an impoverished clergyman. The girls were raised separately under very different conditions, but reunited when they were both young ladies. Brinshore continues the tale, this time focusing on their daughters Emma (named after her mother) and Anne, and it takes its inspiration from another of Austen’s novel fragments, Sanditon.

Cousins Emma Osborne and Anne Musgrave could not be more different in temperament. Emma is an outspoken girl, direct in her opinions in the mode of her Mr. Darcy-like father, Lord Osborne, while Anne is a gentler, nature-loving soul who goes into rhapsodies over a piece of seaweed. Neither girl has experienced the hardships of their mothers because both of those women married well. The novel opens in 1816 so the wars with Napoleon are over and Captain Charles Blake will soon be returning to their community, a circumstance that Emma awaits with much excitement.

The end of the wars also mean that people are ready to enjoy themselves more, and in that spirit the girls’ utterly practical, unromantic Aunt Harding (reminiscent of Charlotte Collins) shocks everyone with a big announcement. She’s decided to sell the Chichester house she shared with her now deceased husband to move to Brinshore, a tiny seashore town not far from Sanditon, and she’s inviting both her nieces to come stay with her. Anne is excited right away–the seashells she can collect! The tide pools she can sketch! But Emma is indifferent, she’d rather go to more fashionable Brighton, until she learns that Captain Blake will be spending time in nearby Sanditon. Continue reading

Yours Forevermore, Darcy, by KaraLynne Mackrory – A Review

Yours Forevermore Darcy 2015 x 200From the desk of Monica Perry:

Letter writing can be such a beautiful way to express oneself, to pour out feelings that are too difficult to say in person. It’s especially romantic when the writer is a passionate soul undercover, and desperately in love.  Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is just such a person. When we first meet him in Yours Forevermore, Darcy, he’s writing to Elizabeth Bennet, and not for the first time. Since the beginning of their acquaintance, he’s written letters to purge his feelings for her, the woman he wants but is convinced he can’t have. He never intends her to read them, of course; they’re just a cathartic release of emotion, a compulsive coping mechanism to clear his head and let him go on about his life. Now two months after she rejected his proposal, broke his heart and made him reevaluate his entire life, he vows to stop writing and focus on becoming a better man. Fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the myriad tales it has inspired know that the beauty in the story of Darcy and Elizabeth is the personal growth each must undertake separately. In Yours Forevermore, Darcy, KaraLynne Mackrory gives readers insight into these journeys and shows how affecting the written word can be to both writer and reader.

Yours Forevermore, Darcy follows canon timeline of P&P fairly closely, with a few well-placed tweaks to keep it being too predictable. After his humiliating rejection, Darcy intends leaving Elizabeth behind him forever with, ironically, only a letter. It’s decidedly NOT his best work, as I now know, but is nevertheless important. She has little time to contemplate it then as, with all the perverseness of mischance, they find themselves together again and again.  There’s a theme woven throughout, to describe their emotions, and I loved that. Comparing Darcy to the rich warmth of a cello definitely hit the right note with me! The amiability and humor of Colonel Fitzwilliam is the perfect buffer for them too, and there is more than one scene with him and Darcy that is just laugh out loud funny. Continue reading

Jane by the Sea: Jane Austen’s Love Story, by Carolyn V. Murray – A Review

Jane Austen by the Sea by Carolyn V Murray 2015 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Who was Jane Austen’s seaside gentleman, the man she had fallen in love with at Sidmouth, who tragically died soon after their end-of-vacation parting? Readers and fans of Jane Austen have pondered this question for decades, without there being any definite answer. Jane’s surviving letters remain silent on the issue, and any information about the man’s name and the details of his relationship with Jane has been forever hidden from the public through Cassandra’s choice to destroy much of her sister’s (most likely, more personal) letters. All readers can do is imagine: just who was the seaside gentleman? How did he meet the witty, brilliant, outspoken young woman who became one of literature’s greatest authors? And how deeply did Jane fall in love with him? Carolyn V. Murray answers these questions—as well as many others—in her fascinating 2015 debut, Jane by the Sea: Jane Austen’s Love Story.

Opening in 1787, the precocious twelve-year-old Jane Austen sneaks into the classroom of her father’s all boys’ boarding school and entertains the students with a comedy of murder and mayhem. Despite her mother’s horrified declarations of family shame and the state of her irritated bowels, Jane is irrepressible, already looking forward to the prospect of an event which promises much more material for new stories: “A ball,” I announced. “For though I have never been to one, I hear there is much opportunity for treachery and pandemonium.” It would be some years before I could test the truth of that statement. (5)

Flash forward eight years, and Jane, now twenty-one, is preparing for a ball. Soon after entering the grand hall filled with dancing couples and beautiful music she meets the young, attractive, and very charming Mr. Lefroy. “Tom’s smile was a dizzying ray of sunshine. ““Miss Austen, are you engaged for the next two dances?” ”  And so it began.” (15) Continue reading

Alone with Mr. Darcy: A Pride & Prejudice Variation, by Abigail Reynolds – A Review

Alone with Mr Darcy Abigail Reynolds 2015 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Way back in 2011 when reviewing What Would Mr. Darcy Do? for my blog I wrote, “I would like to hereby bestow the title of ‘Queen of the Austen Retelling’ to Abigail Reynolds.” Although many years have passed since my proclamation, not much has changed. Every time I get to read a new work by Reynolds I’m always so excited to get a slice of her creative energy that makes her works so exciting. It also doesn’t hurt that her variations typically involve the always handsome and charming Mr. Darcy in some type of a Pride and Prejudice reimagining. With this being said, I quickly devoured this work and got these thoughts on paper immediately, such is the effect that Reynolds has on my reading habits!

In her latest release, Alone With Mr. Darcy, we find Elizabeth and Darcy paired together by fate after the Netherfield ball, with Elizabeth encountering him, injured from a riding accident, while she herself is walking home alone. An impending snow storm makes them seek shelter in a small cottage for a few days to wait out the weather and tend to Darcy’s injuries. While nursing him back to strength, she learns a lot about him and his feelings towards her from his frequent outbursts and semiconscious state, although she is not sure what is fact and what is fiction. Fortunately, the two survive and even befriend a small kitten that Darcy finds in a woodpile. Darcy offers to marry Elizabeth after the ordeal in order to protect her reputation, but she declines and they decide instead how to keep the events of the past few days from becoming public. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, that is exactly what happens. Through a series of misunderstandings and shady dealings, her reputation becomes tarnished throughout Meryton and Darcy is nowhere to be found. Will she be able to marry any young man and set the rumors to rest or will she be destined to scandal? Continue reading

Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, by Shannon Winslow – A Review

Miss Georgiana of Pemberley, by Shannon Winslow (2015)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Georgiana Darcy might be a minor character in Pride and Prejudice, but we know that she’ll go on to play a very important role in the lives of the future Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. As a resident of Pemberley, Georgiana’s daily life would have been intimately connected with the lives of her brother and sister-in-law. How would she have learned from them? How would she grow into a woman? Would she ever find her own true love? In Shannon Winslow’s book, Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, all those questions are answered and more.

Our story begins about a year after the events of Pride and Prejudice. Georgiana Darcy is about to turn eighteen years old and lives at Pemberley with her brother and new sister-in-law. She is profoundly happy there and never has to worry about being married off to some odious relative for financial reasons. Of course, that doesn’t mean Georgiana doesn’t want to get married… if the right man comes along. Right now, she has her heart set on her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, who is starting to look less like a guardian and more like husband material every day. Continue reading