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. Continue reading

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan – A Review

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan (2007) From the desk of Katie P.

Jane Austen. Georgette Heyer. The Regency. Those names instantly bring to mind witty conversations, saturnine heroes, and lavish ballrooms. So often we see these words on the cover or in reviews of a book, and eagerly pick it up hoping to find yet another book that will quickly become dog-eared and memorized. But just as often, we turn away disappointed yet again by finding out that the book falls far short of the reasons we chose it in the first place.

Indiscretion, by Jude Morgan—I am happy to say—is not like that.

Miss Caroline Fortune, at twenty, has the misfortune of being the sole caretaker and realist to her impractical, debt-ridden father. Ever since her mother died at the age of twelve, they have gone from shabby lodgings to even shabbier lodgings, all in the hope to escape debt collectors, and even worse, debtors’ prison. But just when they run out of options (and Caroline decides to become a governess), they are saved by the Gorgon-like Mrs. Catling (basilisk stare and all), who offers Caroline a position as her paid companion.
And this is just the beginning of Caroline’s adventures…

As paid companion, Caroline must reconcile her own independent spirit with the impossible job of placating her ferocious employer, while trying to navigate through the indiscretions of the people around her. She soon attracts the interest of Mr. Richard Leabrook, a handsome suitor, and the friendships of Mr. and Miss Downey, the niece and nephew of Mrs. Catling, but are they really what they seem? After a sudden change in circumstances, Caroline must find the family she has never met, become accustomed to country living (complete with climbing over stiles), prevent an elopement, come face-to-face with ghosts from her past, discover the joys of true friendship, and outwit the insulting, yet annoyingly appealing Mr. Stephen Milner, who insists that Caroline will be nothing but trouble.

What is Miss Fortune, innocent attracter of mayhem to do?  Be as discrete (or is it indiscrete?) as possible, with a lot of pluck and a little bit of canary!

About a year ago I stumbled upon Indiscretion by accident. I had just finished all of Jane Austen’s novels, and was in withdrawal. I found this because of one review that said ‘like Jane Austen’ and immediately had to read it. I was not disappointed, and was hooked from the very first page. Caroline Fortune reminded me so much of Jane Austen’s heroines—she has her failings, but has enough strength and humor to carry her through, and rise above, the situations she finds herself in. Just like another character we all know and love, Caroline cannot stay depressed—she has to find a reason to laugh.  She is a character with which we can quickly identify.

For while she did not lack a sense of her own merits, and had too much spirit ever to submit to being walked over, still she thought herself no more than tolerable-looking, and nurtured abysmal doubts about her ability ever to shine in company. She had a quick tongue, an active fancy, and a turn for wit, but these she employed, in truth, somewhat as a shield behind which she could shelter.” p. 25

Indiscretion is full of surprises and plot twists. People Magazine said: “the characters separate and reunite as rhythmically and precisely as ballroom dancers performing a waltz.” I couldn’t agree more. Jude Morgan crafts his story well—I’ve read it five or six times, and each time I find a new ‘layer’ that I hadn’t discovered, a new quote that seems truer than before—“We always think we know what we want: when in truth there is nothing we are less likely to know.”—and a conversation that gets funnier with each reading—““I have been run over by the speeding chariot of fate, caught up in its spiked wheels.” “I hate it when that happens,said Stephen.

While there are many Regency books that are either in the style of Georgette Heyer or set in the time period as an excuse for long dresses and handsome rakes (and very modern plots, dialogue, and ‘romance’ scenes), Indiscretion truly takes after the style of Jane Austen, with perception, wit, proper romance, and a satisfying ending. But even more importantly, Jude Morgan is an author to enjoy in his own right, with his own distinct voice that definitely makes him an author to be read.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan
St. Martin’s Press (2007)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0312374372

© 2013 Katie P., Austenprose