Monday, 15 September 2008

Old Friends


A while ago I emailed Danielle from SourceBooks, Inc. and she very kindly agreed to send me Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton all the way from America (available through their website, or Amazon - or in bookshops if you're in the US). I first heard about this book on Elaine's blog, Random Jottings, and knew that I'd have to read it at some point. For those who didn't read that post on Random Jottings, I'll fill you in - Old Friends and New Fancies is the first Jane Austen sequel ever written, back in 1913, but Brinton didn't stop there, no sir. This book is a sequel to ALL the Austen novels - characters from each of the six crop up and meet each other and - well, just think of all the possible matches to be made!

They include a list of characters at the beginning for those not completely familiar with all JA's oeuvre, or just because there are so many - have just done a quick count, and there are forty of Austen's characters listed. Pride and Prejudice contributes the most, at fifteen, while Emma only offers two, but each is represented in some manner. We kick off with Elizabeth and Darcy, which is probably how it should be, but before long we are whirled off into the various interrelations between novels...

The central questions are - with Mary Crawford end up with Colonel Fitzwilliam? And, will William Price choose Georgiana Darcy or Kitty Bennet? What delicious choices. William Price and Georgiana Darcy were always two of my favourite background-characters, so to witness them dancing at a ball was quite something (even if Brinton does what Austen never did, and gives Georgiana dialogue). On an aside, whom would I have paired, or just occasioned to meet... Mr. Palmer and Mr. Bennet would be a joyous pair to eavesdrop. Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Jennings! Mr. Collins and Mr. Elton! Catherine Morland and Harriet Smith! Oh, endless, endless...

I wonder quite how Brinton made her decisions about central characters? Obviously the young, single folk were thrown to the forefront... but Mary Crawford is the oddest decision and portrayal. Brinton obviously didn't love Mansfield Park that much; not only are Fanny and Edmund excluded from proceedings, we also have a volte face in how Mary Crawford appears. She is misunderstood, meek, sensible, kind and has none of the flirtatious, slightly selfish, overly loud persona Fanny distrusts in Mansfield Park... interesting.

Brinton doesn't really try to write in the style of Austen - the period feel is more or less there, though it's worth noting that we're as far (time-wise) from Brinton now as she was from Austen then, but Brinton doesn't attempt to echo Austen's wit and narrative asides and general Austenness. Having said that, she doesn't try to soak the characters in Brintonness either, whatever that would be like; she is content to set them loose together on a shared stage, and see what happens.

Old Friends and New Fancies, I would think, is for Austen-fanatics like myself. Without knowing all the characters beforehand it would lose a lot of its enjoyment factor - there are the odd comments to savour, such as 'Mrs. Knightley's matchmaking doesn't always work out well' or Tom Bertram's 'We only had one real failure in amateur dramatics' (I paraphrase both). This shared knowledge is a reward and a treat whenever it appears. On the whole, this book (republished in 2007 by SourceBooks) is rather silly, a lot of fun, and very well managed by Brinton.

Danielle also sent me a couple of other Austen sequels, Pemberley Shades by D. A. Bonavia-Hunt (1949) and The Darcys & The Bingleys by Marsha Altman (2008) so... more to investigate!

4 comments:

  1. I've always been a bit wary of Austen sequels, because they can be so hit or miss. 'Mr Darcy takes a wife' springs to mind as being particularly terrible! It's interesting to find that you liked this one, and your thoughts on the others that were sent will be fun to hear too!

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  2. Mr Darcy Takes a Wife was DIRE I agree but this one was great fun and done with great panache. As Simon mentioned, I love the fact that Emma is still matchmaking and interfering...

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  3. Hey! On NPR this morning there was an article about Agatha Christie. Apparently a family member was cleaning out the family house and found a box of old tapes she had recorded while attempting to work on a memoir. Good stuff! One of the things that she talks about is Poirot and Miss Marple- and whether they should meet.

    You should read the article, and listen to some of the tapes, on the NPR website.

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  4. I read this a while back and totally loved it.

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