Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review: Emma spin-off reading

I've been reading madly, as I'm a bit ill and there isn't much else I'm up to doing. I shall dedicate this post to two of my Emma novels, Mr. Knightley's Diary and Old Friends and New Fancies.

The first of these is, as the title suggests, a retelling of the story in Mr. Knightley's words, by Amanda Grange. I don't have much to say about it--anything about the story would be repeating anything I've ever said about Emma. I did find Mr. Knightley's voice very true. It didn't sound like a diary, particularly, but few diary novels do, and that didn't much harm it. It also did not feel like reading Emma all over again, as some such novels do, but managed to add something new.

Old Friends and New Fancies, by Sybil G. Brinton, is quite a different story. It has the distinction of being the first Jane Austen-inspired fan novel ever published, written in 1913. Supposedly it is the sequel to all six Jane Austen novels, which is why I counted it among my Emma reading (though I've also meant to read it for a long time apart from this particular quest), but Emma is probably the least relevant to the story. In a way this makes sense--it is probably the most confined of the novels, since we see everything from Emma's view and Emma never travels. There are also fewer side characters in Emma, especially young unmarried ones. For the purposes of this book, however, it would have been easy to use secondary characters like Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill who are more likely to travel and meet the characters from the other books. Brinton very cleverly and deftly intertwines the characters from different stories, in a way that makes it seem perfect natural that they should know each other. Pride and Prejudice provides the most characters, and the setting for a lot of the book. All the main romances that take place in the course of the story include a character from Pride and Prejudice.

Several characters from Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Sense and Sensibility are also central, though none of the characters most important to this novel were so central in their own novels. The Wentworths and Sir Walter and Miss Elliott also show up out of Persuasion, and Emma and Mr. Knightley are there, though their presence is the furthest stretch. Emma has apparently taken a liking to London and moved there, which seems to me wholly improbable. The entire cast is impressive and sometimes takes a bit of work to follow, but it is very evenly handled. The title of the book describes the approach to the notion of a Jane Austen sequel rather well--we meet all our old friends, but it is more secondary characters who now come to the forefront. This was a very satisfying book, long and dense and with twisting plotlines. Though Emma herself does not make much of an appearance, she is still (to my mild irritation) matchmaking, and many of the misunderstandings which occur in the course of the book are very like the sorts of difficulties found in Emma. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and must say for it that it never struck me as being noticeably written now, in 1913, or in Jane Austen's time; any of these could have been possible. The melding of Miss Austen's six books is seamless, natural, and lovely.

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