10 August 2010

Everything Austen II - First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice - Alexa Adams

Summary: In Pride and Prejudice Fitzwilliam Darcy begins his relationship with Elizabeth Bennet with the words: "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to  give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men." What would have happened if Mr. Darcy had never spoken so disdainfully? First Impressions explores how the events of Jane Austen's beloved novel would have transpired if Darcy and Elizabeth had danced together at the Meryton Assembly. Jane and Bingley's relationship blossoms unimpeded, Mary makes a most fortunate match, and Lydia never sets a foot in Brighton. Austen's witty style is authentically invoked in this playful romp from Longbourn to Pemberley.

Thoughts: I suggest you need not read the apology at the beginning of the book, though it was funny, it was quite unnecessary. There are many things to enjoy in this book, some familiar, some more exaggerated, some more calmly rendered, but the characters are true to themselves and the original. I have decided the thing that makes me most happy with a Miss Austen-related retelling or new work using Miss Austen's characters, in part or full, is the openness that must come from our own frustration when characters in the original don't say what they need to or do so too late.  Is this a 21st century sensibility that make much more sense to readers? Or is it that characters often say what I would say (some examples below).
What an interesting take on Pride & Prejudice! The Bennett family is still at their best to embarrass the two eldest daughters and drive Mr. Bennett to distraction. Caroline Bingley is much the same, but Louisa seems to have grown tired of Caroline trying (in vain) to catch Mr. Darcy. It's also nice to see Darcy not being (excuse my language) such an ass when we first meet him at the assembly. Elizabeth tolerates him well - she's level-headed, understanding, and while lively as ever, not provoking.   
Since we all know Pride & Prejudice, I hope that not much is considered a spoiler, but if you have not read First Impressions and want all the surprises (and I think you do), you may stop here and come back after you're finished. 
This book moves quickly, or should I say Charles Bingley does. It doesn't take long after Jane's stay at Netherfield, extended due to illness, that Bingley realizes he's head-over-hearts in love and is fairly confident that Jane is likewise. Her are two lovely changes - Darcy is perfectly pleased with the idea of Jane and Bingley together and Caroline rants that the Bennett girls are beneath Charles - she appeals to Darcy for assistance. As Caroline makes several mistakes during a fit of anger, Darcy replies, "Surely my position in society is a great deal different than your brother's. You forget what he just acknowledged, that your social status is rather closer to the Bennetts than to mine." Now that's just a set down right there. And lovely Charles finally gets backbone, "If you wish to live with me Caroline, you must cease this line of conduct!" Well, if that doesn't send a lady to her room with a headache, I don't know what does. It's so nice that Jane does not have to go through months of sadness. sigh. 
Mr. Collins arrives as expected and plans to choose his wife from one of the beautiful Bennett girls he's heard of. Well, not quite. In the end, perhaps he isn't so stupid as we thought and picks the girl that will be a good minister's wife - the pious, but plain Mary Bennett. While Mrs. Bennett is pleased, but somewhat surprised, Mr. Bennett just kills me with this response to his wife, "If you desire to live out your years in residence with Mr. Collins, the match will of course, receive my blessing, but I for one will be glad to be dead, buried, and rid of the man."  Can I get an Amen!
I have to admit, I'd been waiting for it - the arrival of Wickham. What was this twist going to be and I was pleased to see that Mr. Darcy did the right thing. He informed Mr. Bennett of Wickham's true character and put him on his guard. It's apparent to most of the characters with a little intelligence that Mr. Darcy isn't doing this for his own professed reasons - it's starting to show -- his interested in Elizabeth. Mr. Bennett is forward enough to ask what his intentions are to his favorite daughter. When Darcy tells Elizabeth of Wickham's character and the attempt on his sister Georgiana, Darcy notes, "Astonished, outrage, and tenderness all betrayed one decisive fact. She cared deeply for him and his sister. He knew then that he unequivocally loved her." sigh. 
I can't give away all except to say, that Wickham is still Wickham and he gets what he deserves in one of the most ironic ways possible - loved it! Lady Catherine manages to deal with it -- sort of. And the special plans for Lydia and Kitty - I never would have thought it possible! Weddings take place and all ends well. 

This is a short book and fast read, but filled with so many pithy lines and great set ups, you'll be so pleased once you've read it. I personally think this is a lovely way to read Pride & Prejudice. Just do it. Outstanding Alexa!!

08 August 2010

Miss Austen's Hateful Characters

I'm going to start reviewing some characters of Miss Austen's and since it's always easiest to start with those you dislike, I shall. The following are the characters, I find, to be the most hateful and unforgivable. Not all of her novels have such a character. Emma, for instance, doesn't have a character I consider evil, though certainly some that are icky and a few that are special for being just right.
These are in no particular order, excepting the order they came to me as I came up with the list. As follows are my list of truly terrible characters {Plenty o' Spoilers}:

Henry Crawford - not thought handsome at first, his snake-like charm makes Maria and Julia Bertram both interested in him. You know he must just love having two sisters fight over him and to his credit he plays the game well; spending time with one sister to enrage the other and then, just in time turning on the charm to the one who thought herself slighted. Choosing to prefer the engaged Maria was a risky move, but again played well - do we think he's done this before - oh yes. He's a cad from way back. No doubt honing his skills where ever he goes and it does not seem to matter if a woman is a beauty or rich or neither, it's all just for his own amusement. Happily Julia finally sees the light (I mean does someone have to hit that girl over the head or what?) and has nothing more to do with Crawford and his flirting ways. Maria, too, makes up her mind that it's best to have a husband with a large fortune and a house in Town than be a play thing for Crawford and marries stupid Mr. Rushmore. Poor Crawford, no one left to play with ... except the paragon of virtue, Fanny Price. Thankfully, Fanny will have none of it -- even when pushed by Edmund, scolded my Mrs. Norris and questioned by Sir Thomas. No matter what you think of Fanny Price, you have to give her credit for standing up for herself in this case. She knew what Crawford was and saw through his game. Did he genuinely fall in love with her? Maybe. But if so, it wasn't enough to keep him from returning to his evil ways and ruining the life of Maria Bertram. Hateful creature - but would he be so hateful, if women weren't so flattered by him?

George Wickham - handsome and smooth and insinuating all kinds of things against Mr. Darcy with people he had only just met. Not nice. How is that evil creatures, more often than not, come is what are seemingly nice packages. Wickham is so very charming (and don't look too shabby in a uniform), but so easily spreads lies to undermine someone whom he perceives has wronged him (Darcy). When the truth comes out we find that Wickham has moved from woman to woman in order to secure a fortune through marriage and has almost persuaded Darcy's younger sister, Georgiana, to elope with him for her 30,000 pounds. Thankfully, he was stopped by Darcy. Everyone is deceived in him when they meet him because he oozes charm, but when they think back on the situation it becomes clear that he's a charlatan. Of course, much of this is not known until it's too late and stupid Lydia believes herself in love with him and elopes with him. Pushed to the point, he just wanted some companionship and was still on the make for a wealthy wife. Had it not been for Darcy, Lydia's (and her family's) reputation could not have been salvaged. Deceitful and insinuating.

John Willoughby - handsome, romantic, articulate, fun. What could be better? Well, let's see, perhaps if he didn't get young women knocked up, leave another girl (and her family) who loves him with little notice, behave like a total jerk at a ball, write hateful notes (yes, we know why, but he was weak), and then marry a rich woman leaving the girl who loves him to almost allow herself to die over this betrayal. In the end, Willoughby admits that he began by just playing with Marianne Dashwood, but did fall in love with her. So does that make him better or worse? Better because he had to be suffering some too, or worse because he left love for money? I'm glad he suffered, but he's still a scoundrel for securing money over love and not doing the right thing.

Isabella Thorpe (and her equally creepy brother John Thorpe) - Another pretty package, but no real feeling heart. Perhaps she doesn't have a heart at all. It must have been wonderful having Catherine Morland following her every word and being such an influence over dear young Catherine. But to then also be the master of Catherine's beloved brother James - get engaged after all  -- but Isabella thinks of no one but herself. When she has to wait for Catherine she complains, when she finds out what Mr. Morland (with 10 children) is willing to do for herself and James she complains - right in front of Catherine no less. When James is not around she's a shameless flirt.  And then wonders why James will have nothing more to do with her, begging Catherine to help her out of her fix.  Deceitful and scheming describe Isabella Thorpe. 
Now on to creepy brother John and creepy is the best way to describe him - ugh. Spreads gossip, tries to move up the social ladder, makes moves on Catherine that she either is too naive too see or just ignores and then is exasperated at Catherine for having no feelings for him (like she could - ugh). He's pushy in changing Catherine's plans with the Tilneys to get his own way. Perhaps that's his and Isabella's biggest flaw - they want their own way and will not be happy until they get it  - no matter what it does to anyone else. They are self-centered.

Mrs. Norris - Now this woman is just plain mean - but only to people she perceives as lower than her, in this case Fanny Price. She's great at sucking up to her sister and her sister's husband, Sir Thomas Bertram, and of course the Bertram children can do little wrong, but poor Fanny suffers the brunt of Mrs. Norris' mean streak. Fanny, in Mrs. Norris' eyes, never does anything right. She uses Fanny to run errands without regard to Fanny's health or well-being. She makes sure Fanny knows she is not up to the level of the grand Miss Bertrams (but we know how that turns out, don't we?) In the end, Mrs. Norris gets what she deserves - spending the rest of her life taking care of her beloved Maria, who has disgraced her self and her family.

What a group, aren't they? I've debated in my head if Caroline Bingley should be in the group as well... and can't decide. Part of me says yes, but part says that she's just a pathetic creature. Time will tell. 
Next - tackling Austen's icky characters and there are so so many.