It seems that there is a new Jane Austen sequel being published every week and for Jane Austen fans, this is a wonderful opportunity to once again inhabit in the elegant but hilarious world of Austen’s Regency period romantic comedies. "Old Friends and New Fancies," written in 1913 by Sybil G. Brinton stands out from the sequel crowd for a couple of reasons. Number one, it was the first Austen-inspired sequel ever written and two, it has a rather ambitious objective: to combine the principal characters from all of Austen’s novels into a single sequel.
"Old Friends and New Fancies" opens with Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, now a married couple of three and one-half years, wringing their hands over the apparently unhappy betrothal of Georgiana Darcy to Colonel Fitzwilliam. The engagement broken, the Darcys travel to Bath, connect with Lady Catherine, meet and are immediately attracted to the mysteriously wounded Mary Crawford who soon falls out of favor with Lady Catherine due to a rumor that reaches the imperious lady’s ears from her current hangers-on, Lucy Steele Ferrars and her sister Anne Steele. This is unfortunate because the now-free Colonel Fitzwilliam has developed a decided interest in the beautiful Mary who is completely offended and hurt by Lady Catherine’s censoring of her.
Soon, Emma Woodhouse Knightley – bored with country life and living in town – comes on the scene, befriending Kitty Bennet who has a developed a school girl crush on William Price while James Morland is making plans to move into the parish at Kympton.
It’s great fun to meet beloved Jane Austen characters again and to watch them interact predictably but within an entirely new social framework. How would Mary Crawford react to the interest of Colonel Fitzwilliam after being spurned by Edmund Bertram at the end of "Mansfield Park"? Would Kitty Bennet make a good wife for William Price? How long would Lady Catherine be duped by the Steele sisters? For better or for worse, these questions – and their answers – cause "Old Friends" to stand out significantly from the crowd.
One problem with the "Old Friends," however, is that none of the characters have changed, even those who were supposed to. Yes, Lady Catherine will always remain imperious and Lucy Steele Ferrars will be an eternal toady, but wasn’t Kitty Bennet supposed to have de-Lydia-ed herself at the end of Pride and Prejudice? Wasn’t Darcy supposed to have lightened up a bit after three years of marriage to the sparkling Elizabeth Bennet? Didn’t Emma Woodhouse divest herself of her matchmaking schemes when she took on the name of Knightley? Briton doesn’t see fit to show us the results of the transformations Austen exhibited (or mentioned) but generally leaves us with the characters as they were in mid-novel.
The other problem is that, although Brinton’s sentence structure is remarkably and enjoyably similar to Austen’s – long, beautifully crafted sentences – Austen’s inimitable sparkle is completely missing. Because the writing is so similar to Austen’s, the reader keeps watching and waiting for that hilarious interchange, that sharp witticism, but to no avail. Brinton is definitely not Austen in that respect.
But to combine all of Austen’s characters into a believable and enjoyable story is quite a clever idea (not to mention a massive undertaking) and one that Briton, for the most part, pulls off. Readers who love the original Austen characters – especially those who can overlook the lack of sparkle in the general tone of the book – will no doubt find much to enjoy in "Old Friends and New Fancies."
The above review was contributed by: Kathryn Atwood: Kathryn's poetry, reviews and essays have appeared in numerous online and print journals, including "The Aurora Review,", "Afterimage," "Void Magazine," "Wild Violet," and "PopMatters." When she's not writing or driving her three kids around somewhere, Kathryn is usually teaching at a local music studio or givng vocal performances with her husband on the subject of American song.Click Here To View More Of Kathryn's Reviews.
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