Review by MJRyan
Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton bills itself as the very first Austen sequel. In this age of hyperbole, that seems like just the next outrageous statement in a long line of outrageous statements. However, this is a re-issue of a novel published in 1913. Imagine! An Austen-inspired sequel that hasn’t been influenced in any way, shape or form by Andrew Davies, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley or the BBC. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to review a book unadulterated by pop culture.
Most unlike its inspirations, the novel opens with a broken engagement. It also opens with a healthy dose of a few of Austen’s least likable characters – Lady Catherine, Lucy Ferrars and Anne Steele. An inauspicious beginning, indeed. It seems that Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh are in Bath and have quite the group of hangers-on perfectly willing to bend to Lady Catherine’s wishes and whims. Especially simpering and scheming is Lucy Ferrars, who has her sights on Colonel Fitzwilliam for her sister Anne Steele. Unfortunately for Miss Steele, when the Darcys arrive with Fitzwilliam in tow to put in their requisite two-week appearance (the rift between Lady Catherine and Darcy at the end of Pride and Prejudice is never mentioned), Fitzwilliam is immediately enchanted with Miss Mary Crawford.
Characters from every novel are either woven into the story or mentioned making me wonder whom this novel was going to focus on. Once the narrative moves from Bath to Pemberley and London the focus narrows down to Colonel Fitzwilliam, Georgiana and Kitty Bennet, with Georgiana being the emotional center and primary focus of the novel. The overpopulation of characters in the story, some needlessly mentioned, made the story seem cluttered. I found myself, especially at the beginning, having to stop and think about the character mentioned, what book they were from, their previous relationships in the source novel and the new relationships within this novel. I loved that there was a list of characters and their respective books at the front of the novel. I wish all novels had a character list. I also think it should be a literary law that a map of the novel setting should be included at the front of every book. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a little map of England to see where Derbyshire is in relation to Herfordshire and London, especially for new readers? But, I love maps and looking at maps so I could be alone in the promotion of this literary law. I digress. Back to the book review.
While I was always aware I wasn’t reading Austen, the author does an admirable job of writing in Austen’s style, focusing on the perils and pitfalls of finding and retaining love in Regency England. Her interpretation of all characters with the possible exception of Elizabeth Bennet, are spot on. While it would be difficult to have Austen’s continuous wit, the author instills enough that I found myself laughing aloud quite a bit. The too brief appearance of Mr. Bennet especially made me chuckle.
Since it is a sequel to all of Austen’s novels, it would be a good idea to have read all of the books before you read this. At the very least, you should have a good familiarity with the scandal at Mansfield Park, the characters of Pride and Prejudice and the personalities of the characters from Sense and Sensibility before picking up Old Friends and New Fancies. If you’re searching for a book similar in tone and sensibility to Austen’s work but totally lacking feverish embraces or mention of tan breeches look no further. Old Friends and New Fancies will be a very satisfying read.
AustenBlog is giving away a copy of Old Friends and New Fancies, courtesy of Sourcebooks. Send your name, full mailing address, and your favorite Austen villain to firstname.lastname@example.org by 10 p.m. Eastern time, Tuesday, September 4, 2007.