How did Colonel Brandon ever get such a bad rap? Is it the flannel waistcoat? Is it that a man of five and thirty can never hope to feel deep affection? Granted he’s not a hawt and sexay beast like Willoughby, but then Colonel Brandon wouldn’t dump a woman at a ball in front of half of London, either (not to mention some of Willoughby’s other less-than-stellar behavior). And yet more than one critic has suggested that Marianne Brandon would not have the completely happy and satisfying marriage that she would have had with Willoughby. We beg to differ, and apparently so does Amanda Grange, because the hero of Colonel Brandon’s Diary has more tragedy and romance in his life than any three or four bodice-ripping Regency rakes. Elopements! Duels! Adultery! Love children! This is Jane Austen? the skeptic might ask; we reply, it sure is! It’s all in Sense and Sensibility, cunningly hidden in the backstory, but Amanda Grange has brought this dramatic tale to full life in the best book yet in her series of heroes’ diaries.
James Brandon is an Oxford scholar, wanting nothing more than to become an attorney and marry his cousin Eliza; he cannot remember a time when he did not love her. But James’ greedy father forces Eliza, his ward, to marry his elder son. James thinks the best thing to do is to take himself away, and joins the army and purchases a transfer to the Indies, hoping that his absence will allow Eliza to accept her marriage and make the best of it; but when he hears of her divorce, and then his brother’s death, he goes home to look for his lost love. Anyone familiar with S&S remembers what happens: the reunion in tragic circumstances and, shortly afterwards, Eliza’s death, leaving James to take care of her daughter, also named Eliza. A few years later, he encounters another young lady who reminds him of Eliza, not so much in looks but in disposition, and though he had thought it impossible, he gets a second chance at love.
As we’ve already pointed out, Colonel Brandon’s backstory is full of dramatic incident, and the writer who attempts to tell his tale could easily fall into the kind of melodrama that makes such a story, well, not at all like anything Jane Austen would write. Fortunately, Amanda Grange does not allow her hero to wallow in sentimentality. Even an entry such as the one about Eliza’s death is written with military precision that is nonetheless full of feeling:
Eliza is dead. She died in my arms.
Oh God! Eliza.
Nothing more is needed; we’ve taken the journey with James and Eliza, and we feel all the emotion in those few words. It brought your reviewer to tears (a little embarrassing, since she was on public transportation at the time). You know Willoughby would have overegged the pudding by quoting a sonnet or some such thing.
Ms. Grange deals well with Brandon’s conflicting emotions: his hatred of Willoughby, both for influencing Marianne against Brandon and for seducing and abandoning the younger Eliza, and his desire to not cause Willoughby harm because it would hurt Marianne. We see his nobility and his great heart when he offers the Delaford living to Edward Ferrars, whose story strikes a sympathetic chord. He even gets in a few zingers on John Dashwood. Maudlin sentiment is further stayed by the trademark touches of quirky humor that Ms. Grange brings to all of the books in this series, because, after all, Jane Austen’s books are funny.
Like all the books in this series, we know the ending, and yet we enjoy retaking the journey and getting to know this endearing hero. Colonel Brandon has cast off his flannel waistcoat forever and taught us, along with Marianne Dashwood, the true worth of a real hero.