My Year with Jane Austen: “Persuasion” Part II

Book: “Persuasion” by Jane Austen

Publication Year: 1818

Book Description: Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

Part II – Chapters 15 – End

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

In Bath, Anne is reunited with her father, Elizabeth, and Lady Russell. She is dismayed to see that Mrs. Clay remains with them and appears to be going nowhere anytime soon. She’s also clearly risen in the estimation of Sir Walter who comments much less on her freckled face. In other developments, she hears that Mr. Elliot is also in Bath and has completely reconciled with the family who are all delighted with him. Anne is confused by his sudden interest in being on good terms with people he’s ignored for years, but, upon meeting with him again, can’t help but acknowledge that he is quite charming. He also is delighted to discover that Anne is the very woman he was so interested in when in Lyme, and he quickly becomes a frequent visitor of hers. Lady Russell begins to hope for an eventual union between the two.

While in Bath, Anne reconnects with an old school friend who has fallen on hard times. Widowed and ill with very little money, Mrs. Smith is practically bed-ridden but still presents a optimistic face to the world and is a breath of fresh air to Anne in her reasonableness. Mrs. Smith is also a good source of information, as her nurse seems to know the goings-on of everyone in the city.

Eventually, Anne hears news of the Musgroves. Louisa is mostly recovered, and in a shocking turn of events, has become engaged to Benwick. Anne can’t imagine a bigger mismatch, but is also extremely relieved and happy to know that Captain Wentworth is still single, even if it means nothing to her, practically speaking. One by one, various parties begin making their way to Bath as well. First the Crofts come, followed shortly by Captain Wentworth himself.

Anne runs into him unexpectedly in a shop where she is waiting for Mr. Elliot to escort her home through the rain. She immediately notices that Captain Wentworth seems much more self-conscious and uncomfortable. They have a brief discussion about Louisa and Benwick in which Captain Wentworth makes some surprising (and pleasing) speeches about how first loves to superior women can never be gotten over, that Louisa is sweet, but nothing to Benwick’s first fiancé. Anne is confused but pleased, seeing hints that he may be talking about more than Benwick and Louisa and more of himself and her. Mr. Elliot arrives, however, and whisks her away.

They meet again at a music concert where Anne goes out of her way to approach Captain Wentworth. Her family publicly shuns him however, not acknowledging that they know him. He seems more stilted than he had in the shop, though Anne makes efforts throughout the night to make herself approachable. She isn’t helped by Mr. Elliot who continues to try to dominate her time and attention.

Soon after, she is called to visit Mrs. Smith. At first, Mrs. Smith is eager praise Mr. Elliot, hinting that she has a favor she’d ask Anne to speak to him about. Anne is bewildered to learn that it is generally understood that she will soon become engaged to Mr. Elliot. She insists to Mrs. Smith that it isn’t so. Mrs. Smith then lays out her true feelings about Mr. Elliot. Not only did he lead Mrs. Smith’s late husband into ruin, but he wrote and spoke horribly of the Elliots the entire time. Mrs. Smith believes that he is only now making an effort because he has suddenly learned to value the rank that will be bestowed on him with Sir Walter’s death and fears any upsets in the form of Mrs. Clay getting her claws in Sir Walter and providing an alternative heir. For her part, Mrs. Smith’s own finances are largely in ruin because a piece of property her husband owned is not accessible to her without the executor of her husband’s will, Mr. Elliot, who so far has refused to even speak to Mrs. Smith about it. Anne is horrified to learn all of this, but also not completely surprised as she never fully trusted Mr. Elliot’s strange motives to reconcile with her family.

The Musgroves also come to Bath to buy wedding clothes for Henrietta. This causes concern for Sir Walter and Elizabeth, as they aren’t very proud of Mary’s lower connections. One morning, Anne goes to visit the Crofts where she finds Captain Wentworth as well as Captain Harville. Captain Wentworth sits down to write a letter while Anne and Captain Harville stand nearby. The two get into a debate about lost love and men and women. Anne insists that women love longest, when all other hope is lost. Captain Harville points to poetry and books as proof of women’s fickleness but Anne argues that those are all written by men. Throughout this discussion, she gets the sense that Captain Wentworth is eagerly listening. Eventually, the party begins to break up and everyone leaves the room while Anne waits behind. Captain Wentworth rushes back in and quickly passes off a letter to Anne.

The letter is a proclamation of love, love that has lasted this entire time. He confesses to being angry and proud, and that he confused this anger for no longer being attached. But that he came to see that she was the most superior woman he has ever known, and can’t go on any longer, especially not hearing her discuss how men’s feelings fade faster. He goes on to say that he will come to a dinner at her family’s house to which he’s been invited and there, all it will take is a look from her to have his answer one way or another.

Mr. Musgrove returns to walk Anne back home. On the way, they meet with Captain Wentworth. Mr. Musgrove asks if Wentworth can take her the rest of the way as he has business elsewhere. The two walk together and confess their feelings for each other. Over the next few days, the news is broken to the family and to Lady Russell. Anne’s family now sees more value in Captain Wentworth since he’s made is fortune and has become popular in society. Lady Russell also is more determined to like him. He also intercedes on Mrs. Smith’s behalf and sees her land restored to her and her financial situation made right. For his part, Mr. Elliot runs of to London with Mrs. Clay: his best bet of preventing a marriage between her and Sir Walter is to take her on himself, though Anne suspects she may have the right of him and become mistress of Sir Walter’s home and fortune one way or another, through the father or the nephew heir.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Anne really comes into her own in this second half. She stands up to everyone around her to some degree or another and makes an effort to put herself forward to Captain Wentworth in a way that likely encouraged him to act more quickly than he would have on his own. She’s also the only one to continuously suspect Mr. Elliot’s sudden interest in her family.

To her family, she refuses to give up her acquaintance with Mrs. Smith, standing her ground in the face of her father’s anger. She also doesn’t worry about their disapproval when she approaches Captain Wentworth at the concert. For Lady Russell’s part, Anne is briefly tempted by her paintings of a life with Mr. Elliott, but she also points out her concerns with him and is not swayed by her overly much.

As for Captain Wentworth, though it’s not stated in the text explicitly, one has to imagine the near miss with Louisa inspired Anne somewhat to put herself more forward. The fact that, when they first meet when waiting out the rain, he is so clearly more discomposed than he was before, of course helps. And then makes that interesting speech about past loves. But Anne doesn’t let it rest there and goes out of her way to speak to him at the concert and to maneuver her seating arrangement to be more available to be approached (I think most of women can sympathize with tactics like this!)

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

I really like that we get so much information on Captain Wentworth’s thoughts and feelings here in the end. Throughout the book, not only does he not speak to Anne directly often at all, we really hear very little from him. We hear a lot about him, but not directly from him. Like Anne, we’re left trying to piece together what his actions reflect about his inner emotions.

But here at the end, not only do we get his entire letter detailing his emotions throughout, but Austen goes into even more detail later about what he’s been up to while Anne has been in Bath. Captain Wentworth admits that his pride almost got the better of him in the end. He let himself be too free with Louisa Musgrove in an attempt to prove (mostly to himself, one has to think) that he was over Anne. Not only did this leave Anne open to being poached by the likes of Mr. Elliot (as he began to see and worry about at Lyme), but he comes to realize that his actions almost spoke for him, with an engagement being expected to the point of it being dishonorable if he didn’t. We hear about how he took himself away in the hopes to weaken the connection and then set off for Bath once it was clear he as free.

But all of that, still, and he was almost set back again by the such a small thing as a meeting or two’s worth of jealousy over Mr. Elliot. Captain Wentworth is clearly an honorable, good man, but I think it’s pretty clear that Anne will be the more steady, sure-footed of the two. Wentworth is, to some extent at least, ruled by the emotion of the moment. Not only did he not spend the time to work out Anne’s true motives at 19 (something that was definitely possible if he hadn’t been brooding and resentful), but he continued to let his emotions get the better of him even after he had the fortune her family wanted. One has to assume that when she turned him down she gave some explanation. He admits, here at the end, that he did them both a disservice by giving in to resentment all of these years and losing them both much happiness in the meantime.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Mr. Elliot is revealed to be the true villain of this story. It’s not such a shock as Anne, like Fanny, is firmly established at this point as the best judge of character in the book, and she’s always skeptical of Mr. Elliot’s motives. But, in a strange twist, his true villainy is really directed at any of our main characters. Instead, poor Mrs. Smith seems to be the one who suffers the most. Sure, Sir Walter gets some insults thrown at him in a letter and Elizabeth didn’t come off super well in that initial flirtation, but really, neither of them have it too bad. Sir Walter largely deserves criticism and isn’t ever made aware of the letter, and Elizabeth’s ego seems fine too. But poor Mrs. Smith! Not only to have her husband lead astray throughout the marriage, but then to be fooled by Mr. Elliot into thinking he was their friend altogether and have him abandon her in her time of need after her husband’s death!

As for the current circumstances, Mr. Elliot seems to be genuinely interested in Anne to some degree (as much as he is capable of at least). And his abandonment of the family once again is probably not any bigger of a shock the second go-around. Indeed, one would think that Sir Walter and Elizabeth would be more hurt by Mrs. Clay’s defection than anyone’s! And, in the end, it kind of seems like these two deserve each other and no real harm is done to anyone, especially after Captain Wentworth and Anne can help restore Mrs. Smith.

For her part, we see Lady Russell and Anne’s family come around on Captain Wentworth. Sir Walter and Elizabeth will probably always be a trial, but it seems like there is hope that with a concentrated effort on both Lady Russell’s and Captain Wentworth’s part, that they will get along well enough in the end. They both love Anne, which is what they have going for them.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

This second half of the book is much more romantic than the first. It’s clear to the reader (and even Anne pretty quickly) that Wentworth has finally come to his senses and gotten over himself and is interested in re-connecting. He, himself, attributes it to noticing Mr. Elliot stare at Anne at Lyme and realizing that he could still lose her if he continues playing games. That, and the fact that he realizes that he is seen as half-engaged to Louisa already and only narrowly misses that bullet by the lucky chance of Benwick interceding.

His speech about Harville’s sister, Louisa, and Benwick’s change in attachment is pretty revealing, and it’s a credit to Anne that she understands him fully. None of this silly drama of miscommunication. She’s picking up what he’s laying down. Instead, any remaining drama comes from him when he gets jealous of Mr. Elliot and becomes cold again at the musical concert. Anne has to make a lot of effort there to engage him and then it still doesn’t seem like he was going to take any action soon until he overheard her conversation with Captain Harville while writing the letter. I think the general understanding is that they would have gotten there eventually, though, either way. But it’s nice to see Anne putting out this much effort to encourage him, proving to him that she is just as capable as pursuing what she wants as others, even if she is still very humble and willing to put others before herself.

We again don’t see the actual proposal or exchange of declarations of love between the two, a staple move of Austen’s at this point. But I think that Captain Wentworth’s letter probably goes down as the most romantic “speech” we have in all of Austen’s works. Darcy has his moments, yes, but the letter wins over by sheer length. It’s the longest and most extensive declaration of feelings that we see from any of our heroes. And, not only does Anne deserve this level of romance, but us readers do, too! If you look at the book as a whole, we probably have the least dialogue between our hero and heroine as we’ve seen in all the books. And probably by a lot, at that! So it’s nice to finally have this nice, long love letter at the end to shore up all those romantic pinings.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Again, not a lot of comedy in this second half. Most of the humor probably comes from how obsequious Sir Walter and Elizabeth are towards the Dalrymples when they come to town. Anne looks on with pity at their antics, and in a shared moment, she and Mr. Elliot discuss the lack of true interest these high and mighty relatives deserve based on their own merit. There are some good lines about the definition of “good company,” but here we also see the first ideas of Mr. Elliot caring more for rank than Anne does or than he had previously in life.

Really, other than that I can’t think of any comedy bits. The Musgroves show up and Mary has a few funny lines here and there, mostly at Anne’s expense (that see, Benwick is marrying Louisa, of course he was never interested in Anne!) We also see Sir Walter and Elizabeth having to properly balance their obsession with keeping up a good face for the Dalrymples but still include these lesser relatives they have through Mary’s marriage to the Musgroves. No need to acknowledge the fact that the Musgroves are much nicer, more entertaining people on the whole!

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

This good one from Anne in the discussion about loving longest between men or women:

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

And, of course, the classic romantic line from this book. I’m pretty sure this line would still work today. If some man said “you piece my soul” to you…c’mon, we’d all fall for that.

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.”

Final thoughts – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

“Persuasion” is probably the book that’s went through the biggest change in my estimation as a reader from the first time I read to my re-reads as an adult. “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” were always favorites. “Mansfield Park” was always a bit more of a struggle and “Sense and Sensibility” and “Northanger Abbey” were always solidly in the middle. “Persuasion” originally was lower down. The lack of interaction between the romantic characters was a detriment, and, on the face of things, Anne had similarities to Fanny as being a bit too reserved and shrinking to immediately appeal to my teenage self. But as an adult, it’s risen to be one of my favorites, pretty much equal with with “Pride and Prejudice” and maybe even above “Emma.”

I don’t think this change is even all that surprising. Anne is an older, more mature heroine, and much of her story surrounds the changes in her perspective on life and love that has come through a decade of adult life. Without having gone through my 20s myself when I originally read it, I didn’t really connect to this arc in the same way I do now. Beyond that, the story of lasting love over a decade of separation now appears as the most romantic of all the romances we’ve seen in the books. Having gone through the ups and downs of romantic pitfalls, false starts, etc., this sure, steady love appeals in a way I couldn’t understand when first reading it.

It’s also probably the most serious of Austen’s books other than “Mansfield Park.” But I think, overall, this one feels much more settled in its overall tone. “Mansfield Park” had odd breaks in the “action,” for lack of a better word, to hear long speeches from various characters on topics that weren’t directly tied to anything outwards of themselves.

For another thing, this book is shorter which I think works better for this type of more serious story. Anne is also a more engaging heroine than Fanny is, which helps carry the story. Not to mention that Captain Wentworth is a more romantic hero than Edmund. Unlike Edmund, his flirtation with Louisa is pretty obviously a shallow, reactionary thing from the very start. We don’t get any silly proclamations of “not imagining any other woman as his wife” either. Instead, much better, we have grand romantic statements of Wentworth’s having loved “none but her.” Much more appealing.

Overall, this was a great book to end this re-read on. I was particularly looking forward to re-visiting it, and it didn’t let me down. Now for reviews of two movie adaptations and, I think, a last “bonus” review of a few other Austen adaptations/spin-offs that didn’t directly fit into the review series as I had it originally planned.

In two weeks, I’ll review the last half of “Persuasion” and share my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

Serena’s Review: “Deadly Curious”

Book: “Deadly Curious” by Cindy Anstey

Publishing Info: Swoon Reads, June 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: 1834. Sophia Thompson wants nothing more than to be one of the famed Bow Street Runners, London’s most elite corps of detectives. Never mind that a woman has never before joined their ranks–and certainly never mind that her reclusive family has forbidden her from pursuing such an unladylike goal.

She gets the chance to prove her capabilities when an urgent letter arrives from her frantic cousin Daphne, begging Sophia to come look into the suspicious death of Daphne’s brother.

As Sophia begins to unravel the tangled threads of the case–with the help of a charming young policeman–she soon realizes that the murderer may be even closer to her family than she ever suspected.

Review: I’m fairly predictable in the types of books I’ll select when I have no previous knowledge of a series or author. If it has a pretty cover, is a historical fiction mystery novel, and features an intrepid female detective, there’s a fairly decent chance I’ll pick it up. This method has lead me to some of my favorite series, sure, but it’s also not a very surefire way of finding quality books. Alas, here is proof of the failures of this particular approach to book selection.

With no marriage prospects on the horizon, Sophia Thompson has set her mind on an alternative path, namely becoming a Bow Street Runner and investigator herself. Of course, she’ll need to solve some actual mysteries for this plan to move forward. Luckily (?) a mystery finds her in the murder of her cousin, a case she’s begged to solve by her frantic, beloved cousin Daphne. But she won’t be alone. A down and out current Bow Street Runner, Jeremy, has also been sent to the solve the case with the warning that if he can’t manage it, he need not return. Between these three, will they be able to solve this deadly curious case?

I really struggled with this book. Honestly, it was half a page away from being a DNF for me. Not because it was overtly offensive in any way, but because it was just so…nothing. It had all the pieces of being a YA historical mystery, but they were the most flat, cardboard versions of these tropes that I’ve come across in a long while. I’m really struggling to come up with many pros to really point to before diving into my complaints. I guess the cover is still pretty. But now I just view that as yet another negative as it draws in unsuspecting readers who are looking for a quality story and are likely going to be disappointed by the shallow work on display.

The characters were all supremely disappointing. We immediately learn that Sophia’s supposed interest in being a detective has come about after reading one, that’s right, one!, book on the topic. Based on this, she feels her self perfectly capable of not only solving this murder but joining an entire organization dedicated to this career. The naivete is astounding to the point of being comical. It would be more comical, in fact, if it wasn’t quite so sad that the story expects us to take this, and Sophia herself, seriously. It doesn’t help matter that the mystery itself is incredibly simplistic. When the reader can figure out the murder long before the supposed detective, it’s never a good sign. Even less for for a wanna-be as sad as Sophia. In the end, it felt like the answer came through sheer luck than any deductive abilities on her part, providing the last nail in the coffin of my interest in her story.

Jeremy isn’t any better. Did he even have a character arc or personality to speak of? Not that I remember. Mostly his good looks and fine eyes were elaborated upon by Sophia, solidifying his role as “generic love interest” right from the start. Here, too, the book had very little new to offer and the characters trotted obediently through the standard set pieces expected of a romance such as this.

The writing was also weak in my opinion. There were anachronisms all over the place (something that I can look past if the characters and story are strong). And there were numerous jumps in time, scene, and logic that left me confused. Simple elements like the timeline of the murder itself were often garbled, and I felt like I had missed something. The style of writing was also fairly generic, and I struggled to feel truly invested in anything that was going on. It felt utilitarian and bland.

This book wasn’t for me. It felt like the author simply cobbled together basic plots and characters from other popular works in the genre and spun out a book as quickly as possible. There was such a lack of passion to the story that it’s hard to feel like anyone really cared overly much about this book. There are numerous better examples of this type of story out there, so I suggest reading those instead of spending any time on this.

Rating 5: Mediocre to the extreme.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deadly Curious” is on these Goodreads lists: Georgian Era in YA & Middle Grade Fiction and Profiles in Silhouette.

Find “Deadly Curious” at your library using WorldCat!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Persuasion” Part I

Book: “Persuasion” by Jane Austen

Publication Year: 1818

Book Description: Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

History – “I read it a little as duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.”

“Persuasion” was the last novel Jane Austen completed before her death only a few short months later. At the time of its completion, it didn’t appear as if Austen had any immediate plans for publication. The book had already went through one re-write where she added two additional chapters to the end of the story. She could have been considering further edits to the entire work before moving forward with publication.

After her death, the copyright for her published works was transferred to her sister and her brother. Her brother worked to have both “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey” published after her death. Notably, the set of books also included a biography of the author written by Austen’s brother which first identified Jane Austen by name. Looking at many of the initial reviews of both “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion,” it is clear that reviewers were just as focused on the revelation of the author of these books as in the books themselves. Both books garnered praise and some critiques, but many reviews spent much of their time writing glowing praise of Austen herself as an author would remain popular in the future. They were right. (source)

“You may perhaps like the Heroine, as she is almost too good for me.”

Part I – Chapters 1 – 14

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

Anne Elliot is the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot. Having lost his practical and more sensible wife when Anne was a teenager, Sir Walter has gone on to slowly but surely run his family into unsustainable debt. He and his eldest daughter, vain and thinking much of themselves, are finally convinced to let their house to and Admiral Croft and re-locate to Bath. This news is significant to the 27-year-0ld Anne due to a past connection to the Admiral’s wife’s brother, Captain Wentworth.

When Anne was 19, she formed a mutually strong and loving relationship with Captain Wentworth. But at this point, Captain Wentworth’s prospects were questionable and he wouldn’t be able to marry immediately or, possibly, even in the near future. Given her youth, her family’s position, and Wentworth’s questionable prospects, Anne’s family and the family friend (Lady Russell) who had often served as a mother-figure to Anne, strongly opposed the union. Eventually, Anne was persuaded to believe that it was her duty to give up the engagement. Wentworth left, hurt and angry. Over the years, Anne followed his career through the papers and saw him garner all the success any of her family could have wanted, and more quickly than any of them could have imagined. She never heard from him, however. Now, at age 27, Anne’s prospects are low, and while she doesn’t blame her younger self for her decisions, she knows that now, if asked, she would give very different advice to a young person.

Sir Walter and Elizabeth move to Bath (taking with them a companion for Elizabeth, a widow named Mrs. Clay whom both Lady Russell and Anne suspect of having designs on Sir Walter). But Anne, who dislikes Bath, is called to stay with her younger sister, Mary, who lives nearby. Mary is a silly woman who often believes herself to be ill in an attempt to gain attention. However, she’s happy to have Anne’s company. Mary’s husband’s parents and their two daughters, Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove, live a short walk away and often come to visit Anne and Mary. Soon enough, the news travels that the Crofts have moved in and Mrs. Croft’s brother, Captain Wentworth is expected shortly. Anne is able to avoid a first meeting by staying home to care for Mary’s injured son, but she soon hears more than enough: everyone is enchanted by Captain Wentworth, particularly Louisa and Henrietta.

Eventually the two are forced to meet again. It is clear to Anne that Captain Wentworth has not forgiven her and is cold and distant. His attention is all for the two Musgrove girls, and everyone spends much time debating which of the two he prefers. Anne finds all of these meetings and discussions very painful, as she sees the same man she fell in love with all those years ago. The debate between the two girls comes to a head with the return of a cousin who had previously made much headway with securing Henrietta’s affection.

One day, a large party forms to make their way to the house of this cousin. It consists of Anne, Mary and her husband, the two Musgrove girls, and Captain Wentworth. The walk is long and tiring, so when they get to the cousin’s house, Anne is happy to stay behind with part of the group as Henrietta and her brother go on to visit. While sitting quietly, she is able to hear Captain Wentworth and Louisa talking nearby. Louisa is sharing a history of her family, that originally Mary’s husband had wanted to marry Anne, but Anne had refused him, presumably due to Lady Russell’s persuasion. Captain Wentworth is surprised, but he expresses high praise of Louisa’s insistence that her character is much more firm and she should never be persuaded out of doing what she liked. Anne is greatly hurt by this discussion, seeing it the way Captain Wentworth must: that Anne is of weak character and that Louisa is a highly desirable woman who has the very trait he has just expressed such praise of.

On the way back, Anne becomes increasingly tired. When they run across the Crofts who are out on a buggy ride, Captain Wentworth makes an effort to ensure that Anne has a ride home. Anne sees that while he can never forgive her, he also can’t forget their history and let her suffer. She is gratified, but even more sad at her loss of such a good man.

The group then decides to make a mini trip to Lyme, a coastal town where Captain Wentworth has a few friends from the Navy. Once there, they are all delighted with the town, even if it is the fall and the off-season. They meet up with Captain Wentworth’s friends, which includes a man named James Benwick who is staying with a Captain Harville as he mourns the loss of his fiance, Captain Harville’s sister. Anne goes out of her way to talk to Benwick. They both enjoy reading, though Anne suspects that Benwick’s love of morose poetry is not helping him boulster his spirits. While out on a walk by the ocean, they pass by another gentleman who is quite obviously struck by Anne’s beauty. Captain Wentworth takes notices, and Anne wonders if perhaps she’ll have a second bloom of beauty later in life.

The next morning, on her way to breakfast, Anne runs into the same gentleman at the inn. Later, the party sees him driving off and asks about him. It turns out to be William Elliott, the nephew of Sir Walter who will be the heir of the estate. He had a falling out with Sir Walter years before after marrying a lower-class lady for her money and cutting off contact with the Elliots, including Elizabeth whom Sir Walter had hoped would marry Mr. Elliot.

Before they leave, they group takes one last walk down to the beach. They must descend a steep set of stairs to reach the beach, and Louisa insists on being jumped down by Captain Wentworth. After one go, she runs back up even higher and insists on jumping again. Captain Wentworth protests that it is too high but she won’t listen and jumps. She falls and hits her head hard on the ground, knocking her out. The entire party goes into hysterics, except for Anne who quickly instructs someone to fetch a doctor and that they should carry Louisa to the the nearby house of the Harvilles. Once there, she continues her steady nursing abilities.

She overhears Captain Wentworth and Mr. Musgrove making plans. Captain Wentworth suggests that Anne stay behind as she is clearly the most capable nurse that Louisa could hope for. When hearing this plan, however, Mary falls into fits insisting that she means more to Louisa than Anne so she should be the one to stay. Anne relents in the face of this fit and Captain Wentworth looks on in dismay. He, Anne, and Henrietta return home to inform Louisa’s parents of what has happened since it is likely that Louisa will need to remain in Lyme for some time to recover. Anne does what she can to help, but eventually must make her way to Bath to meet up again with her father and older sister.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

As Jane Austen herself stated in the quote I shared above, Anne Elliot is almost too good of a character. She’s practically perfect in every way. Sure, she’s persuaded into giving up her love at age 19, but as this first half goes out of its way to establish, this is due to an excess of familial loyalty and a sense of obligation to put others before herself. But unlike Fanny, one of Austen’s other seemingly “perfect” heroines, Anne is not sunk under this sense of obligation and duty. She’s still confident enough to put herself forward when she sees that she can help, watching over her injured nephew when Mary wants to go to the family dinner at the Musgroves, and, more importantly, taking charge of the Louisa situation when all turns to havoc. But soon after, we see her again step back in the face of Mary’s hissy fit about staying on at Lyme instead of Anne. It’s more like true humility than some of Fanny’s more weak-willed withering under the criticism of Mrs. Norris and such.

Anne is also a keen observer. She accurately sees those around her, for their strengths and their weaknesses. She can properly judge the good spirits of the Musgrove sisters while also understanding the limits of their true characters as being somewhat shallow. She notes the dangers of Mrs. Clay when her sister, Elizabeth, is blinded. And she sees Wentworth’s struggles with regards to herself, his lingering anger but inability to completely shun her. All of this good judgement is also recognized by those around her, and she finds herself in the uncomfortable position of being everyone’s confidant but with very little ability to do much about any of the complaints she hears.

The Anne we see here, of course, is the older, more adult version of the character who made the important decisions in the past that lead to the current circumstances. She’s also the oldest heroine we’ve seen in any of the books, so her strong sense of self is pretty in line with that. But what we see here also makes it easy to understand the character of the 19-year-old version of Anne, a young woman who would have the same sense of duty and humility but with a less strong sense of her own self and trust in her own judgement. It’s mentioned, further, that the teenage Anne believed that she was ultimately helping Wentworth by freeing him from an engagement that might have bound him for an unknown length of time.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Captain Wentworth is an interesting hero. His anger and hurt over Anne’s actions are all very understandable. And his similar wish to avoid much contact with her rings true to, I would guess, many of our own experiences with exes. Austen provides us with a few brief insights into his mentality that highlight how her actions were particularly painful for him, being the exact opposite of the strong, confident way he himself approached decisions. I would say that he doesn’t make appropriate allowances for gender, in that as a man, he was always much more capable of carrying forward his own plans without much reference to others. Anne, on the other hand, being a young woman of 19, had very few real options She is/was beholden to her family in a way that he would never be, and had the engagement went forward, she would be the one remaining home with constant disapproval surrounding her.

We do see much evidence of why Anne was initially attracted to him. While we don’t get a lot of dialogue, we hear a lot about how charmed everyone is by him. He’s also considerate of Anne when it matters, making sure she has a ride home when she’s tired, etc. We can also make some judgements based on what we know of his friends and family. The Crofts are generally described as a very good set of people. And Captain Wentworth’s two Navy friends are also of estimable character. We hear stories from each that reinforce the good of Captain Wentworth, notably that Wentworth takes it upon himself to deliver the awful news of Benwick’s fiancé’s death to him and stays by his side as he mourns.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

There really aren’t any outright villains in this first half. Much can be said against Sir Walter, both for his general personality and for his poor financial decisions that lead to the family being evicted from their family home. On top of that, he and Lady Russell are both behind Anne’s current unhappy situation. But while these aren’t factors in either of their favors, it doesn’t really make them villains either. It’s clear that Anne still has a very close relationship with Lady Russell and doesn’t even really blame her for the advice she gave Anne when she was 19.

Elizabeth and Mary are definitely not great sisters, but neither is really a villain either. Elizabeth is cut from the same cloth as her father and is vain and dismissive of Anne. Mary values Anne more, but in more in the sense of Anne’s being a captive audience to her endless complaints of illness than anything else.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

There’s very little romance in this first half, other than much reflection on the past whirlwind romance between Anne and Wentworth when they were young. Austen’s strength as a writer is on clear display as she’s able to paint a lovely image of this happy couple of the past, even though we never see it for ourselves. She then contrasts that with the sad state of their relationship now. Anne refers to it as a “perpetual estrangement,” which is all the more painful for there once never being “two hearts so open.” It’s beautifully tragic.

We do see the beginnings of change coming though. Captain Wentworth’s reaction to the news that Anne turned down another proposal in the years since he left can raise a few flags as to his thoughts. We also see the steps that he takes to care for Anne when others forget her and the high value he puts on her judgement during the situation with Louisa. And, of course, the marked look he gives Anne when he notices Mr. Elliot staring at her. We later learn that this small moment is one of the real eye-openers Captain Wentworth needed to view how risky his current behavior was to his future happiness.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Mary is probably the funniest character we have here, but often its funny in the infuriating sense. I think many of us know a Mary-like character, which is always the way with Austen’s best comedic characters: they reflect nonsense traits that we see often ourselves in those around us. Mary’s constant complaints about illness to gather attention. Her easy offense at Anne’s getting any sort of attention, even if it’s of the sort that would just result in more work, like nursing Louisa.

Really, it’s hard to come up with much other comedy in this first half. “Persuasion” is a fairly serious, solemn book with more reflection than anything else. Most of the characters are of a serious nature and many of the weaknesses of the lesser characters are of the sort that aren’t necessarily funny and more just kind of sad. The Musgrove girls are described as charming, but it seems that they more have high spirits than any truly great sense of humor.

Probably one of the funniest moments in the entire first half comes from a very brief description of Anne’s ride back home in the buggy with the Crofts. She notes how casually Mrs. Croft reaches over and re-directs the buggy to safety as the Admiral drives so casually they almost hit ditches and fences. Anne reflects that this likely illustrates the nature of their relationship as a hole. As we’re lead to believe that the Crofts are both very good people and truly attached, it’s a funny little insight into the different ways couples manage their lives and relationship together.

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

This quote is from Mary in reference to her husband going to the dinner party and leaving her and Anne behind with injured boy. But, given that she then promptly leave Anne to shift alone, I think we can only take it with a grain of salt. Though it’s still pretty funny and tempting to pull out now and then:

“If there is any thing disagreeable going on, men are always sure to get out of it.”

This is just a nice quote, I think:

“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.”

In two weeks, I’ll review the last half of “Persuasion” and share my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

My Year with Jane Austen: “Northanger Abbey” [2007]

Movie: “Northanger Abbey”

Release Year: 2007

Actors: Catherine Morland – Felicity Jones

Mr. Tilney – JJ Field

Isabella Thorpe – Carey Mulligan

John Thorpe – William Beck

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

I really like this adaptation of “Northanger Abbey.” To be fair, I haven’t seen any others, so there isn’t much of a comparison to be had. But in comparison to the book itself, I feel like it hits all the right points. The characters are all perfectly cast. The tone is just right, landing somewhere happily between romance and comedy. And it manages to use a clever device of dream sequences to capture Austen’s satiric intent with Catherine’s preoccupation with gothic novels and the fanciful thoughts they can bring about.

The dream sequences are probably the most notable point out of those three. They’re handily sprinkled throughout the movie, so from the very beginning, we have a clear idea of Catherine’s own head space. The movie also cleverly uses the same actors in many of the fanciful imagings, highlighting how Catherine herself is casting those around her. Henry, of course gets to be the hero, while John Thorpe and Captain Tilney are villains. Isabella, before Catherine wakes up to her true character, is a helpless victim of Captain Tilney’s.

There are a few bigger changes towards the end of the movie with the order of operations between Henry discovering Catherine’s suspicions about his family and her being turned out of the house. It does lose some of the gallantry of Henry, but probably makes for a more dramatic move overall. The audience, like Catherine, is left in suspense of his thoughts and feelings. And, what’s more, we’re given a red herring explanation for why she is suddenly thrown out by General Tilney.

The movie also makes good use of the narrator. The voice, meant to be Jane Austen I believe, only really picks up at the beginning and the ending of the movie. But it does a nice job of bookending the story and, again, giving it that meta sense that the book itself had with regards to stories: stories talking about stories, heroines inspiring heroines, and so on.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Felicity Jones is pitch perfect for Catherine. She’s an excellent balance of youthful naivete and earnest goodwill. Catherine could easily come across as silly, what with her dramatic and rather silly mental dramas. But Jones manages to reign that in, leaving Catherine seeming simply young, but at her heart, good-natured. Her wide-eyed depiction of the character also makes it easy to understand why Catherine is so easily forgiven and taken in by the more level-headed characters around her.

She also does a good job portraying the balancing act that Catherine undertakes initially, between the silly vivacity that her first friends, the Thorpes, are encouraging, and her own wishes to be esteemed by the more polished Tilney siblings. At the same time, Jones’ Catherine is never overshadowed by the larger-than-life characters around her, and she has excellent chemistry with JJ Field.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

For his part, JJ Field also fits the role of Henry Tilney perfectly. He’s affable, charming, and wholesome. As I mentioned in my review of the book, Tilney stands out as the most approachable and easy of all of Austen’s main heroes. He doesn’t have any angst to speak of and his road to romance is the most straight forward. Field has great delivery with many of the Tilney’s comedic lines, teasing Catherine and being teased back himself. There’s a joyousness to his portrayal that is very appealing.

Of course, he also has a bit harder of a sell towards the end, in that unlike the book, he’s not given the chance to fulfill Tilney’s most romantic overture: the immediate forgiveness of Catherine for her silliness and all the effort put out afterwards to make her feel secure again. Instead, he has to do all the lifting in the final scene that includes the explanation of his father’s behavior, his feelings towards Catherine despite her imaginings, and the proposal itself. It’s all handled neatly, and I think is a testament to all the goodwill that has already been built up for the character. Even if we don’t see him immediately forgive Catherine, it’s easy to believe that that was the case. He even admits that his own teasing of Catherine early on, mentioning a certain sort of vampirism at Northanger Abbey, makes him at least partly responsible for her wild theories.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

The villainous characters are all also well-cast. We can see the appeal of Isabella to Catherine, but the viewer is never quite as taken in as she is. Isabella’s obvious disappointment in the lack of wealthy coming her way through her engagement to James is pretty telling. And from there, it’s just a skip and a hop to talking to Catherine about how Captain Tilney is the heir of the family. Of course, the movie goes a much more dire route with this entire affair, having Captain Tilney actually seduce Isabella into his bed, a much bigger transgression than the book presents.

The book does hint that he must have given Isabella some strong signals for her to give up her engagement in pursuit of him, but I don’t think it really meant that things had went as far as the movie portrays. For one thing, it makes Captain Tilney into quite the villain himself. In the book, he’s fairly disagreeable and obviously pursues Isabella inappropriately. We know he means to marry well. But that’s about it. Here, he’s cast with characters such as Wickham and Willoughby, the blackest scoundrels of Austen’s villains, in following their footsteps in ruining young women.

General Tilney is also presented in a fairly foreboding light from the start. The book does a lot of work talking about how thickly he lays on the charm for Catherine, but how oppressive his presence still is overall. That comes through very clear here, it perhaps not too clear. He’s fairly off-putting from the very beginning, and the few lines he gets hint fairly heavily to his confusion about Catherine’s coming wealth from the Allens. The movie is even more strict with his comeuppance, however, as it does away with the bargaining aspect of Eleanor Tilney’s engagement. Instead, it implies that both Eleanor and Henry marry against their father’s wishes leaving him lonely and angry at the gloomy Northanger Abbey.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

The romance is also very sweet in this movie. Like I said early, the chemistry between Jones and Fields is great, making all the flirty dialogue ring true and their mutual teasing is very cute. I like the effort that is put into building this relationship, not only at Bath but at Northanger Abbey itself. There, we see Henry and Catherine going on walks, with Catherine quizzing him on his feelings about marrying not to great wealth. There are also nice smaller moments of them and Eleanor roasting food by the fire. The movie also replaces the entire family’s visit to Henry’s estate with a horseback ride taken by just Henry and Catherine.

I also really like the final scene with the proposal. Most of Austen’s other stories all are still attempting to resolve misunderstandings or greater dramas by the time the proposal comes along. So it’s often a bit more of a serious situation. Here, that’s not so much the case. Yes, there are misunderstandings that are cleared up. But here the entire thing is played with a much lighter feeling and the semi-awkward fumblings of two youngish people declaring their feelings for each other. The movie then goes straight into them having a baby to round out the story, which, from a modern perspective, feels very strange given said young-ness, but you know, such were the times.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

I really liked the comedy in this movie, too. Obviously, as I’ve mentioned, Tilney is the most comedic hero we see in Austen’s books, so it’s important that they hit that right with the casting and with the script. But they also did good work with the Allens, giving them almost more of a presence than they had in the book. We see less of Mrs. Allen’s insipidity, but she retains her preoccupation with clothes, even mentioning Tilney’s good eye for muslin and a recommendation for him still even after the bewildering events that lead to Catherine’s being sent home alone.

John Thorpe is also pretty funny in just how intolerable he is. He perfectly captures the brash, loud, uncouth character that Austen describes. And his attempts at hinting around to Catherine about a second wedding after the engagement between Isabella and James is pretty funny. It’s clear to the audience what is happing, but Catherine is so obviously clueless, and even John doesn’t seem to really want to clue her in on what he’s getting at.

I think one of the funniest little bits comes towards the very end of the movie. Henry Tilney is visiting the Morlands and suggests Catherine show him the way to the Allens’ so he can pay his respects. And then one of the younger sisters points out that you can see their house from the window before being quickly cut-off by her mother, who knows what’s what. The actress who plays Mrs. Morland doesn’t have tons of screen time, but she nails this little moment, and it’s pretty funny.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

There weren’t too many fun facts that I could find, other than costume-related things. But the one costume thing did stand out: that Mr. Tilney wears the same green coat and tan pants as Mr. Darcy does in the 1995 film.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

Just some good, ole reaction comedy here:

I also like this one:

In two weeks, I’ll review the first half of “Persuasion.”

Serena’s Review: “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue”

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Book: “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab

Publishing Info: Tor Books, October 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name. 

Review: I’ve been a fan of V.E. Schwab’s work for a while now, so whenever her books pop up, they’re instant requests for me. This one was all the more intriguing for the very unique-sounding description. A gift that turns out to be a curse. Time travel. Deep explorations of the meaning of self and what it is to exist in the world. Sign me up!

For a young woman growing up in the 1700s in a small village in France, the concept of “the world” is a small thing. Much if not all of her life will be lead in the same place, walking the same streets, meeting with the same people. But this isn’t enough for Addie LaRue, and in her desperation she makes a desperate bargain that turns her life on its head. Yes, she can now travel the world, free from the fear of death. But no one will remember her name, her face, her at all. A life like this comes with all kinds of challenges, but in the present year, we meet an Addie who has largely come to accept her transient existence only partly of the world she walks. That is until she meets a strange young man who sees her…and remembers.

I was completely right in my initial impression of this book: it was unlike anything I had read before! The story alternates between Addie’s past, as she makes her original deal and then checking in on her state at various point in the ensuing centuries, and Addie’s present in New York City. I think this was a really clever way of highlighting just how complicated her blessing/curse is. On one hand, it seems simple enough, and Addie herself clearly thought so when making it. But as the story travels through time, we see both the very large problems facing Addie as well as the small, daily challenges that come with not being remembered.

It’s not just romanticism and emotional consequences. What happens when you pay for a room in a hotel but five minutes after the clerk looks away, they forget you’ve paid for it? And that’s assuming Addie even has any money! I really liked the way the story was willing to fully engage with the harsh and sometimes brutal reality of what a life like this would look like, especially for a woman in the 1700s and through many of the following centuries.

The story in the present isn’t any less interesting. My one point of nervousness going into this story was that the young man who ultimately is able to remember Addie would just be some type of fluky, special snowflake type love interest where his ability is never really explored or explained. Not so! Instead, we get a good number of chapters from his perspective and his story was full of surprises, both leading up to his first meeting with Addie and going on well past it. The romance between the two was a bit on the aggressively quirky side at times, but overall, I think it was balanced out by the more weighty topics that were tackled in the rest of the story.

I’m not really into much of the art scene myself, but I did really enjoy this theme throughout the book and how Schwab used Addie’s curse to highlight the role that artwork and artists place in society. It’s much more than just creating pretty, fanciful pieces. It’s about a broader, grander conversation that is ongoing across centuries’ worth of individuals all speaking back and forth to one another.

And, of course, Schwab’s writing is solid and engaging throughout, and her mastercraft at creating deep characterization is on full display here. If you’re a fan of her past work, this is definitely worth checking out. And those new to her writing, this is a great an entry point as anyone could ask for!

Rating 9: Beautiful and heart-wrenching, I couldn’t put it down!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” is on these Goodreads lists: “Heart Stopping Books” and “Best Books Set in New York City.”

Find “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Court of Miracles”

Book: “The Court of Miracles” by Kester Grant

Publishing Info: Knopf Children’s, June 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie).

When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.

Review: Like every YA fantasy that has came out in the last couple of years or so, this book was marketed for fans of “Six of Crows.” Now, typically, that’s almost a warning off sign for me these days, as it seems this strategy almost always leads to disappointment when the book either turns out to be nothing like that one or, perhaps worse, way too similar. But this was also listed as an alternative history of the French Revolution and a retelling of “Les Miserables,” so I thought it was worth checking out.

After the failure of the French Revolution, the divide between the nobility and commoners has only gotten worse. In in the wake of much disorder, new points of power have risen in the form of nine crim guilds. Nina, a talented thief, works for the Thieves Guild, scraping together a life for herself and her adopted sister. But no one can stay hidden forever, even a master thief, and soon enough Nina finds herself thrust out of the comforts of her criminal underworld life and instead in a glittering and even more dangerous royal court.

Just to get it out of the way right away, I didn’t enjoy this book. I’m sure there are readers who will, but for me, it failed to deliver on any of the promises it set out for itself: It had no connection to “Six of Crows” that I could identify (other than ridiculously broad strokes in that they both deal with criminal underworlds); As a retelling of “Les Mirables” it pick and chose to such an extent that I’m not sure I would have made the connection between the two stories on my own; And as an alternative history, I found it to be wildly anachronistic and shallow in its world-building. So, yeah.

These were all issues on their own, of course, but the book isn’t helped by weak characterization and chopping storytelling. Many of the characters who were pulled from “Les Miserables” can be reduced to one trait descriptions that seem to serve as the entire foundation for their character. We’re given very little more than “This person is a revolutionary!” “This person is a thief!” Readers are either supposed to be satisfied with these bare minimums or superimpose more characterization onto these individuals from their comparative characters in the original story.

And the story itself is very choppy and includes several large time jumps. And during those time jumps, you guessed it, all the necessary character development has already occurred! Readers are just informed of the improvements in main characters without seeing any progression or natural development for themselves. Motivations are laid down in a clinical, info-dumping manner, and the story continues on.

Lastly, I really hated the “romance” in this book. I add the quotes because tehre really is no actual romance laid out. But there are so many possibilities of it that it began to feel ridiculous. I counted at least three love interests that were introduced over the course of this book. And while Nina didn’t devote any crazy amount of time towards any of them, it was still pretty annoying to be given the impression that everyone/anyone who came into contact with her was immediately attracted to her and has the potential of becoming a more serious love interest in the future. I’m so tired of this trope, and while it does seem to be slowing down in general, I’m always still disappointed when I see it pop up again.

I’m unclear who to really recommend this book to. It’s not like it was absolutely abysmal, but I also don’t think that it’s the kind of book that would appeal to the people it most seems to be trying to attract. Super fans of “Les Miserables” for sure will be disappointed. And fans of “Six of Crows” at this point know to be wary of most books that promote themselves as readalikes. I guess if you’re at all intrigued by the alternative history angle and have a fairly flexible approach to what history means, this may be worth checking out?

Rating 5: Not for me. It fails to live up to its own promotional tactics and fell into the trap of introducing too many love interests all at once.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Court of Miracles” is on these Goodreads lists: 2020 YA Historical Fiction and Glittering Glamorous Fantasies.

Find “The Court of Miracles” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Murder on Cold Street”

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Book: “Murder on Cold Street” by Sherry Thomas

Publishing Info: Berkley, October 2020

Where Did I get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Inspector Treadles, Charlotte Holmes’s friend and collaborator, has been found locked in a room with two dead men, both of whom worked with his wife at the great manufacturing enterprise she has recently inherited.

Rumors fly. Had Inspector Treadles killed the men because they had opposed his wife’s initiatives at every turn? Had he killed in a fit of jealous rage, because he suspected Mrs. Treadles of harboring deeper feelings for one of the men? To make matters worse, he refuses to speak on his own behalf, despite the overwhelming evidence against him.

Charlotte finds herself in a case strewn with lies and secrets. But which lies are to cover up small sins, and which secrets would flay open a past better left forgotten? Not to mention, how can she concentrate on these murders, when Lord Ingram, her oldest friend and sometime lover, at last dangles before her the one thing she has always wanted?

Previously Reviewed: “A Study in Scarlet Women” and “A Conspiracy in Belgravia” and “The Hollow of Fear” and “The Art of Theft”

Review: Overall, I’ve been enjoying Sherry Thomas’s “Lady Sherlock” series. I’ve found all of the mysteries to be appropriately complicated, and I’ve really liked the swaps and changes to staple characters that Thomas has added in. I have had some growing questions, however, as the series has continued, mostly having to do with the very slow burn romance, the use of Moriarty, and the role of Charlotte Holmes’s sister. So those were all elements I had on my eye on this go around. Kind of a mixed bag as far as results go, but I did enjoy this book quite a bit and more than the previous one, so that’s always good.

After returning from their last mystery, Charlotte Holmes and company are immediately set upon by a distraught Mrs. Treadles. Her husband, the inspector, has been arrested for a double homicide. Charlotte takes on the case, of course, but considering the locked room that Mr. Treadles is found in along with the two dead bodies, the mystery posed is quite a stumper. As she wades through the various clues, more and more questions arise with regards to the Treadles themselves, as well as with the family company over which Mrs. Treadles has recently taken operation.

To start out with the basic things I review, this book was successful in all the ways its predecessors were. The mystery itself is complicated with a wide assortment of red herrings, false clues, and various suspects, all with their own motives. Each time I thought I was beginning to piece together where things were going, I’d be pulled in a different direction and realize I’d been heading down the completely wrong path. The various motives and suspects that are introduced are all plausible, and many of them aren’t even directly laid out, leaving it to the reader to begin to piece together their own theories, never quite knowing what is going on in Charlotte Holmes’s mind.

The writing also continues to be solid and engaging. I’ve read quite a few of Thomas’s books over the years (I just finished one of her romances, which is the genre she started out in), and her writing style has always clearly unique to her and solid throughout a wide variety of genres. She has a way of writing that always seems to pull me in. It somehow manages to be completely engrossing and pull the story along quickly, even when the sentences themselves are often not incredibly action-packed and more often read in a more dry, lofty tone.

As for the concerns that have slowly been building as the series progressed, I’m happy to report that on at least one count things seem to be moving along. The romance between Charlotte and Lord Ingram seems to have finally turned a new bend. Things are obviously not resolved on this front, but I was pleased to see that the relationship itself was evolving, with Charlotte now being the one to confront her own role in this burgeoning relationship, what it has been in the past and what she wants it to be in the future. It was a nice change of pace to have Lord Ingram, for once, the more confident and secure in his decisions of the two. I’m curious to see where things will go from here!

On the other hand, however, my other two questions, those regarding the of Livia Holmes and Moriarty, were less satisfactory. Frankly, I would have preferred Livia Holmes to have been completely absent from this book. She only has a handful of chapters as it is, and her story felt wholly unconnected from the mystery and goings-on of the other characters. I think the character would be better served to show up when/if the story call for it, as, here, she felt shoe-horned in in a way that disrupted the flow of the greater plot line altogether.

In some ways, I have the same complaint/suggestion regarding Moriarty. I’d been starting to feel that the ties to Moriarty in every single mystery thus far were beginning to feel like a bit much. It’s maybe a bit of a spoiler, but the character once again is connected here, though in a very small, sideways manner. So small and so sideways, even, that I really questioned the necessity of involving him at all. It seems to be meant to continue building the tension between the inevitable clash between Charlotte and Moriarty, but honestly, here, it just felt tacked on and unnecessary. Most fans of this series are likely already fans of the original Holmes and need very little manipulation to become quickly invested in this rivalry. It also just begins to feel implausible that all of these mysteries that seem to randomly fall on Charlotte’s plate are also connected to this shadowy other character.

Overall, however, I really enjoyed this book. I thought the mystery itself was much more compelling than what we had in the previous book, and I was excited to see some movement on the romance front. Now, alas, another year or so until the next entry. Luckily, I’ve found a YA fantasy series also written by Thomas, so that’s probably on the schedule for this winter.

Rating 9: Another great entry in the “Lady Sherlock” series, though, bizarrely, I wish for a little less Moriarty.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Murder on Cold Street” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Sherlock Holmes Fiction (Pastiches)” and “Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women.”

Find “Murder on Cold Street” at your library using WorldCat!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Northanger Abbey”

Book: “Northanger Abbey”

Publication Year: 1817

Book Description: Jane Austen’s first novel—published posthumously in 1818—tells the story of Catherine Morland and her dangerously sweet nature, innocence, and sometime self-delusion. Though Austen’s fallible heroine is repeatedly drawn into scrapes while vacationing at Bath and during her subsequent visit to Northanger Abbey, Catherine eventually triumphs, blossoming into a discerning woman who learns truths about love, life, and the heady power of literature. The satirical novel pokes fun at the gothic novel while earnestly emphasizing caution to the female sex.

History – “I read it a little as duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.”

“Northanger Abbey” was written long before it was published, likely around 1798 or 1799. Austen then shelved the novel and didn’t even send it to a publisher until 1803 for 10 pounds. And there it languished, even though Austen has been assured it would be published soon. After six years, Austen wrote to the publisher under a pseudonym to complain. She signed it thus:

I am Gentlemen &c &c                                                                 

– MAD.

She was given the option to buy it back, but couldn’t afford to do so until several years later. At this point, Austen was concerned that the novel would be as relevant as many of the gothic novels and authors that are referenced in the book were decidedly of the time when it was originally written, now over a decade earlier. Austen was also focused on her new novel, “Persuasion.” Shortly there after, Austen passed away. The book along with her others and the copyrights to the published novels passed to her sister. After some negotiation, “Northanger Abbey” finally came to the public in December of 1817 almost twenty years after it was originally written.

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Catherine Morland comes from a large but perfectly normal family. But adventure makes its way to her in the form of a trip to Bath with some wealthy family friends, the Allens. Once there, she is ready to view the world through the lens of her gothic novels that she loves to read. However, life seems rather ordinary, if still more exciting than her small-town. Luckily, a hero enters her world in the form of a gentleman named Mr. Tilney who is very lively and perfectly suits Catherine. Her social circle then extends further with the introduction of the Thorpe family and the eldest daughter, Isabella, who quickly becomes Catherine’s fast friend.

While Isabella’s temperament is much more lively than Catherine’s with much nonsense about hating flirting while flirting constantly herself, Catherine is happy to have a friend. Soon after, Isabella’s brother, John, comes to bath bringing with him Catherine’s own brother, James. It becomes quite clear that James has been in love with Isabella for some time (having met the family earlier that year). Catherine is informed that John is a good man more than she sees it herself, often finding him to be loud and verging on rude. Her biggest complaint comes at a ball where she is forced to uphold a commitment to dance with John at the detriment of her greater desire to dance with Mr. Tilney. She does make the acquaintance of his sister Miss Tilney and makes plans to go on a country walk with the two of them the following day.

The next morning, however, she is bombarded by James, John, and Isabella to join them on carriage rides out to visit a castle. Catherine informs them that she has previous plans, but they continue to badger her on and on. Eventually, John informs her that he saw the Tilney’s heading off in their own carriage, so they clearly meant to skip the walk based on the early morning rain. Catherine doesn’t know what to do, but eventually gives in, more in the hopes of seeing the castle than spending more time with John in his carriage. But shortly after setting off, Catherine sees the Tilneys walking down the street towards her house. John refuses to stop and let her out, however, and Catherine ends up trapped on the trip. They don’t even make it to the castle, and Catherine ends the day very upset knowing the Tilneys must be confused and hurt by her behavior.

The next day, she goes out of her way to track down the Tilneys and explain the situation. She’s so earnest and clearly upset that they both quickly forgive her. She also meets their father, General Tilney, a stately man who Catherine saw John speaking to earlier. He is extremely gracious and urges the friendship on between Catherine and his son and daughter. Soon after, they are able to schedule their walk, and Catherine grows closer with Miss Tilney and continues to enjoy greater attachment to Mr. Tilney.

Soon, Isabella approaches Catherine with exciting news: she and James are engaged! Catherine is thrilled, though confused by Isabella’s worries that she is not James’s financial equal. James quickly makes his way home and returns with glad tidings that his parents approve and will be able to give him a decent, though not large, amount of money and living in a few years. Isabella is greatly put-out, but insists she never complains. Much to Catherine’s dismay, however, she sees Isabella behaving more and more poorly by flirty with Mr. Tilney’s older brother who has also come to town. Catherine sees that this behavior hurts her brother and doesn’t know what to make of it.

She is diverted to more pleasant things when she receives an invitation to visit the Tilney’s at their home of Northanger Abbey. Catherine is thrilled, not only to be spending more time with her dear friends, but also at the prospect of wandering through such a dramatic, gothic location that is sure to hide all sorts of dreadful mysteries (per her novels, of course). Mr. Tilney laughs at her anticipations, and Catherine is happy enough to laugh at herself, too. But upon arrival, she can’t help but become intrigued by mysterious, old chests and wardrobes set up in her room. All she discovers, however, are old washing lists and the extent of her own silliness.

Life at the Abbey is ruled by the strict schedule of the General. While still very gracious to Catherine, he also has strange habits and refuses to let Eleanor show Catherine the deceased Mrs. Tilney’s rooms. Catherine begins to become more and more suspicious of the General’s relationship with the dead Mrs. Tilney. Is she even dead at all, or locked up in some drafty corner of the Abbey? Catherine decides to explore on her own, but is caught by Mr. Tilney in Mrs. Tilney’s very normal-looking rooms. He immediately figures out what Catherine was up to and chastises her for letting her imagination rule her. Catherine is extremely ashamed of herself and upset that she has lost Mr. Tilney’s respect forever. However, he goes out of his way to make her comfortable over the next few days, and Catherine comes out of the ordeal having learned a much needed lesson about sensational novels and real life.

During her visit, she receives an upsetting letter from her brother James saying that the engagement between him and Isabella is off. He hints to her behavior being increasingly concerning and notes that Catherine will soon hear news about Isabella’s upcoming attachment to the Tilney family. Both Miss and Mr. Tilney are sure that whatever poor behavior has taken part, it is very unlikely that their older brother will become engaged to someone as poor and lowly as Isabella. Sure enough, Catherine does hear from Isabella who pleads with Catherine to intercede with James on her behalf fearing there has been some sort of “misunderstanding.” Catherine is appalled and, now finally seeing Isabella for what she is, swears off the friendship forever.

Her happy visit comes to an abrupt and confusing end, however, when the General returns from a trip and insists that Catherine leave at once. She is practically forced out the very next day and sent home alone and by post. Catherine is confused and upset. Eleanor is beside herself at the poor treatment of her friend. And Mr. Tilney is from home when it all happens, so Catherine doesn’t even get to say goodbye to him. She arrives home safely, but is much out of spirits, to her parents’ great dismay.

Shortly after, however, Mr. Tilney arrives to clear matters up. He confesses that General Tilney is a bad tempered man who only wants his children to marry fortunes. He was deceived by John Thorpe into thinking that Catherine was very wealthy, hence his immediate approval of her. Later, a bitter John also exaggerated just how poor Catherine’s family was which lead to her dismissal from Northanger Abbey. Mr. Tilney proposes to Catherine, and while they are happily in love, they worry about their future, needing the General’s approval to marry. Eventually, however, Miss Tilney becomes engaged to a very rich man and insists that her father approve of Mr. Tilney and Catherine which he grudgingly does, and the two get married.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Catherine Morland is the quintessential heroine. For all that she’s the main character in a book that is largely a satire of the popular Gothic novels of the time, she’s still a very likable, undestandable character in her own right. She both acts her age, but is also not overly silly and dramatic. Especially against the backdrop of Isabella’s behavior, Catherine’s own nonsense is all kept well in check for the most part (silliness at the Abbey aside). It’s easy to see how both Tilney siblings would be drawn in by her earnest, naive goodness. She’s truly bewildered when coming up across the Thorpe’s and elder Tilney’s of the world, having very little ability to anticipate the foibles or meaner streaks of others. The reader easily sees through both Isabella and John, but not poor Catherine.

She does make her fair share of mistakes, but they all are of the type that seem to come from her young age rather than anything else. She also always pays a price for her poor choices. We see her get talked into the carriage ride with Isabella, James, and John. Though to be fair to her, this is only after she resists for quite a while and then is lied to. But, again, she’s so earnest in her apology to the Tilneys, so not bothered by laying all of her feelings out in the open, it’s easy to understand why she is quickly forgiven. Later, when John Thorpe tries to pull a similar move, she’s even stronger and immediately corrects the situation.

Obviously, her behavior at the Abbey is her at her worst, though even there much of her nonsense is contained to her own antics in her room. But she is discovered by Mr. Tilney in her grim imaginings of the late Mrs. Tilney and is quite chastised by him. One can only imagine how humiliating this entire situation would be. It’s a credit to both of them that they recover as well as they do. From there, one can only expect that Catherine has gotten most of her nonsense out of her system and will grow into a very proper young woman. At her heart, she’s clearly a good sort of girl. She’s definitely the most simple of Austen’s heroines, but this doesn’t make her less compelling. And, as an excuse if she even needs one, she’s definitely the heroine of the most straight-forward story. There is very little drama, confusion, or general angst that she must deal with. And thus she’s allowed her simple flaws and her vast reward at the end.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

While it can be argued that Edmund rather deserves to be one of the more forgotten Austen heroes, what with his main love arc being with an entirely different woman than the one we’re rooting for, it’s unfortunate that Henry Tilney is routinely also falls in this lesser-known category. Unlike Edmund, Henry has his head on straight from the very beginning, and beyond that, he is probably the most likable hero we’ll find in Austen’s entire catalog. He’s definitely the best humored. We don’t have pride, or restraint, or shyness, or prior bad decisions that are haunting him, etc. etc. No, he’s gallant, funny, and likable from start to finish. The worst that can be said for him is that he probably comes to love Catherine largely due to her initial interest. And this speaks more to Austen’s clear-eyed view of how love affairs often go than to any actual flaw on Tilney’s part.

Probably one of his best moments in the book is how he handles discovering Catherine’s wild suspicions about his father. Of course, he’s been teasing her about her love for gothic novels (though admits to devouring them himself, as well), but it had to be truly shocking to see her take her imagination that far. He’s fairly frank in his assessment of her behavior and tells her so. But then…but then! Austen goes into great detail to describe the effort that Mr. Tilney puts out that evening and over the next couple of days to make Catherine feel comfortable again. It shows not only great awareness on his part, understanding how awkward and uncomfortable she must be feeling, but also just a truly kind spirit who does not hold things like this against a young Catherine.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

For villains, we have the Thorpe siblings and Colonel Tilney himself. The Thorpes are both the more obviously rotten apples from the very start. This is where poor Catherine is truly let down by the shoddy guardianship of Mrs. Allen. Most of Mrs. Allen’s foibles are contained to silliness about clothes and not having much to say, but in overseeing her young ward’s new friends, she really drops the ball. Isabella is less obviously bad, but John Thorpe shows his colors almost immediately. He’s rude, brash, and generally unpleasant. The wildness of many of the group’s plans are also clear warning signs to any good guardian, and even Catherine goes so far as to express surprise that Mrs. Allen didn’t say anything about whether the planned carriage rides were all together proper. To her credit, Catherine is never convinced that John is quite the thing from the very start and even wonders a bit at her brother’s praise of him. And then, of course, the shock and horror of finding out that John thought she was encouraging him!

Isabella is a tougher nut to crack, and it’s easier to see how Catherine could have the wool pulled over her eyes easily by a young woman who so quickly proclaims Catherine dear to her. Up to the point where Catherine meets Isabella, it’s clear that she is quite lonely. So a firm friend with almost built-in intimacy was sure to be a great temptation. And it would take some very clear thinking to really dig through all of Isabella’s grand speeches about her own values and compare them, clear-eyed, with Isabella’s actual behavior. But Catherine is still quick to see that something is not right in Isabella’s treatment of her brother and with her flirtations with the elder Tilney. While we feel for Catherine’s distress when it all comes crashing down, the reader at least feels a good amount of smug approval at the way Isabella’s blatant scheming leaves her ultimately with nothing.

Colonel Tilney fulfills the more traditional villain role as the one to keep our hero and heroine from each other. Of course, this only after he spends a good majority of the book pushing them together. We later learn, of course, that his behavior, first at encouraging the couple and then evicting Catherine, all come from John Thorpe’s big mouth. But these are still actions of a selfish, hard-hearted man. The Mr. Tilney and Miss Tilney’s clear discomfort when around their father is the first clue, and even Catherine notes that his presence a

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

This is the most straight-forward romance in all of Austen’s books. Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl does something foolish, but boy quickly forgives her with no misunderstandings or drawn-out angst. Father tries to interceded, but boy and girl get married in the end. But it’s also a testament to the fact that a good romance story doesn’t need to be mired in drama, lack of communication, and unnecessary misunderstandings. Mr. Tilney and Catherine are sweet, likable, and the reader is invested in their relationship from the very beginning.

Of course obstacles are put in their way, but even those are few and far between and often fairly quickly dealt with. Any early misunderstandings between the two of them are quickly rectified by, shocker!, actually talking about the situation. Catherine goes out of her way to track down Mr. Tilney and explain what happened over the missed engagement for their country walk. And when Catherine is caught in her nonsense and the Abbey, Mr. Tilney is quick to go out of his way to reassure her that his attachment to her is unchanged. And, of course, after Catherine is banished from Northanger, Mr. Tilney quickly follows to make his apologies to her and her family and declare himself to Catherine. From their, being a Jane Austen novel, the rest of the couples problems are succinctly dealt with while also assuring that Eleanor Tilney also gets her own happy ending.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Before she shows the depths of her true character, Isabella Thorpe is good for some laughs early in the book. Unlike Catherine, the reader quite quickly picks up on the disconnect between Isabella’s statements and her actions. There is an especially funny moment when Isabella starts bemoaning two gentleman that she claims are plaguing her with their unwanted attention. But then they leave, and she essentially drags Catherine after them in a chase to catch up to them once again and regain their attention.

Mrs. Allen is also a pretty good comedic character. She doesn’t have a ton of page time, but we still get a pretty good picture of her personality. Constantly fretting about her clothes and repeating the same useless sentiments over and over again followed by no change in her actions, it’s easy to see how Catherine could be quickly taken in by the excitement of a new companion like Isabella Thorpe.

And, like I said earlier, Mr. Tilney himself is pretty funny. More than any other Austen hero, we see Tilney poking fun at Catherine as well as himself throughout the story. We also see a lovely sibling relationship between him and Eleanor Tilney, with Eleanor often stepping in to explain her brother’s ridiculousness to a bewildered Catherine. We’ve seen a lot of good sibling relationships, but Eleanor and Mr. Tilney stand out in being the most equal-seeming and essentially teamed up against the trials of their family life. Catherine really strikes gold in them both, ending up with an excellent husband and a supreme sister-in-law to boot.

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

“[I]t is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible.”

I’ve always loved this quote and have used it as a touchstone in my own life at points. It’s just such straight-forward, good common sense. And a nice reminder to not let any one thing or person becoming too defining in our own life. Of course our loved ones are at the center of it all, but our happiness is not reliant on them. Happiness is entirely our own responsibility, not someone else’s, and with that in mind, why not give yourself the best chance of success by finding happiness in a wide range of things?

“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much, that they never find it necessary to use more than half.”

This is a quote from Mr. Tilney and one that is immediately followed by Eleanor Tilney’s continued scolding/teasing that he is misrepresenting himself to Catherine. It’s a funny comment on its own, and a good example of Mr. Tilney’s excellent sense of humor.

“I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

Another good, short quip that I always wish I could remember to pull out at just the right moment. Alas, I cannot speak well enough to quote literature at the perfect moments.

Final thoughts – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

I’m not going to go into much as far as final thoughts for this book. Funnily enough, “Northanger Abbey” had previously been probably one of my least re-read books of Austen’s, but I’ve now read and reviewed it in some form or another twice in the last year and a half! That, and because the book itself is fairly short, is why I’m only devoting one post to reviewing this book. But for some more general thoughts from both me and Kate, check out our Bookclub Review of “Northanger Abbey.”

In two weeks, I’ll review the 2007 movie “Northanger Abbey.”

My Year with Jane Austen: “Mansfield Park” [2007]

Movie: “Mansfield Park”

Release Year: 2007

Actors: Fanny – Billie Piper

Edmund – Blake Ritson

Mary Crawford – Haley Atwell

Henry Crawford – Joseph Beattie

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

For all my complaints about the 1999 version of this story, there’s a reason I’ve seen that one a decent number of times while this is only my second viewing of this version. Sure it’s free of some of the truly upsetting changes that the 1999 version made, but it also feels strangely dull and heartless, nothing something you ever want to see from an Austen adaptation.

With the exception of Haley Atwell, I think most of the casting is wrong is film. Or, at the very least, worse than the 1999 version’s cast. There is very little chemistry between any and all of the characters up to and including our main romantic pair. Atwell, alone, manages to have good chemistry with most of those she works alongside. The rest seem to be largely working alongside each other rather than directly with one another. It’s hard to buy into any of the relationships we’re being presented with, let alone become terribly invested.

I also think the overall tone of the movie is working against our main characters. Fanny and Edmund are both serious characters. But the movie insists on making them run around and frolic like children. The grand ball scene becomes a capering picnic. And the final romantic climax is marred by our two love birds chasing each other around like little kids. There’s just something off about the whole thing that never allows the movie to feel like it has settled into what it wants to be.

It, too, changes aspects of the original story, most notably cutting out the entire Portsmouth scene (to save money on actors and locations??). This single change alone I think hurts the movie quite a lot. And strangely, like I said, that while the 1999 version arguably made bigger (and often worse) changes, the smaller, seemingly less offensive, changes made here somehow make this movie, as a whole, less engaging. Even while remaining more true to the book in many ways (the inclusion of Fanny’s brother William, for example), I would say this movie fails just as much as an adaptation of Austen’s work. And, when given the choice, I’ll still watch the 1999 version before this.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

I really don’t love this version of Fanny Price. Full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of Billie Piper at the best of times, but I don’t think it’s just her acting that I don’t like here. Like the previous version of “Mansfield Park,” this one takes a similar route with Fanny by making her much more exuberant. Even more so, I’d say. We have multiple scenes of her running around through the house, chasing a dog around, playing with children. I’m sure it’s supposed to emphasize her innocence, but combined with her hair styling (loose hair is only for very young girls in this time period), all it does is serve to make Fanny seem overly child-like herself.

Other changes, like re-imagining the ball as a picnic do nothing to help with this perception. No lovely, noble dance scenes, but instead, again, children’s yard games that do nothing to help Fanny’s coming across as little girl-ish. I also don’t like the change of having her remain at Mansfield Park by herself rather than go to Portsmouth. By removing this contrast of settings, we’re left with even less to highlight the truly well-bred refinement of Fanny that is supposed to be hiding beneath her quiet nature. And, of course, the final “romantic” scene that has her and Edmund chasing each other around the house…like children.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

I have a bit of a “chicken or the egg” issue with Blake Ritson’s version of Edmund. I saw the 2009 “Emma” where he plays the sleazy Mr. Elton before I saw this one, so that impression was firmly in my mind the first time I saw this movie. But, on the other hand, he was cast into that role very shortly after portraying Edmund in this film in 2007. So obviously someone else saw his performance here and thought “Eh, maybe not romantic hero material…but this kind of slimy character? Perfect!”

Edmund as a character is always a tough role. His morality can come across as patronizing and preachy. He falls for the obviously wrong woman and spends most of his time with his head in the sand. And then the book itself does very little to show him coming to his sense, so any adaptation is left almost entirely on its own for how to navigate this transition.

Unfortunately for him, Ritson also had to go up against Miller’s version of the character from the 1999 movie, one of the few aspects of that movie that most fans agree was solidly good. And I just don’t think Ritson was up to the task. He’s very hard to take seriously and often comes across more as a caricature of a gentleman than anything else. Him, also, running around after Fanny during the big “romantic” scene doesn’t help this version of Edmund’s character be taken seriously.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

I really like Haley Atwell’s version of Mary Crawford. She has a natural easy charm that makes it much easier to buy into Edmund’s blind infatuation with her. She’s beautiful, but also brings a different type of warmth to the character that makes her very engaging. If anything, it’s almost a bit harder to see faults in this version of Mary than in others. For one thing, when Henry Crawford approaches her about his plans to woo Fanny, this Mary seems to be much more earnestly concerned for Fanny’s welfare, which endears her more to viewers.

Henry Crawford is also well-cast, having that roguish and somewhat wild look that appeals to certain women. It’s easy to see why flags go up for Fanny, and this version doesn’t hesitate from pushing the Crawford/Maria romance to its extremes, having them actually make out while practicing for the play, almost being caught by Rushworth and Julia. Again, however, the decision to have Fanny simply stay on at Mansfield Park instead of making her trip to Portsmouth doesn’t serve the story well. Crawford showing up here has much less impact that it did having him show up on the poor doorstep of Fanny’s original family. If anything, it’s even easier to see why Fanny would be unmoved by all of this. She doesn’t have the comparison of Mansfield and Portsmouth that Sir Walter mentions when hatching a plan to urge her towards Crawford in both the book and the 1999 version of the movie. Her just being lonely at Mansfield doesn’t seem like it would at all serve the same purpose. Given how little many of the family members pay attention to her anyways (and when they do, it’s just to give her orders, so in some lights, this is almost a vacation for her), it’s hard to think that the lack of “society” is really all that much for a young woman who stayed home much of the time anyways. And then, what’s more, Fanny doesn’t have an opportunity to see Crawford at his best when he’s behaving so nicely to her often rude and uncouth family in Portsmouth. Altogether, it’s no wonder she doesn’t waver here.

The biggest miss as far as villains go, however, is Mrs. Norris. This version of the character is all over the place and the movie never seems to really settle on what aspect of her personality it wants to highlight. It’s never clear exactly what her motives are, why she says/does what she says/does, or what her problem with Fanny is in the first place. Obviously, the book has plenty of time to flesh out her character, but even the 1999 version of the story was able to provide a clear image of who Mrs. Norris is. Here, she just kind of flits in and out of scenes and makes an odd comment here or there. Without having the book as a mental reference, I’m not sure if the casual viewer would have any idea what to make of her.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

Shocking no one, as I’ve already referenced it in both the heroine and hero sections, I don’t love the romance in this movie. I don’t think that Piper and Ritson had very good chemistry. In fact, I think they almost worked against each other in some ways. Unlike the 1999 version of this story, this movie doesn’t put nearly as much effort into establishing Edmund’s underlying feelings for Fanny. I think Jonny Lee Miller was much better at some of the smaller, more subtle facial expressions that indicated interest in Fanny along the way. And the screenplay itself wrote in more opportunities for this relationship to be brought forward. Not having a grand ball scene really doesn’t help this. I can’t remember where I read this, but some commentator once noted that the ball scenes were almost like the sex scenes for Austen romances, often the pinnacle and brimming over point for building up these relationships.

And, I really can’t express this enough…I hated, hated, the whole running after one another scene as the grand finale of this romance. It’s just so silly and juvenile. Any romantic tone is completely undercut, and it just feels anticlimactic. There is a fairly big change to Lady Bertram’s character in this scene, as she is instrumental in getting Fanny and Edmund alone, and then notes to Sir Walter that Fanny’s always been in love with Edmund and it looks like he finally noticed. There’s obviously no hint of this type of perception in the book version of the character, but it’s the kind of funny little change that I didn’t mind in this movie. If anything, it felt more “Austen-like” than anything else in this last scene. So, with everything else, I’ll take it.

It’s only a small thing, but I do like the inclusion of Fanny and Edmund waltzing at the end of this movie. It’s one of those small, throw-away moments that will appeal to history fans who will recognize that this type of dancing was just coming onto the scene around this time. It’s a nice little wink of the eye.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

The comedy is always the challenge for this story. The book itself is probably the least comical of all of Austen’s works and the adaptations have to come to their own decisions about what to do with a leading lady who is so aggressively earnest, quiet, and good-natured that the thought of her cracking jokes is almost unheard of. The 1999 version did a fairly decent job of getting some humor in for Fanny, but, of course, that version was also way off base with much of Fanny’s characterization (as far as it resembling the character in the book, at least) so it’s no wonder that they could make this practically original heroine funny on top of the rest. Here, Fanny is more in line with the book version, but also just more dull.

The loss of Mrs. Norris is pretty huge here. The other movie used her for comedy to great success, even if it was the “love to hate” kind of comedy. But she’s such a non-presence here that the same can’t be said. The Crawfords, too, with their limited screen time, don’t have much humor. Rushworth is still good, of course, but he also doesn’t capture the screen the same way that the previous Rushworth did. I have a harder time even remembering anything distinctive about this version where I can point to several instances of laughs from the 1999 version of the character.

Overall, the movie feels fairly joyless, for all that they’re trying to make some grand point of Fanny’s child-like wonder of life with her constant frolicking.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Really not much here, other than the usual costume connections between many of these Austen adaptations.

The actress who plays young Fanny also played a younger version of Billie Piper character in “Doctor Who.”

And, speaking of “Doctor Who,” a whole host of actors from this film have made appearances in the long-running show, including Billie Piper, Julia Joyce, Michelle Ryan and Jemma Redgrave.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

This is the big moment where Edmund realizes his love for Fanny…about sums it up, I think. *snores*

In two weeks, I’ll review “Northanger Abbey.”

My Year with Jane Austen: “Mansfield Park” [1999]

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Movie: “Mansfield Park”

Release Year: 1999

Actors: Fanny – Frances O’Connor

Edmund – Jonny Lee Miller

Mary Crawford – Embeth Davidtz

Henry Crawford – Alessandro Nivola

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

This is probably the most interesting Jane Austen adaptation we’ve seen so far in this review series. For the most part (other than the modern re-imaginings, of course), the other movies have stuck pretty closely to their book counterparts. There are small changes here and there, extra lines added/removed, and various actors bringing their own flare to the characters, to varying levels of success. But while this movie does keep the main plot points included, it also makes some significant character changes and also heavily focuses on themes only briefly touched upon in the book, most notably, the role of the slave trade on British life during this time period.

I’ll dive more deeply into the character changes later, but both Fanny and Sir Thomas have some striking dissimilarities to their book versions. But the other big change is the focus on slavery and the growing abolitionist movement at the time. Right in the beginning of the movie as Fanny travels to Mansfield, she sees a slave ship docked on the coastline and is struck by it. Later, as an adult, she and Edmund discuss the abolitionist movement, with Edmund noting that while progress in that area is a moral good, their livelihoods are currently funded by the wealth provided by the Bertram family’s plantations in Antigua. For his part, Sir Thomas espouses some very racist and incorrect points of view at a family gathering, starting off a minor family scuffle when Edmund and Fanny attempt to correct him. And, of course, we later see the horrific actions that Sir Thomas has taken against his slaves depicted in Tom’s artwork. I’ll get more into Sir Thomas and these violent acts later, but I have a similar problem with that depiction as I do with some of this theme.

Mainly, the movie seems to be wanting to have it both ways: it wants to bring up this topic as one that would be relevant to the times and add a more meaningful weight to Edmund and Fanny’s discussion (the book largely focuses on nature and religion here), but the movie also doesn’t want to change anything significant about the story in this light. Meaning, there’s all of this discussion about the slave trade, but no characters actually make any meaningful steps or really change anything about their lives in response to this. This is likely realistic, it’s not like many nobles of the time were probably giving up their fortune in the work of moving towards freedom from the African people enslaved. But it also makes the movie end on a very awkward, unresolved note. It’s rather uncomfortable. Perhaps that was the point? But if so, even that fails to really settle with any weight.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

I have mixed feelings on this portrayal of Fanny Price. On one hand, I really like Frances O’Connor’s acting overall and think she fits the mental image I had of Fanny pretty perfectly. On the other hand, I think the character is really all over the place throughout the movie, sometimes being presented as a strong-willed, verging on rebellious young woman, and at others reverting back to the more meek and mild version of the character that we’re familiar with from the book.

One of the big challenges of adapting this book is Fanny herself. She’s an even more quiet and reserved character than Eleanor who also has Marianne to balance her out. So, I get that adjustments had to be made here. Edmund’s “grooming” of Fanny definitely doesn’t work for modern audiences. Nor does the fact that most of Fanny’s longer speeches (that she makes out loud at least) have to do with the wonders of nature, poetry, and the clergy. As I’ve mentioned in my review of the books, there are even times when Fanny seems to be suffering from some mild form of Stockholm Syndrome, especially with how thankful she is for Mrs. Norris’s constant reminders of how very, very lucky Fanny is to be in a family where she is largely ignored and otherwise put to work as a glorified maid service for the ladies of the house.

So, all of that acknowledged, I generally am ok with the changes they’ve made to Fanny here, especially when they emphasize her more wild moments (running around with Edmund, horse back riding, being more firm when she stands up to Sir Thomas about refusing Mr. Crawford). There is a bit of whiplash when she switches back to being meek/mild all of a sudden, but I get it.

The only real problem I have with her portrayal is the decision the movie makes to have her briefly accept Henry Crawford. Again, on one hand, I get the point the movie is trying to make about the very real, very scary situation facing women of the time. We see Fanny witness the life her mother has had after marrying the wrong man, essentially. She married for love, but it is clear that that love is gone and all that remains is a life marred with poverty and too many children. This could easily be Fanny’s future, and I like that they acknowledge these hard choices, especially in a Jane Austen film that, naturally, usually tells the much more romantic, lovely version of young women finding love and wealth (or at least good comfort) together.

I also think that this change can add a good balance point between Edmund and Fanny, which I’ll talk more about later. But strictly looking at it as a character adaptation from what we’re given in the book, this is the biggest change to Fanny’s character we see and one that undermines one of the most prevalent aspects of her entire character. Through the book, Fanny is largely a silent observer. But through access to her inner thoughts and the more revealing conersations we see between her and Edmund, it becomes very clear that Fanny is the only character who is truly clear-eyed about the people and events going on around her. She also is the only one to hold true to the principles she expresses. Edmund talks a good game, but he ultimately joins in the play (after very little prompting really) and is willfully blind to Mary Crawford’s true character. Most of the rest don’t even come close to his levels. By the end of the book, Austen devotes a decent amount of time to Sir Thomas reflecting on the failures of parenting that lead to his children being raised to look the part of well-bred individuals but who ultimately lacked the firm foundation that is required beneath it all to be truly moral or proper.

Fanny, alone, stands true to her beliefs. Even in Portsmouth where we see her struggling to get by in her family’s household (her health actually suffers), Fanny’s focus shifts to what she can bring to this family and she devotes much of her time to improving Susan. When Crawford visits, she sees his improvements as nothing more than a hopeful sign that he will soon recognize the pain he causes her by continuing to pursue her. She knows she doesn’t love him. Knows that a future with a character such as he is (one who she has witnessed toying with women) is questionable at best. If anything, for the book character at least, seeing the situation her mother is in also reinforces the idea that marrying the wrong man can have dire consequences, making Henry Crawford’s fortune not necessarily the assurance of comfort that it originally seems, from a purely practical sense.

The story is almost built around this essential trait of Fanny’s, and one that is presented as unique and rare to her, so to give that up in the movie is strange to say the least. And, given that she changes her mind the very next day, adding weight to Crawford’s accusations of her own inconstancy and lack of trustworthiness, I’m not quite sure what it really adds to the movie. Does it really give us any greater insights into Fanny herself? Into the situation women faced? All of that could have still been accomplished without undermining the steadiness that Fanny is later praised for. Edmund even calls it her “infallible guide”…but the movie itself just worked against such strong language or terms. I think I just wish the movie had done more with this moment. If they were really going to play around with such a key part of Fanny’s character (perhaps the key part of her character), I feel like more needed to be done to justify the change, either leading up to her making this decision or in the fallout. As it is, it feels unnecessary and both undermines Fanny herself and lends some extra motivation for Henry Crawford’s rash actions later on (though not much, and I’ll touch on that in the Villains section).

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Edmund is so much more likable in this movie than he is in the book. My love for Jonny Lee Miller has been well-established at this point, so of course, I credit his natural charisma as helping bring the character more forward as a hero. But we also simply see more heroic deeds from him. Or, at the very least, more romantic hero deeds from him. Unlike in the book, this version presents Edmund as half-aware of his interest in Fanny the entire time. The audience is never left to question whether Edmund has feelings for Fanny, it’s there from the beginning. It’s there when he mistakes his father’s praising of his choice in women, thinking of Mary Crawford, for Fanny herself. It’s there when, after Mary Crawford disheartens him about her views on the clergy, he demands the first two dances with Fanny instead of Mary. It’s there when we watch Edmund and Henry Crawford gaze after Fanny as she leaves the ball, clearly paralleling them both as interested parties. It’s there in strained words of missing her when he fetches her back home and then when we falls asleep on her shoulder. And it’s most especially there when he initiates their almost kiss in the middle of their middle-of-the-night encounter in Tom’s room (this, still, before Edmund had even heard Mary Crawford finally truly expose herself).

Miller’s version strikes a good balance between Edmund’s own moral sense while also making him believably young and naive enough to fall for a woman like Miss Crawford. His take on the character is very fresh-faced and wide-eyed. So while we see him giving good speeches on the quality of literature and concerns about the slave trade, it’s also easy enough to see him swayed over to being in a tawdry play and pursue Mary past the point of reason. In the end, it’s much easier to forgive him his nonsense for all the more good we’re given to continue liking him throughout this version.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

For a book that is already largely made up of villains, somehow the movie went and made more?? I’ll get into the Crawfords, of course, but one of the most major changes to this adaptation of the book is the striking character revision of Sir Thomas. In the book, he could be gruff at times, but was largely a benevolent character, often coming in second to Edmund as actually caring about Fanny’s needs. We see him arrange the ball for her largely out of genuine care for her and her brother. And even after she refuses Mr. Crawford and he speaks harshly to her, he follows this up directly with the action of making sure there is a fire in her room. From there, he does nothing but quietly discuss the situation with Edmund and resolve to let things play out as they will. The worst that can be said about him is that he becomes a bit neglectful when caught up in the family drama at the end, leaving Fanny to linger in Portsmouth.

Here, not the case. It’s actually a very uncomfortable change, overall. I’m not necessarily opposed to re-writing the character this way, but I’m not sure what purpose it ultimately served with how it’s done here. We don’t really need a reason to dislike this character as, like I’ve said, there are plenty of unlikable characters in this story. And even if they had left the character completely as is in this movie, harsher threats to Fanny and colder/creepier disposition overall, he would have been plenty unlikable. But then they add in the graphic nature of his treatment of the slaves at the plantation. The images Tom draws depict every sort of violence, up to and including sexual violence. And then…the movie never touches the topic again.

We’re left with a family who essentially goes on as is, with Fanny and Edmund interacting with everyone in the same manner as always, even going so far as to bring Fanny’s younger sister, Susan, into the household. In the book, this makes sense. With this type of character portrayal for Sir Thomas? There are some serious eyebrow raises about introducing a young woman into that situation, ones that you have to think the very moral and upright Fanny and Edmund (one has to assume she would tell him about this) would have serious concerns about. And then, beyond that, the movie fails completely to make any actual statement or rebuke of this character. It just…sits there. If you’re going to touch on this very real part of history, you have to actually do something with it. As it is, it’s almost worse than not acknowledging these harsh realities at all, since the movie introduces the topic but then does so little with it that it begins to feel exploitative and used for graphic thrills rather than adding any meaningful commentary. I have a big problem with it, ultimately.

For their part, the Crawford siblings are pretty similar to what we see in the book. I do like that we actually get to see the scene where Mary Crawford so thoroughly exposes herself as a terrible person. In the book, it’s kind of anticlimatic to just hear about it second hand through Edmund’s recounting to Fanny.

As for Henry Crawford, the casting here was perfect as I think he immediately sets of spidey-senses for most women as not a trustworthy guy. Too charming by half! His arc is influenced a bit, I think, by the changes they make to Fanny’s decision to briefly accept him only to promptly drop him again the very next day. Not that this disappointment in any ways justifies his or Maria’s actions. But it does paint the entire thing in a bit of a different light, since he’s clearly still reeling from this quick about-face. It also does add weight to his comment that Fanny is somehow the perfect example of trustworthiness. He’s right! She’s not, really, after this! It’s a very human thing she does, but he also has a point. In the book, there is really nothing pushing him towards Maria other than sheer boredom and ego. Here he does have a recently broken heart to somewhat explain his poor decision making. As far as his character arc goes, I’m fine with either option. I have more problems with what it does to Fanny’s character than his, really.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

As I discussed in the “Heroes” section, the romance is greatly increased in this version of “Mansfield Park.” The entire movie gives us ample evidence that Fanny’s love is requited but that Edmund is just too much of a dunderhead to really put it all together. Really, there’s almost more on the screen highlighting Edmund’s love of Fanny than the other way around. We know it to be true since Fanny pretty much confesses as much, but he has many more actions and lingering looks to his side of things (probably a testament to the director/writers knowing who the main audience will likely be composed of…).

In some ways, Edmund and Fanny are more balanced together in this version as well. I know it’s been some fan’s complaints that it seems that Fanny is essentially Edmund’s reward at the end of the book for getting through the trials that were Mary Crawford. In my review of the book, I argued that it is the opposite: that Edmund is Fanny’s reward for staying true to her principles in the face of everything. Here, we see them both stumble. Edmund, of course, still pursues Mary Crawford (though the near kiss with Fanny does introduce a question into whether he’d have gone through with that relationship even if Mary hadn’t sabotaged herself). He still even has the line about not being able to picture anyone as his wife but for Mary (harder to buy that line in a movie like this that only shortly before had him confusing his father’s compliments on his choice of a potential bride for Fanny instead of Mary…tell me again how he couldn’t picture anyone else as a bride??) But here, we also see Fanny stumble, briefly giving into fear of a poor future to accept Henry Crawford, if only for one night. I talked more about that in the Heroines section, but I think the decision itself plays best when viewed through the romance angle, as one that makes equals, equally flawed at least, out of our main couple.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

The movie definitely adds in more comedy to the proceedings, making it, in some ways, feel more like a Jane Austen story that the original book did itself. There’s a great little montage right after the family party meets the Crawfords where we go through each individual primping and prepping themselves, all clearly besotted in one way or another with the two new comers. Some of Mrs. Norris’s nastiness is hedged a bit more for laughs, though she’s still generally just an awful person. And Fanny and Edmund’s interactions are often tinged with a lighter note as well than they were in the books. Wisely, the director and writers steered well-clear of giving too many impressions of Edmund’s “molding” Fanny as she grew, something that is often referenced in the book but that means something very different to modern audiences than it would have at the time.

Mr. Rushworth is definitely the primary humorous character. He’s great from start to finish. He doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but the actor really makes the most of even the brief appearances we do see. He bumbles about, seemingly only half aware of his surroundings at any given moment, clearly ignorant of his fiance’s contempt. His bragging about his number of speeches and costume changes to the baffled Sir Thomas (this, on their first meeting!) is pure gold. And, of course, we get to actually see the morning where Maria and Crawford are discovered to be missing. In some ways, seeing the reality of the situation settle on poor Mr. Rushworth does more to really highlight the wrongness of the situation than what we got in the book. Silly he may be, but here we get to actually see the human cost of two selfish individuals and their thoughtless actions.

And, of course, the movie kept in my favorite comedic moment from the book: when Lady Bertram is clearly sleeping through all of the action and startles awake only to quickly protest that she was not, in fact sleeping.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Not only does Jonny Lee Miller play two Jane Austen heroes (something that I believe he is unique to?), he also had already played a character in a “Mansfield Park” adaptation before being cast as Edmund here. He played one of Fanny’s younger brothers in the 1983 mini-series version of the story.

This Fanny Price is partially modeled after Jane Austen herself, with Fanny working as an aspiring author. Some of the bits of writing she reads in the movie come from Austen’s own early work as a teenager.

The actresses who play young Fanny and young Susan are sisters in real life.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

Thought this one was pretty good:

In two weeks, I’ll the 2007 version of “Mansfield Park.”