My Year with Jane Austen: “Sanditon” [2019]

I could probably continue on an entire extra year reviewing various adaptations and interpretations of Jane Austen’s works. There are plays, spin-off books, modern adaptations, the list goes on and on. Every year it seems there is a new version coming out in some form or another and this last year was no exception. Not only did we get a new feature film of “Emma” but the BBC also released an 8-part mini series of Austen’s unfinished work “Sanditon.” So I wanted to briefly touch on my thoughts of both those and to add in one other adaptation that has been a favorite of mine for quite a while, “Death Comes to Pemberley,” both the book and the 3-part mini series.

Mini-Series: “Sanditon”

I promise I’ll leave a positive review for one of these “extra” Jane Austen reviews that I’m doing in January. Alas, like “Emma” [2020], this is not one of them. Unlike “Emma,” however, I am more in-line with the general reception of this mini series. All and all, I think most Jane Austen fans were supremely disappointed by it, not least because of how it ends. Let’s dive into my complaints, shall we?

(NOTE: There will be spoilers in this review.)

The whole thing starts from a false premise: that there’s even a story here to adapt. Austen had only written eleven chapters of this story before her death. For reference, Emma has fifty-five chapters, so by comparison, eleven chapters is only scratching the surface of whatever story Austen had in mind. All we really get from these opening chapters is the introduction of our heroine, Charlotte, her relocation to an up-and-coming beach town called “Sanditon,” and the arrival of a potential love interest in the form of the fashionable Sidney Parker. Story-wise, it’s not much. There are the typical cast of side characters as well, but not much as far as clues to Austen’s overarching plot or themes. In most ways, she’s just finished setting the scene and not much else. It was always going to be a fool’s errand to try to expand that out into a mini series and to call it a “Jane Austen adaptation” is really pushing the limits of that term.

Perhaps in the right hands a compelling story could have been made. But sadly, this mini series ain’t that. It falls into too many traps that many modern adaptations risk and, at its heart, seems to miss the overall tone and heart that makes up all Jane Austen stories. To most fans’ chagrin, the story succumbs to the inane need of modern series to be “gritty” and “push the limits.” There are overtly sexual scenes in the very first episode (some of them even bizarrely going a very “Game of Thrones” route, none the less…). And many, if not most, of the characters introduced are supremely unlikable. For some reason, it seems that many directors and screenwriters often confuse writing a character with layers and depth with just writing supreme jerks, and we see plenty examples of it here. The romantic interest is immediately an a-hole to Charlotte, and not in the endearing, prideful “Darcy-esque” way that is the only acceptable form of this behavior in an Austen story.

Gone is the joy. Gone is the wit. And, worst of all, gone is the happy ending. It seems as if the director intentionally ended the series this way in a fit of over-confidence that the series would be picked up for a second season. Indeed, this is the only acceptable reason for ending an Austen story this way. There are plenty of historical fiction stories to be told where the happy, romantic conclusion is not a given. But those are not the stories that Austen wrote. She even said it herself, “let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.”

Every Austen fan who went into this series happily hoping to get one last shot at a new Austen story would have had this one, simple expectation: that the hero and heroine would end up together and happy at the end. Whatever happened from the start to the finish was open for exploration and interpretation. But this ending was a must. Instead, the series not only denies our hero and heroine this happiness, but it essentially resets the story by sending Charlotte back home where her future is once again limited and likely dull. I’ll be blunt: this ending is inexcusable for a Jane Austen adaption and, apart from any other stumbling blocks (of which there were many) would be enough to write this entire thing off on its own.

Unlike “Emma,” which I think I disliked for fairly subjective reasons but is sure to please many fans, this mini series really has nothing to recommend it, as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps for general historical fiction fans it would be an ok watch. But any fan of Jane Austen should simply steer clear, as “Jane Austen” this is not.

My Year with Jane Austen: “Emma” [2020]

I could probably continue on an entire extra year reviewing various adaptations and interpretations of Jane Austen’s works. There are plays, spin-off books, modern adaptations, the list goes on and on. Every year it seems there is a new version coming out in some form or another and this last year was no exception. Not only did we get a new feature film of “Emma” but the BBC also released an 8-part mini series of Austen’s unfinished work “Sanditon.” So I wanted to briefly touch on my thoughts of both those and to add in one other adaptation that has been a favorite of mine for quite a while, “Death Comes to Pemberley,” both the book and the 3-part mini series.

Movie: “Emma” [2020]

While I didn’t get to have the “in theater” experience that I wanted to honor the release of a new version of one of my favorite Austen books, I made quite sure to watch it as soon as possible at home. I had made sure to avoid reading any reviews or commentaries about the movie, though I did have the impression that it was generally very well received by Austen fans and the general public. So I went in optimistic.

Unfortunately, this one didn’t hit home for me. It wasn’t a complete flop by any means, and there were new interpretations and takes on the story that I genuinely appreciated. I thought it was really interesting how focused the movie was on the oddness of life for the super rich in this time period. We have Emma pointing out flowers to be cut by a maid following meekly behind her. And we even have Mr. Knightley, arguably the most self-sufficient character we’re given in the entire story, sitting around being intimately dressed by servants. It’s both incredibly awkward but also humorous in just how absurd it feels.

But I also really struggled with several aspects of this film. For one, I didn’t fall in love with the cast. Anya Taylor-Joy is clearly a talented actress, but for me, she came across as too cold for Emma. Because of Emma’s repeated mistakes and blunders, her immediate charm and appeal are crucial to forming a strong attachment between the audience and the character. For me, Taylor-Joy’s version was simply too aloof and distant-feeling to really capture that immediate sense of sympathy that is necessary to make Emma a character you want to root for. I also struggled with Johnny Flynn’s Knightley, though this was mostly because he simply looked to young and to close to Emma’s age more than anything having to do with his actual acting.

From there, I mainly struggled with some strange story choices that movie made. I didn’t like the weird scene after the ball where Knightley runs after Emma, seemingly on the verge of confessing feelings (feelings that she, too, seems to be expecting to hear about when waiting at home). It doesn’t go anywhere, but the scene itself really messes with the progression of this relationship as it implies that Emma is aware of Knightley’s feelings (and returns them to some extent) much earlier in the story. Plus, Mr. Knightley may be an active sort of gentleman, but he doesn’t literally run around town chasing after a woman.

I also really didn’t like the final romantic scene with the nose bleed. This movie was largely praised for how comedic it was, but this scene highlighted just how wrong I think this approach was. Yes, “Emma” is a comedy and any good adaption will hone in on the humorous aspects of the story. But what I absolutely DON’T want is to have that humor intrude on and break up the big romantic climax of the story. The tone during this scene is all over the place and seems to be deliberately cutting the legs out from under the romance that is supposed to be the culmination of a slow build developed throughout the entire movie up to this point. It was incredibly frustrating and resulted in me ending the entire movie with a fairly sour taste in my mouth.

My husband actually really likes “Emma,” (the 2009 version, at least) so there’s a good chance I’ll end up re-watching this version with him at some point. I’m curious to see if my experience of the film will be different with my expectations set a bit lower. I don’t see it ever replacing my beloved 2009 version, but I’d like to see if I can discover what appealed to so many others with a re-watch. If you enjoyed it, please share your thoughts in the comments (or if you didn’t like it, too, of course!)

In two weeks, I’ll review “Sanditon.”

Serena’s Review: “Bridgerton Collection”

Book: “Bridgerton Collection: Volume One” by Julia Quinn

Publishing Info: Kindle Edition, May 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: own the e-book

Book Description: The first three Bridgerton books all in one e-book volume! Includes The Duke and I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, and An Offer From a Gentleman.

Set between 1813 and 1827, the Bridgerton Series is a collection of eight novels, each featuring one of the eight children of the late Viscount Bridgerton.

I’m going to do a quick mini-review for all three books in this series. I’ve reviewed a couple random books by Julia Quinn on this blog over the years, but I’ve jumped all over the place from random books in this main series to ones from the prequel series, etc. But with the Netflix show just coming out, I thought it was high time to at least familiarize myself with the first three in the correct order so that when I watched the show I wouldn’t be completely lost. Because obviously I was going to watch the show! Historical romance?? Yes, please!

The Duke and I

So I had actually read this, the first book in the series, once before years ago. I didn’t remember much about it except that, unfortunately, I had rated it fairly low on Goodreads at the time. I went in with some skepticism. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a great start to my read through of these first books in the series, and my original rating wasn’t far off for how I would rate this book now.

The strengths of Quinn’s writing is clear, and it’s easy to understand how she has become one of the most popular romance authors of the time. This book completes its most important edict: it sets the stage for a million and a half sequels, creates an interesting window in this version of British society, and has quick, snappy writing that move the story along.

Unfortunately, the actual story in this book and especially its heroine and hero’s relationship was a huge let down. Each were very toxic in their own ways, and I’m not one for throwing that word around lightly. There are some extreme inconsistencies in how knowledgeable Daphne is about certain aspects of life that stretch the point of believability to its breaking point. And the great “conflict” between the Simon and Daphne leads to each treating the other in very despicable ways, with Daphne committing a pretty unforgivable crime against Simon. I’m sure this wasn’t the intent of the author with this scene, but it’s definitely how it reads and how it would (and should!) be understood. As our first two paired up grouping, I’m sure we’ll see more of Simon and Daphne on the sidelines in other books, but I’ll try to just put this one behind me. I’m also really curious how they’ll play this particular relationship in the Netflix adaptation.

Rating 6: A good start to the series, but the horrid actions of both the hero and the heroine really drops it down.

“The Viscount Who Loved Me”

First things first: this second book was a great improvement on the first. While I still had some problems with the hero, Anthony (the Bridgerton in this little story), the heroine, Kate, was vastly better than Daphne. Not only was she not bizarrely ignorant of some pretty basic facts of life, she also didn’t assault her husband. So there’s that. But beyond all of that, Kate is just a fun character. She’s spunky, smart, and a fun character to follow through this story.

Anthony takes a bit more time to warm up. For one thing, he’s presented as the go-to historical romance leading man character type: a rake. I could probably write an entire thesis on why this type of character seems to dominate these books and why most of them get it wrong, but I’ll resist. To sum up, Mr. Darcy is considered the epitome of romance heroes, and I think many authors confuse the appeal that comes from his being a catch due to his lack of interest with the idea that rakes are a decent sit-in as they, too, have no interest in love and marriage. Big difference being that Mr. Darcy didn’t have a reputation for toying with women’s hearts. But enough on that. Anthony’s rake-ness is part of his problem, as is the fact that he has some pretty unappealing ideas about the relationship between husbands and wives initially. Thankfully, he seems to work through that and does end up being a likeable enough character.

What stood out the most about this book was the dialogue. Maybe it was just the nature of the story, Kate’s trying to spare her sister from the devious rake, but there was a lot of snappy, fun interchanges between our leading lady and leading man. There were several moments where I chuckled out loud, which was a nice reminder of why I’ve liked other books by this author in the past. Overall, I’m much more excited to see this relationship play out on the show than the first one.

Rating 8: Much better than the first, but still marked down for the hero being kind of an ass for a good chunk of the first half.

“An Offer from a Gentleman”

This book was a bit different than the two that came before it. As the cover implies, it’s a very loose re-telling of Cinderella. Sophie is an illegitimate daughter who meets our her, Benedict Bridgerton, at a ball where she’s undercover as a true lady. Sparks fly. Two years later, the two meet again, but Benedict doesn’t recognize his lady love in the servant girl before him. An intriguing enough premise and a fun twist on the more traditional retellings out there.

I, again, liked the heroine, Sophie, better than the hero (I guess Daphne goes down as the worst of the three). She was earnest and stood up for herself well enough given the situation (I’ll touch on that when I get to Benedict). But she also kept unnecessary secrets that created a bunch of angst and drama for no good reason. I always struggle with these types of narrative mechanisms that are clearly put in there to move the story one way or another but defy any understanding. There’s no good reason for Sophie to keep these secrets other than the fact that it creates the drama and fallout the author was looking for.

And Benedict. Oh, Benedict. He’s probably my least favorite hero of the three we’ve seen. When he meets Sophie again, he pressures her to be his mistress or a servant in his house. And when I say pressure, I mean he puts the screws to her over it. It’s pretty obnoxious. And from there, he goes on to warn her that somehow it is her responsibility to head him off early because if he gets too, um, excited, he wouldn’t be able to stop. Nope! Don’t like that! Throughout it all, he’s pretty self-absorbed and unable to understand Sophie or her motives. Even when the truth is revealed, somehow Benedict is the injured party in all of this. I hope the show makes some big improvements on this particular story. Well, this one and the first one.

Rating 7: Not as bad as the first one, but the hero had some big problems and the heroine created unnecessary drama.

My Year with Jane Austen: “Persuasion” [2007]

Movie: “Persuasion”

Release Year: 2007

Actors: Anne Elliot – Sally Hawkins

Captain Wentworth – Rupert Penry-Jones

Mr. Elliot – Tobias Menzies

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

I really like this adaptation of “Persuasion.” I think it captures the overall tone of the book really well, and introduces a useful trick of the having Anne journal throughout the story to get at the deeper, emotional points of her story. Really, the book is all about the emotional arcs for both of our main characters. The actual events taking place around them are almost secondary. So between having the inner monologue from Anne showing her feelings throughout and the inclusion of more scenes of Wentworth on his own, we get a much better progression of this aspect of the story.

I also think the casting was much, much better here than in the 1995 version. Other than perhaps Mrs. Croft who I preferred in the older movie (though I have no problems with the Mrs. Croft here either), I liked every secondary actor they used here better than the ones from that movie. I think I also like the Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones better, too, but I didn’t have a problem with the other actors there either. I particularly think they improved on the casting for Sir Walter and Elizabeth (they do away with the silly emotional outbursts that the other movie did), the two Musgrove sisters (Louisa seems more lively and a better fit for the character described in the book), and Captain Benwick. The Benwick we see here is all the emo-esque, dour young man that we’d expect. While it’s a fairly significant change to the story, I thought it also worked well having Anne and Benwick have the conversation about men, women, and loving longest. It fit in really well with their general conversation about morose poetry.

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

I really like Sally Hawkins’ version of Anne in this adaptation. Unlike the 1995 version, this Anne is clearly a do-er from the very beginning and comes across as less withdrawn overall. She’s first introduced as busy at work taking stock of the house and preparing it to be let. While her father and sister laze around, Anne is the one actually getting things done. This idea is quickly reinforced with the way this movie tackles the injury to Mary’s son. Anne quickly jumps in and diagnoses the problem, a disjointed collar bone, and then just as quickly fixes it. I’m not sure how realistic this is, really, but I think it serves a good purpose of distinguishing Anne’s character as someone who puts others before herself, is very humble, etc. (all the things that would lead her to turn Wentworth away originally), but is also ready and able to jump in when she sees a need. This then neatly sets up her later actions during Louisa’s fall.

I also like what she does with the journaling/breaking of the third wall with the camera. It’s kind of a tough thing to sell, having to look directly at the camera to express deeper emotions. It’s all well and good to pull a Jim from “The Office” and roll your eyes at the camera all the time for humorous effect. Hawkins has to express heartbreak and all of its stages while staring directly at a camera. Seems really challenging, but I think she does a good job. It really helps tell Anne’s story. As so much of it is internal and deeply personal, it’s a hard thing to convey in a movie. I don’t think the 1995 version quite managed it. But this method works well, though I think in a lesser actress’s hands it could also have gone very badly.

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

I also like Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth. He doesn’t quite have the same grizzled look of a Navy sea captain that Ciaran Hinds brought to the role, but I think he also fits better to the immediate, natural charm that Wentworth was described as having. It’s easy to see why everyone around him would be immediately taken in by him. He also does a good job of balancing the humor and good manners that would attract the Musgrove girls while also giving brief glimpses into the lingering anger and hurt feelings that still bubble just below the surface whenever he’s around Anne. It’s played in just the right way that the viewer feels like only they and Anne would really catch the double-meaning behind some of his looks and words.

I also really like how this movie devotes a good amount of time to showing us scenes between Captain Wentworth and Captain Harville that give us even more insight into Wentworth’s mindset. We see the moment he realizes he may have trapped himself into an engagement with Louisa and all the horror that comes with it. And we also get a great scene later between these two when he goes on about his awakening to his true feelings about Anne. I think this was a big improvement on the way the 1995 version handled Wentworth’s story. There, his change of heart kind of seemed to come out of nowhere. Here we get to see the progression and get to use a lot more of the romantic statements and sentiments that Wentworth expresses in the book (there most of it comes out in the final few chapters after the two have reconciled, but I think it works better in a movie the way they do it here).

There’s also a really small moment where Captain Wentworth first introduces Anne to Captain Harville as “Miss Elliot.” Harville than clarifies, “Anne Elliot?” making it pretty clear that Wentworth has talked to Harville about her in the past. It’s these small things that I think really bolster this version.

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

While I think that Tobias Menzies does a good job as Mr. Elliot, he’s definitely one of those actors who is type cast into villain roles. Anyone familiar with the actor can pretty easily guess that whenever he shows up, he’s not going to be a great guy. He does have good chemistry with Sally Hawkins, however, and plays up the charm of this character very well. I think there’s also something particularly unctuous about his version of the character that makes the reveal of his motives very understandable. Unlike the 1995 version, this movie sticks with the idea that he’s only really in it for the title. It’s a harder sell to modern audiences, but I think Menzies’ version of the character sells this idea pretty well. It’s easy enough to believe that he’d be all in on getting his hands on a title like this.

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

I also like the romance in this movie. It feels like we get a lot more of it, being more privy to Anne’s inner thoughts and seeing/hearing more from Wentworth. It’s also interesting that this movie chose to include the scene with Wentworth asking Anne about whether she and Mr. Elliot will want the Crofts to move out when they become married. It’s a scene that wasn’t in the book but was added in the 1995 movie. I think it works even better here, since Anne at least as the presence of mine to more clearly refute these rumors about her and Mr. Elliot.

Unfortunately, this then leads into one of the more ridiculous sequences in the movie where Anne runs around Bath trying to chase down Captain Wentworth. It’s a bit much. She starts out running, gets caught up by Mrs. Smith who shares the truth about Mr. Elliot. Then she runs some more. And some more. Then she gets the letter from Captain Wentworth delivered by Captain Harville. Then she reads it and, you guessed, it runs some more. I think the point is to illustrate how determined she has become in the years since she was persuaded to give him up, but it becomes a bit over the top. It isn’t then helped by the ridiculous kissing scene where it takes like 30 seconds for the two to actually get there. It’s pretty awkward, really, and I’m not sure why they went this route.

It’s definitely a change from the book and probably not that believable (who really thinks that Sir Walter would sell his home to a Navy captain?), but I do like the last scene where Wentworth surprises Anne with the purchase of her home. Throughout the movie, we’ve seen that Anne values her family’s home much more than the rest of them do, so it’s a nice little button on this aspect of the story to have the happy couple settle there in the end.

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

Sir Walter is both funny and horrible in this version. I think the actor pretty perfectly captured the casual snobbery of the character, and his delivery on some of the classic lines (like the shrubberies being approachable) is great. And then to later see him and Elizabeth tripping all over themselves to be introduced to the Dalyrimples. Good stuff.

I also really liked Mary in this version. She’s sniveling and silly which just offsets her moments of extreme pride all the better. I particularly like the scene towards the end where she arrives in Bath and declares it to be her last hope. And then, with a burst of pure energy and healthy, jumps in to say hello to her father and invite herself to a dinner party. She also is very easy to dislike, especially in the scene where she’s essentially whining her way into Anne’s role as nursemaid to Louisa, yet again claiming that it is all due to “her condition.”

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

Tobias Menzies and Joseph Mawle (Captain Harville) appeared on “Game of Thrones.” I obviously recognized Menzies (yet again playing an unlikable character in that show), but I didn’t recognize Mawle as Benjen Stark.

Anne’s costuming is deliberately left simple in Bath to reflect the fact that she dislike the city and does not actively join into society or embrace the culture there.

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

I like the little moments like this that highlight the ongoing tension between the two throughout throughout the movie.

This rounds out my official year of reviewing Jane Austen books/adaptations. I’m planning one bonus post in two weeks, however, to cover a few other adaptations that didn’t make the list for full reviews.

My Year with Jane Austen: “Persuasion” [1995]

Movie: “Persuasion”

Release Year: 1995

Actors: Anne Elliot – Amanda Root

Captain Wentworth – Ciaran Hinds

Mr. Elliot – Samuel West

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

My mom always loved “Persuasion,” and as this was the most recent adaptation she had, we all watched it quite a bit as kids. But as an adult, the 2007 version came out, and for better or worse, that’s been my go-to over the years. I hadn’t actually re-watched this one for who knows how long. So it was interesting watching it again after all of this time, after having re-read the book so recently, and with having a very clear memory of the 2007 version in my head the entire time.

Overall, I think it’s a fairly faithful adaptation of the book. I think it particularly shines with its casting of our two main characters. But I think it also struggles the most with casting for almost every other character. Other than the Crofts (I particularly liked the actress who played Mrs. Croft), I felt like almost everyone was miscast in one way or another. The Musgrove girls both felt more bland, less lively, and not as engaging as they are described as being in the book. Sir Walter’s vanity seems to be mainly reflected in this penchant for wearing weirdly flowerly suits, but the actor himself wasn’t very good looking. Elizabeth was not only not as good looking as one would expect her to be, but her characterization seemed all wrong, with her having temper flare-ups all over the place that weren’t reflective of anything in the book. Captain Benwick seemed cast as a more bumbling, comical figure than the angsty, emo-ish man the book describes. It was all very odd and off-putting. But at least Anne and Captain Wentworth were good!

The movie is definitely dated feeling, but overall I liked the scenery and sets. There were a few strange camera angles and shots that I don’t think added much, but overall, I think it was pretty well-done. Having now watched it after all of these years, I think I can appreciate it more than I did as a kid (but that’s also just my general greater appreciation for the story “Persuasion” tells), but, in the end, I’m pretty sure I’ll still end up preferring the 2007 version.

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

As I said, I like the two main characters’ casting the most of anyone in the movie. That said, however, I don’t find even them to be pitch perfect as we’ve seen other actors do for past adaptations. Amanda Root is fairly good, overall, but I do think she comes across a bit to mousy and reserved, especially in the first half of the movie. I’ve made a lot of comparisons between Anne Elliot and Fanny Price in these reviews, and I have another one here: Root’s Anne initially comes across as more like Fanny than Anne. I do like how the movie shows this change cove over here. Not only do they make adjustments to her costuming and and hairstyle to emphasize her “renewed bloom,” but we see her standing up for herself more with her father and even in the face of Wentworth’s rudeness at the concert. But, initially, I think they erred too far into the mousy, reserved-ness of it all. She also simply looks older than she should be. I mean, I get that 27 was considered past prime in those days, but still…it’s only 27!

Root is definitely at her best during the conversation regarding men, women, and who loves longest. I liked her delivery and the entire conversation and scene played out very well. She also does an excellent job with her reaction to the letter and the sudden meeting with Wentworth later. (Notably, these last scenes are also the weaker/weirder ones from the 2007 version.)

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

As a kid, part of my problem with this movie was that I just couldn’t get behind Ciaran Hinds as a romantic hero. My other comparisons at this point were Hugh Grant from “Sense and Sensibility” and, most importantly, Colin Firth from “Pride and Prejudice.” I still don’t particularly finds Hinds that good looking (plus I can’t stop seeing him as the “King Beyond the Wall” from “Game of Thrones” now). But I will say that this was one of my biggest surprises when re-watching it now. He really manages to lay on the charm in the first half of the movie, neatly capturing Wentworth’s charisma in a way that I hadn’t remembered. He also has the rough and tumble looks of an active Navy captain which I think fits the part particularly well.

I do think he overplayed the part a bit at the concert, however. I’m not sure if this was really Hinds fault though, as the lines were pretty harsh on their own. This is already Wentworth at his most petty (to have this kind of momentary tantrum over the barest hint of Anne being pursued by another man, after Wentworth has supposedly come to his senses about things). But in the movie they really play it up. Wentworth is almost aggressively rude to Anne, and one almost has to wonder at her ability to continue after him when he’s like this.

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

They make some strange choices with Elizabeth here. Not only does the actress they cast not really fit the physical description of Elizabeth as a poised, beautiful woman, even in her *gasp* upper 20s, but they revamp her entire personality. She is initially portrayed as lazy and silly, eating candies while they discuss the future of the estate. And then when we meet her again at Bath, she as full-on anger flare ups at unexpected moments, yelling at Anne and generally making a scene. Not only does this not hold true to the book, but I’m not sure what purpose it serves. Anne’s being ignored, forgotten, and taken advantage of are all there in the book and here. There’s no reason to add her being the victim of her sister’s verbal abuse to the list. Plus it again undermines the respected role that she and her father are supposed to have in society. We, the readers/viewers, are getting behind the scenes information, but there’s never meant to be any reason to suspect that the Elliots don’t move smoothly through society. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone who behaves as Elizabeth does here would get a pass with that.

The movie also makes a change with Mr. Elliot. Here, when Mrs. Smith relays her inside information on his motives, Mr. Elliot is in fact broke and that’s why he’s so concerned with retaining his role as heir to the family estate. It’s a fairly understandable change, as his obsession with the role of titles is a bit harder to fully convey to modern audiences. Going broke is easy to get on board with. The actor they cast here also doesn’t really sit right with me. There’s nothing overtly wrong with this casting, but he’s also simply not very memorable. The moments in Lyme where he admires Anne barely strike any sort of note, and if you weren’t familiar with the story, I’m not sure would even come across as anything. It isn’t helped that Wentworth’s reaction to the first meeting is barely recognizable as a reaction at all.

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

I thought the romance was pretty good in this adaption. I especially liked some of the small moments in the first half, like the way the handled Wentworth quickly giving up his seat at the piano when he saw Anne approaching, and his move to make sure Anne had a ride home with the Crofts after the long walk. They also add some stilted lines in the carriage ride back home after Louisa’s fall that hint at Wentworth’s slow realization of Anne’s true character and his own silliness.

The movie does make an odd choice with regards to the conversation between the two regarding Benwick’s quick engagement to Louisa. In the book, it’s Wentworth’s statements during this conversation at this first meeting in Bath that first give Anne hope. It also gives her the courage and motivation to approach him so directly at the concert that evening. Here, her sudden confidence and willingness to pursue him don’t really feel based in any actual change. It’s like she just suddenly decided to go after him, without ever having had any hints of a change of heart on his behalf. And then he gets so rude when leaving, it’s very strange.

The movie also adds a scene where Wentworth approaches Anne later with a message from the Crofts about giving up their rental of Kellynch Hall if/when she becomes engaged to Mr. Elliot. It’s an interesting addition (so interesting, in fact, that the 2007 version of the story also included a scene like this), but it also doesn’t seem to really go anywhere. Anne stumbles through the exchange, not being as clear with her position with Mr. Elliot as she could/should be. And then it leads into a strange, brief exchange where Wentworth and Lady Russell exchange harsh words.

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

There are a few good comedic moments in this movie. For one thing, I like that they included a funny set of cut-scenes at the Musgroves’ showing a revolving group of characters all confiding their complaints about others to Anne. It’s a small moment in the book, but I’m glad they were able to fit it in here.

For her part, Mary is is hitting all the right notes in her role. She plays up the sickness angle well in the beginning, and then we get a really funny little moment during the walk. Anne and Mary stay behind to wait for Charles and Henrietta to visit the Hayters. They are each sitting on a log, but Mary complains that her side is wet. She gets up to wander around a bit, and then returns and causally informs Anne that it’d probably be best if she moved over into the wet spot so that she, Mary, could have Anne’s seat. And Anne just silently does it.

This adaptation also includes the final scene at the Elliot’s party, after Anne and Wentworth have reconciled and gotten engaged. It’s a rather strange little scene, and I think a bit unrealistic in that Captain Wentworth just strides in and, in front of everyone, announces that he and Anne are to be married and they’d like Sir Walter’s blessing. But it does lead to the funny line of Sir Walter looking completely bewildered and blurting out “Anne? But whatever for?”

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

This movie was originally made for TV and aired on the BBC. because of that, it had a low budget and used natural lighting throughout and even re-used the final shot of Captain Wentworth’s ship from the movie “The Bounty.” The movie was later released theatrically.

The actress who played Lady Russell passed away 5 months after the movie was released on TV and only a few days after its theatrical release. On a weird side note, I thought the actresses who played Lady Russell and Mrs. Croft looked too alike. They were both styled the same and had similar hair colors, cuts, and general face shapes. I was actually confused in the first scene with the Crofts viewing Anne’s home because I couldn’t figure out why Lady Russell was walking around with the Colonel.

Victoria Hamilton, who plays Henrietta here, goes on to play Maria in the 1999 version of “Mansfield Park.” I think she was much better cast in that role than this, though this one is also very minor and she has hardly any lines.

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

I guess he can be fairly attractive…

In two weeks, I’ll review the 2007 version of “Persuasion.”

Serena’s Review: “The Luckiest Lady in London”

Book: “The Luckiest Lady in London” by Sherry Thomas

Publishing Info: Berkley Sensation, November 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: Felix Rivendale, the Marquess of Wrenworth, is The Ideal Gentleman, a man all men want to be and all women want to possess. Felix himself almost believes this golden image. But underneath is a damaged soul soothed only by public adulation.

Louisa Cantwell needs to marry well to support her sisters. She does not, however, want Lord Wrenworth—though he seems inexplicably interested in her. She mistrusts his outward perfection and the praise he garners everywhere he goes. But when he is the only man to propose at the end of the London season, she reluctantly accepts.

Louisa does not understand her husband’s mysterious purposes, but she cannot deny the pleasure her body takes in his touch. Nor can she deny the pull this magnetic man exerts upon her. But does she dare to fall in love with a man so full of dark secrets, anyone of which could devastate her, if she were to get any closer?

Review: Yes, this is what it looks like. I’m reviewing a straight up historical romance novel. Pretty outside of my typical genres, but I’ve loved everything by Sherry Thomas that I’ve read, and I knew that she had started out as a historical romance author. So I wanted to go back and see what some of her earlier work was like when she was primarily publishing in this genre. I found this one kind of on a whim, and overall, I liked it pretty well and can definitely see the foundations of the traits in Thomas’s writing that I like in her other genres of writing.

Going into her first season, Louisa has one goal and one goal only: snag a rich husband to help support her family. She knows she’s not the most beautiful woman in society nor the most rich, but she’s made a study of how to succeed in London society. So with surgical precision, she goes to work. What she doesn’t expect is to draw the attention of “The Perfect Gentleman,” a Lord Wrenworth that ladies have been trying to capture for years. But she distrusts this outward appearance of perfect and is more than bewildered when his is the only proposal she receives after months in society. Now going into a marriage where the attraction is clear but the motives less so, Louisa must uncover the truth of Lord Wrenworth and discover just how “perfect” this man could be.

I feel like even if I didn’t know Thomas was the author of this book, I would have been able to guess. She has a certain way of writing her characters that is very distinctive. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it…Many of her heroes and heroines are very level-headed, have an analytical approach to life, and coolly asses those around them. There are very few emotional outbursts, and the ones they do have, are often shrouded in cold wit more than anything else. And yet, for these traits being fairly universal in the books I’ve read, all of her characters have still felt unique and new.

I really liked Louisa in this book. Her approach to a London season has many elements that I can see were drawn upon when creating Charlotte Holmes. She tackles the entire thing like a scientific experiment. The right dress here, the correct, bland smile there, some clearly targeted prospects who meet her criteria, regardless of personal looks or charm. And yet, we also see Louisa rattled by Lord Wrenworth. But even here, she rises to the challenge in some very unexpected ways. She doesn’t understand her own attraction to him, but she refuses to be shamed by it or let him use it against her. It’s an interesting dynamic.

Lord Wrenworth is more your typical romance hero. Perfect on the outside with all the brooding issues on the inside that come out at the worst times. I liked the backstory that Thomas gives for him, as I think it goes further to explain his lapses than other romantic heroes I’ve read in the past. But he still falls into the same pitfalls that often frustrate me with this genre. Just get over yourself! And quit hurting the woman you can’t admit you love for whatever reason!

Most of the typical romance beats are hit here, so what mostly stood out for me was Thomas’s strong writing. But I can also see has she’s grown as an author since producing this. The ending is fairly abrupt and the reconciliation seems to come out of nowhere a bit. I was happy enough with the conclusion, but still smarting a bit on Louisa’s behalf. If you like historical romances, this is probably worth checking out. But I wasn’t enamored enough that I feel the need to make my way through all of Thomas’s other romance novels.

Rating 7: Good for what it is with especially strong characters, but still follows a fairly standard romance plotline.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Luckiest Lady in London” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Historical Romances – Married Couples and Lords, Dukes, Rakes…Oh My!.

Find “The Luckiest Lady in London” at your library using WorldCat!

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.

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.

Serena’s Review: “The Awakening”

Book: “The Awakening” by Nora Roberts

Publishing Info: November 24, 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: When Breen Kelly was a girl, her father would tell her stories of magical places. Now she’s an anxious twentysomething mired in student debt and working a job she hates. But one day she stumbles upon a shocking discovery: her mother has been hiding an investment account in her name. It has been funded by her long-lost father—and it’s worth nearly four million dollars.

This newfound fortune would be life-changing for anyone. But little does Breen know that when she uses some of the money to journey to Ireland, it will unlock mysteries she couldn’t have imagined. Here, she will begin to understand why she kept seeing that silver-haired, elusive man, why she imagined his voice in her head saying Come home, Breen Siobhan. It’s time you came home. Why she dreamed of dragons. And where her true destiny lies—through a portal in Galway that takes her to a land of faeries and mermaids, to a man named Keegan, and to the courage in her own heart that will guide her through a powerful, dangerous destiny…

Review: I read a few of Nora Roberts’s more traditional romances back in the day (way, way back in the day, now that I think about it). But I know that she’s written a lot of books in other genres, too, most notably, perhaps, mysteries. I’ve also seen that she’s released more fantasy novels recently, and having missed the “Year One” trilogy when it was coming out, I thought I’d jump on the first book in a new fantasy series she started up this fall. And so, I nabbed an e-ARC of ‘The Awakening.” Sadly, it wasn’t all that I was hoping it would be.

Breen has lived a simple life full of doing what is expected of her and not expecting much in return. But when she discovers that her mother has been keeping a massive secret from her, a massive 4 million dollars worth secret, Breen decides that enough is enough and it’s time to take control of her life. And the first thing she decides to do is to travel to Ireland, the homeland of the father who left home never to return when she was a child. But she discovers much more than a new country, instead finding herself in a completely new land and one that comes with a destiny for her even greater than she had ever imagined.

To start with the pros for this book, there’s simply no denying that Roberts has a very appealing and approachable style of writing. She’s able to deftly paint a picture of all kinds of locations and peoples and immediately create connections between the reader and her story. These strengths were particularly on display in the opening chapter of this book that is set in the fantasy world. I was quickly drawn in and curious to know more about Keegan and the history of his people and land.

Unfortunately, the strengths of this opening chapter made the switch to Breen’s story land with quite a thud. For one thing, Breen simply isn’t the most exciting character. Yes, that is part of her story, her learning to come more into her own. But it’s still a long slog through the thoughts and actions of a character who is bland to the extreme. It got to the point where I was even beginning to be frustrated by the friends around her who were all described as being great people. It’s almost a constant stream of support and encouragement from everyone around her to the point that A.) the friends are almost unbelievable in their goodness and B.) Breen’s complete inability to expect better for herself and have confidence without all of this validation becomes strange.

I also felt that some of these friendships fell into pretty stereotypical patterns. Her friend, Marco, read as the “gay best friend” straight out of the early 2000s. He’s right there telling her to update her wardrobe and reclaim her natural hair color, etc etc. It felt a little shallow and dated, to be honest. And then she starts a blog, which of course immediately takes off and she has a bunch of followers and has found a natural ability in writing. Which…don’t even get me started on that. Obviously, being a writer and blogger myself, this raised some serious eyebrows on my part. I mean, I have an easier time believing in a magical land of dragons and fairies than that someone started a random travel blog and somehow immediately has thousands of followers reading and commenting.

The story got better when she finally makes her way to the new land, but it was a bit too late for me. It took a long, long time for her to even get there, and by the time she does, I was already struggling too much with Breen herself to really redeem the book for me. I did like the romance and fantasy elements when we go there, though. This is the first book in a trilogy, but I’m still unsure whether I’ll keep on with it. Fans of Nora Roberts will probably like this, but it could have been better, in my opinion.

Rating 6: A decent fantasy story, but the main character dragged it down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Awakening” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on Books with parallel world.

Find “The Awakening” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Eidolon”

Book: “Eidolon” by Grace Draven

Publishing Info: Smashwords Edition, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: In a bid for more power, the Shadow Queen of Haradis has unleashed a malignant force into the world. Her son Brishen, younger prince of the Kai royal house, suddenly finds himself ruler of a kingdom blighted by a diseased darkness and on the brink of war. His human wife Ildiko must decide if she will give up the man she loves in order to secure his throne.

Three enemy kingdoms must unite to save each other, and a one-eyed, reluctant king must raise an army of the dead to defeat an army of the damned.

A tale of alliance and sacrifice.

Previously Reviewed: “Radiance”

Review: It’s been a bit since I read “Radiance,” the first book in this fantasy romance series. But it has stuck with me ever since as an excellent example of creating a romantic storyline that is free of angst and drama but still incredibly compelling. Turns out, people being nice to each other and falling in love in a natural way can be entertaining! No need for love triangles, failures to communicate for no good reason, or constant misunderstandings! So, with that happy memory in mind, I was excited to see what this sequel had to offer, especially since it was going where most romance stories fear to go: after love has been discovered and the relationship is established.

At the end of “Radiance,” we saw Brishen’s mother, the Shadow Queen, unleash a force of demons (much to her instant dismay as she was immediately killed). So when this story begins, Brishen and Ildiko are blissfully unaware of the monstrous force that is about to threaten their entire world, but that soon ends when they hear about the mass casualties and destruction that is coming their way. But with the Kai’s magical abilities greatly reduced since their ancestors faced such a force, Brishen and Ildiko’s choices are limited. Not only must they face a dangerous magical decision, but with the crown of the Kai people suddenly coming to Brishen, their marriage itself will face its greatest test.

Writing a sequel is always a challenge. Writing a sequel to a romance novel in which your main characters are already married and in love is practically unheard of. Of course, this series also has the fantasy angle going for it, but the love story is really at its heart. So right off the bat, I have to applaud the author for taking such a risk and secondly, for succeeding so well!

The nature of the demon disaster that is sweeping the country side works in two ways. On one hand, the description of this force is truly terrifying, and we immediately see the power that the Kai (and the entire world) faces. As fantasy monsters go, they’re creepy in all the right ways. But they also work in that they immediately take out a large chunk of the royal family, forcing Brishen into the role of leader of the country. Naturally, this brings a lot of added pressure and stress to his and Ildiko’s lives, not least of which is the unconventional nature of the relationship was never meant to be one that must sustain a monarchy.

I really enjoyed the way both of these threats highlighted the different strengths and weaknesses that Brishen and Ildiko bring to their relationship and their roles now as future monarchs. And while we see the beginnings of cracks, what I appreciated the most was the very adult way that each continues to deal with the other, even in the midst of misunderstanding and fear. Yes there is drama. But no there is no unnecessary angst or silliness. We have two different people dealing with an impossible situation in different ways. I can’t rave enough about how lovely it is to read a love story about two people who actually behave like well-adjusted adults and treat those around them with respect. It’s such a refreshing take on romance when many insist on miring themselves in silliness almost constantly.

Beyond the romance, I also really enjoyed the action of this story. The dial has been turned up to 10, and it’s clear from the beginning that no one will escape this situation unscathed. Indeed, choices are made that will affect the entire nature of Kai society going forward perhaps forever. I see that there is a third book in this series, but it looks like it will pivot to new characters. On one hand, due to the events of this book, I’m super curious to see what the fallout will be in that one. But on the other hand…I just love Brishen and Ildiko so much that I’m not sure I’m ready to switch to a new pair!

Rating 8: An excellent sequel. Fans of the first book will definitely be pleased with this one!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Eidolon” is on these Goodreads lists: NEW ADULT fantasy & paranormal romance and YA and NA Royalty.

Find “Eidolon” at your library using WorldCat!