Old Friends and New Fancies

by Sybil G. Brinton

Old friends and New Fancies is a real charmer of a Jane Austen “sequel” that is really 6 sequels for the price of one. The author, Sybil G. Brinton, incorporates important characters from all 6 Austen novels to essentially pair off 3 couples that were left unmatched in the original works. The story is pretty much based around Pride and Prejudice., her most famous and beloved novel, and whose gentle and shy Georgiana has long been the focus of the most speculation and spinoffs about her future. She is frequently paired up with Colonel Fitzwilliam, another well liked character from the novel for whom Austen devotees wish a happy ending. And this is how this one starts off.

Brinton does an admirable job of maintaining the integrity of Austen’s characters, even while developing and maturing them. She brings much of Austen’s population, including the villains and the ridiculous but lovable, together in a natural believable way that never seems forced. Three of her heroines have become have acquainted with each other and are well on the way to becoming fast friends. They like and esteem each other: Elizabeth Darcy, Elinor Ferrars, and Anne Wentworth. It was an amusement to me that Fanny Bertram And Emma Knightly are not included in this circle. As William, Fanny’s beloved brother, says, and I paraphrase, “ Fanny is very good, but she is very strict.” She does not make an appearance. Emma is in the book. Although happily married to Mr. Knightly, She regrettably hasn’t changed a bit.

“it was always a little difficult for Emma to realize that people had important affairs of their own; and that they should have had any existence apart from that which she had chosen to imagine for them”

In fact, she is, not surprisingly, due to her foolish and clueless matchmaking, the catalyst for a big misunderstanding regarding two of our main couples that causes much pain and heartache and drives much of the plot.

“Emma, though fond of Donwell, had grown weary of the neighbourhood, and took a keen pleasure in forming round her in London a large circle of acquaintances, whom she loved to entertain, and in whose characters and careers she took the deepest interest.”

Needless to say, those whom she takes the deepest interest are those whom she can influence and manipulate. Not those who can influence and elevate her. Enter Kitty Bennett.

Those who are very familiar with Austen’s novels will begin to notice that Brinton cleverly incorporates well-known scenes from the originals, only turned on their heads and put in a new light and context. I started to notice these inside joke-like Easter eggs about halfway through. I’m sure if I re-read the book, I would discover more.
The theatricals that caused so much trouble in Mansfield Park, are echoed by a game of charades produced and directed by Tom Bertram. Only this time, they are a lot of fun and stay firmly inside the line of propriety.
What does this exchange remind you of?

“Do, pray, Miss Bennet, come down!” exclaimed William, and several other persons joined their entreaties to his. “Do not try to do it; you will set your dress on fire—your sleeve is so dangerously near. Do let me help you down, lest you fall and hurt yourself.”

(Persuasion in Lyme)
And this?

“Miss Bennet! It is possible that you thought I was paying attentions to Miss Bennet? Miss Darcy, you cannot be serious. This is too frightful”

(Emma and Mr. Elton)
There is a conversation regarding the fickleness of sailors that echoes the debate that Anne has with Captain Bennick in Persuasion.
Kitty Bennett’s pining for the object of her affection recalls Marianne’s suffering in Sense and sensibility:

Though William’s avoidance of her during the latter part of the previous evening, his strange altered looks, and his embarrassed way of saying goodnight had undermined her hopes to such an extent that she had been all night facing the terrible desolation caused by the thought, “If he does not care for me after all,” yet she had not actually given all up in despair until the moment of hearing him leave the house. Some note, some message, might have arrived—might still arrive; but since parting from him, Kitty had not been able to quell the horrible fear that all was over.

Being almost 120 years closer to Austen’s time than we are, The tone and the style of Brinton’s writing is very similar. It does lack the sly wit, although there are some amusing exchanges. When Elizabeth is trying to repair a fractured romance, Darcy remarks,

“I know you are prepared to undertake herculean tasks in the interests of your friends, my dear, but when a man has been so decidedly repulsed, it is a delicate manner to heal the breach. I imagine your scheme would be straightaway to invite Miss Crawford here, and send them both off for a walk, with instructions to return in half an hour an engaged couple?”

Still reserved (shy?) Darcy has reluctantly agreed to host a ball at Pemberley. His feelings provide an insight into his and Lizzie’s relationship:

“…and not having altogether looked forward to the evening, he surprised himself by discovering how much, with Elizabeth at his side, he could enjoy both his own pleasure in entertaining guests, which he had not previously done on so large a scale, and also the pleasure of others who were important to him, Elizabeth, Georgiana, and the Bingleys.”

Isn’t that sweet?
I enjoyed Brinton’s work thoroughly. It is probably the most authentic Austen pastiche I have ever read. Written in 1913, it is widely regarded as the first piece of Austen “fan fiction.” I was at times awestruck at what she was able to accomplish. I’m sure I am not the only Austen devotee to wonder about this mysterious obscure talent and regret this is her only work. I would recommend this book only to those very familiar with the books and/or movies.**4 out of 5 stars**

August 30, 2018

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