Let me start off by listing the strikes against this book. It’s apparently self-published (not, of course, an automatic guarantee of Bad, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that self-pubs are more prone to editorial quality issues). Its author’s name is suspiciously similar to an Austen character; I hereby sincerely apologize if “Anna Elliott” is indeed the author’s real name, but if not I do wish she had come up with a different pseudonym. It’s frequently (always?) free on Amazon. (There’s a “however” coming up – go ‘head and download it. I’ll wait.) It’s a continuation of Pride and Prejudice, which sparks off a list of its own: it’s basically fan-fiction (and while yes, there is some very good stuff out there, it cannot be denied that most of it is utter dreck); the last “continuation” I read was not very good although it was by an author I know and love; and trying to echo a literary voice like Jane Austen’s can only end in tears. Any of these is worrying; all together should be horripilating.
From the introduction: “I can’t begin to match Jane Austen’s immortal writing style, and wouldn’t even pretend to try. … I would never aspire to imitate Jane Austen or compare my work to hers. Georgiana Darcy’s Diary is meant to be an entertainment, written for those readers who, like me, simply can’t get enough of Jane Austen and her world.” Well. That’s promising. Humility and self-awareness in an author – I’m not Jane Austen and won’t pretend I can be – is wonderful. This is, Ms. Elliott states, the reason she chose the format of a journal written by a character Miss Austen did not give much dialogue to: Georgiana Darcy. That’s kind of brilliant. There’s no going back and comparing a paragraph from the Diary to a paragraph from P&P, no window to complain, really, about much short of massive missteps of language or anachronism.
There were, as I recall, a few scattered typos – and one bit of an editorial whopper: mention of, I believe, a hat “died to match”. (There was a terrible accident at the milliner’s one day, you see …) Apart from that, the voice was very well done. I don’t know how it would stand up to a sterner scrutiny, or to a highly critical eye in terms of historical accuracy, but I was happy to believe it was the narrative voice of not only a very young woman of 1814, but in fact of Georgiana Darcy. (It does help that Georgiana was seen so little in Pride and Prejudice, of course, and that the years between 16 and 19 inevitably change a person.)
Ms. Elliott did something with this book that the late, great Joan Aiken failed at in her sequel to Mansfield Park: getting the original main characters out of the way. In Mansfield Revisited, Fanny and Edmund were whisked away to the Indies very early in the book, never to be heard from more till the very end, thus clearing the path of extraneous already-happy-ever-aftered people so that Fanny’s sister Susan could get down to the business of HEA. Here, though, not only did the diary format allow the author to evade the question of whether her third-person narration would live up to Jane Austen’s, it also allowed her to fix the point of view solidly behind Georgiana’s eyes – Georgiana, who doesn’t spend every minute with Lizzie or Darcy.
Actually, she did two things that Joan Aiken did not: she also made me care about the characters on whom she was focusing. Georgiana in The Original is a figure of some pity and sympathy – she went through something terrible with bloody Wickham, and otherwise serves almost entirely as a foil for Darcy, giving him depth, providing an avenue for Lizzie to see the relaxed, affectionate side of him. The sympathy carries over to this Diary, but the sympathy deepens as the girl becomes a well-rounded character in her own right.
Was it perfect? No. But it was much better than I anticipated. It was very good.
- The Modern Miss Bennet (cheaperthanrubies.com)
- Pride and Prejudice turns 200 (bbc.co.uk)
- Kim’s Review of Loving Miss Darcy (Brides of Pemberley #2) by Nancy Kelley (lifeand100books.com)