John Green, Jane Austen and Famous Last Words

The recent controversy over a John Green book in Florida piqued my interest, so when I found another of his books -“Looking for Alaska” – for $4.99 on my iPad, I bought and read it on my next flight. Green uses his own experiences as fodder for an inside glimpse of high schoolers at boarding school. This young adult book was entertaining, thoughtful, and – yes – it made me cry. Probably more appropriate for high schoolers than middle school grade, yet these days fourth graders seem to know more about sex than most of us did as college freshman.

Pudge, the hero of the story, collects the dying words of the famous, and Green sprinkles the story with quotes – two define the characters and their futures:

“I go to seek the Great Perhaps”…Francois Rabelais

“How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!”…Simon Bolivar

With famous last words on my mind, I attended the matinee of “Sense and Sensibility” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. In the opening scene, father Dashwood responds to his insensitive son’s query about his health with “I’m dying…” and soon after nods off. Good last lines are hard to come by.


Old Friends and New Fancies – The Imaginary Sequel to the Novels of Jane Austen

Whatever Happened To?  If you are a Janeite, you may already know about Sybil Brinton’s 1913 publication – Old Friends and New Fancies – that continues the lives of characters from Austen novels.

Mimicking Austen’s language, the story opens with…

“There is one characteristic which may be safely said to belong to nearly all happily married couples – that of desiring to see equally happy marriages among their young friends; and in some cases, where their wishes are strong and circumstances seem favourable to the exertion of their own efforts, they may even embark upon the perilous but delightful course of helping those persons whose minds are as yet not made up, to form a decision respecting this important crisis in life, and this done, to assist in clearing the way in order that this decision may forthwith be acted upon.”

Brinton creates the lives of some of Austen’s characters as they live on, adding other new “fancies” from her imagination, with the ploy of marrying off some of the minor characters from Pride and Prejudice – Georgiana Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Elizabeth’s younger sister, Kitty.    If you are a devotee of Jane Austen, you will recognize Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy as well as Emma Woodhouse (Knightly),  Mr. Knightly, and Elinor Dashwood, among others.  They all seem to know each other in Brinton’s world, and all maintain their Austen characterizations – Lady Catherine de Bourg is as interfering and ornery as ever; Emma is still a matchmaker; Anne of Sense and Sensibility continues to gossip.

Throughout the story, Brinton maintains not only Jane Austen’s language and style, but also stays true to her tone.  The characters act as you would expect them, if they had met across novels.  The story makes sense only if you’ve read Austen’s body of work.  At times, the new characters confuse the machinations; it’s not always easy to keep everyone straight – even when you know the “old friends.”

A friend gave me this book, knowing that I am a Jane Austen fan.  Old Friends and New Fancies is not Austen, but it is clever – easy reading and a nice diversion if you are a Janeite.

Today is Jane Austen’s birthday – what better way to celebrate.

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

Did Jane Austen’s sister, Cassandra, really burn all of Jane’s letters?  What if some were discovered years later, revealing an intimate part of the writer’s life?

If you are longing to return to the comfort of Jane Austen, Syrie James offers an easy fictionalized biography of the beloved writer in The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.  Staying true to Austen’s writing style as well as to most of the known facts of her life, James creates a story around the secret love life that many have speculated about – even based a movie on, with Anne Hathaway in “Becoming Jane.”  In a clever introduction, James simulates a letter from a Jane Austen researcher, and weaves the action into Austen’s writing of Sense and Sensibility to convince the reader of the truth of the tale.

Maybe it is.

At the very least, the story is a great romantic tribute to the growing fame and sustainability of Jane Austen.  If you are not an Austen fan, you might find the storyline frivolous and a little tedious, but if you are a Janeite – you will appreciate the romance, and the references to her work, especially Pride and Prejudice, and to Jane Austen’s life.

And, if you like it, you might want to move on to The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, by the same author.