Every reader of Jane Austen wishes that she had lived long enough to write more books. Also, most of us wish we knew what happened after the events in each of her books. What happened to Lizzy and Darcy? Edmund and Fanny? Henry and Catherine? Hence, many authors have written their own versions of what happened after Pride & Prejudice (primarily) and some of the others. Some are good (Letters from Pemberly: The First Year, by Jane Dawkins), but since most of the others fantasize about what happened in the bedroom, after the marriage, I find them distasteful. I want to know what happened outside of the bedroom, so there!
But what about seeing the same story, from a different viewpoint? Wouldn’t you like to know what Fitzwilliam Darcy, Colonel Brandon, George Knightley, Edmund Bertram, Captain Wentworth, and Henry Tilney were thinking, as they met their fate, and fell in love? Or resisted their fate, depending on the story.
Several years ago, I came across a copy of Mr. Darcy’s Diary, by Amanda Grange. As Mr. Darcy has the most fanatic fan following of all the Jane Austen heroes, it’s understandable that this particular book is the most well-known. Grange writes in such a way that I don’t feel like I’m reading an adaptation of Austen’s novels… I honestly believe I’m reading Austen.
Each book is written as a diary (or journal), sometimes daily, and sometimes there are large gaps between entries. Each story begins with some past history, mentioned in the original novel. In Darcy’s case, we’re introduced to them sometime before Wickham runs away with Georgiana. Since it’s been a long time since I’ve read this one, I can’t explain in too much detail. As you’re always seeing the story’s events from Darcy’s viewpoint, you finally get to see what he was thinking when he first dissed Elizabeth, up to when he proposed, and made an idiot of himself. You watch as he thinks he’s been wronged, and finally begins to see where pride has led him astray. All the things that I couldn’t understand about his behavior, explained at last!
Again, tying the past history together with the details in Pride & Prejudice… it is all done flawlessly. I never sit there thinking, “No, they wouldn’t have done that.”. Instead, I’m thinking “Oh, so THAT’s why he did that!”. I see nothing to remind me that I’m NOT reading Austen. Of course, conversations are repeated, verbatim, in the diary, but there is nothing that jars on your eyes, going back and forth between original Austen and Grange’s prose.
I’ve read almost all of Amanda Grange’s diary books, now, including Colonel Brandon’s Diary, Captain Wentworth’s Diary, Edmund Bertram’s Diary, Mr. Knightley’s Diary, and Henry Tilney’s Diary (which I just finished). The one about Colonel Brandon was a delight, as it gave me a better understanding of the history of his ward, who was mistreated by Willoughby. The diary from Knightley’s viewpoint is the reason I finally gave in and read Emma, and grew to love it. I’d always hated her, because of the Gwyneth Paltrow movie. And I adore both Mansfield Park and Persuasion, so reading the “hero version” was absolutely necessary.
And while I thought I had read every one of Grange’s diary books, I just discovered that she wrote one called Mr. Wickham’s Diary. Oh my. That could be a fascinating read, as it doesn’t sound like she changed his character, but she may be explaining how he became what he was in the book. And of course, having watched the movie Lost in Austen, I’m a fan of seeing a few different quirks in his character. You can’t watch Lost in Austen and come out NOT loving Wickham.
Finally, if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ll already know that Northanger Abbey is probably my favorite Austen novel. So, I’ve been waiting a long time to see that tale from Henry Tilney’s viewpoint, and just found out that it was in print.
The story begins with Henry and his family, home at Northanger, when his mother was still living. Frederick keeps coming home drunk, enraging his father, and upsetting his mother and sister. His father finally insists that his eldest son must join the military, and make something of his life. Henry wishes that his brother could be more like he was, when he was younger, but it would seem that a broken heart is what led to his life of dissipation.
Disapproving of his son’s attachment to a young lady with a small dowry, General Tilney brings Frederick to the library, in time to see his love flirting with his best friend. Crushed by the interference of his father and the fickleness of women, Frederick warns Henry to never give his heart to a woman.
We are then introduced to young Eleanor, who is only just old enough to sit with the grownups at dinner. She and Henry both adore novels, and they share some special times reading together, as well as with their mother. When their mother dies suddenly, Eleanor is unwilling to finish reading A Sicilian Romance, which they had been reading together.
A few years later, General Tilney is trying very hard to marry both Henry and Eleanor off to heirs and heiresses, when they happen across a Mr. Morris. Not one of the wealthy ones, he establishes a friendship with the brother and sister, through their mutual love of books, and he and Eleanor fall in love. Unfortunately, he is only the nephew to a Viscount, and the Viscount has three sons. In other words, he has no real prospects, and is completely unsuitable, according to the General.
The Tilney siblings have many conversations where they joke about what Henry needs in a bride. A pretty face and a love of animals are important, but he insists that she must love Gothic novels, or there will be no wedding. Eleanor continues to tease him about when he will find his heroine, and wonders whether he will have to journey to Italy or the Pyrenees, in order to find her.
And then, he goes to Bath, to reserve a lodging for his family. I would say the rest is history, but actually, it isn’t! It’s so fascinating to hear him describe why his evening would have been very dull, except for the presence of Miss Morland. He finds her honesty to be refreshing, as most young ladies pretend that they find Bath to be dull. She is also somewhat shy, and unsure of whether she is being teased, so he continues to do so, in order to make her smile.
I won’t explain all the details about how he begins to show more interest in Miss Morland. At this point in the story, we know that the Thorpes exist, but I love listening to Tilney’s thoughts on the matter. I dislike John Thorpe, right from the start, and so does Henry. He immediately realizes that Isabella is an unconscionable flirt, but since we’re reading from his viewpoint, we really don’t have to listen to her much. For which I’m grateful.
Captain Frederick Tilney returns to the scene, and begins to create mischief for the Morlands and the Thorpes. But as Henry knows his brother better than anyone, I think you will find by the end of the book that Frederick had some better motives than you would have guessed. But also, that he admits that he wasn’t entirely in the right, either. I’ll let you discover for yourself, though.
Henry and Eleanor are bewildered by their father’s encouragement of their friendship with Catherine, but they continue to hope that he has finally seen the light, when it comes to Eleanor’s need for companionship. Henry finds that he prefers Catherine to any other young lady, but he insists to his sister that he still has to see how things go, after Miss Morland has spent several weeks in their home.
I forgot to mention that from the first time Tilney discovers that Miss Morland loves novels, he is delighted with this area of her personality. Despite her ignorance and naivety in other areas, he loves to teach and enlighten her. But her love of Gothic tales is a never-ending source of interest for him. He has met so many young women that disdain to read, or won’t admit that they do, but Catherine does not hide her love of books.
This book continues until sometime after the timeline of Northanger Abbey, and I’m glad to read about Mr. Morris and his ascent to title and fortune. The description of how this came about, well, I found it a little unlikely, but I tend to think that it was fitting homage to the dramatics of the Gothic novels, which have been covered so well in the whole book. It is implied that Morris’ relatives are very bad men, so they received their comeuppance. But in Northanger Abbey, we know that Eleanor’s lover does finally inherit title and fortune, making himself acceptable to the General. So, perhaps it did come about in a fantastic manner. The rest of the book was too splendid to take issue over such a small thing
Reading about Tilney’s argument with his father, Frederick making peace with Catherine (over his interference with Morland and Isabella), and how Eleanor and the Viscount (who once was Mr. Morris) endeavor to make the General agreeable to Henry’s marriage… all of these are immensely satisfying. The final journal entry is on their wedding day, when Henry Tilney knows that he and his wife Catherine will be the happiest married couple in the world.
Well, I have done my best to convince you of how enjoyable and fascinating these books are. I don’t think that you will be disappointed, but it’s up to you to find out for yourself. Happy reading!