Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton

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I’m not normally keen on attempts at writing sequels to the classics – there have been some pretty horrendous examples! – but this one, written in 1914 (a very early example of fanfic 🙂 ?) was highly recommended; and it was really enjoyable. It involves characters from all of Jane Austen’s novels: one way and another, they’ve all come to get to know each other. James Morland is now the Bingleys’ local vicar and Edward Ferrars the Darcys’ local vicar, and several of the other characters have palled up during visits to either Bath or London. I’m not entirely convinced by the idea of Georgiana Darcy becoming best mates with Kitty Bennet, but most of the other friendships make perfect sense – it’s easy to imagine Elizabeth Bennet (now Darcy), Anne Elliott (now Wentworth), Elinor Dashwood (now Ferrars) and Eleanor Tilney (now Lady Portinscale) all getting on like a house on fire, Emma Woodhouse (now Knightley) trying to matchmake for Kitty Bennet and the Steeles trying to ingratiate themselves with the de Bourghs!

Not all the main characters from the novels feature (unfortunately we don’t get to see Henry Tilney, whom I always think would be the easiest to get on with of all Austen’s heroes!), but we do see most of them. Not everyone’s life has worked out exactly as they would have liked – one of the original heroines is saddened by the fact that she and her husband haven’t been able to have children, and one of the heroes has been killed off – but most people are getting along very well, and it’s a lovely read!

In true Austen fashion, the plot revolves largely around romances which, one way and another, are never straightforward. James Morland is after Kitty Bennet, but she’s after William Price (Fanny’s brother), but he however is after Georgiana Darcy, who is also attracting interest from Tom Bertram, who is in turn being pursued by Isabella Thorpe. Georgiana has been engaged to Colonel Fitzwilliam, but that’s now all off. Lucy Ferrars, formerly Steele, is keen to bag the Colonel for her sister Anne, but he’s only interested in Mary Crawford (who comes across as something of a tragic figure in this, the author obviously feeling that she got a raw deal), but is facing competition from Mr Elliott (Anne’s father).

Some of the endings seem a bit too rushed and convenient, but you can say that about Jane Austen’s books as well, to be fair! Much as I love them, I think it’s only really Pride and Prejudice in which nothing comes to a hurried conclusion and everything is completely convincing!   I think it was very clever of Sybil Brinton to concentrate on the lesser characters, because characters such as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy are so iconic that trying to write plotlines or even long dialogues for them would have readers huffing and puffing that their favourites would never have done this or said that, and there were no continuity errors at all (don’t get me started on that horrendous sequel to Gone With The Wind in which, as well as the plot being utter tripe, two of the Tarleton sisters are mixed up!).

All in all, a very entertaining read. Purists may still object to the idea of anyone but the author who created them presuming to write about such well-known characters, but there’s some very good fanfic about and this is a prime example of it.

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