Monday, January 25, 2016

What I Read in June 2015 Part IV

What I Read in June 2015 Part IV ...

Walk in the Meadow in Rosings Park by Mary Lydon Simonsen --Austenesque novella

A Walk in the Meadows at Rosings Park A Pride and Prejudice variation. In this version Mr. Darcy left Hertfordshire right after the Assembly, paving the way for Bingley to court Jane. The story takes place when Lizzy visits Charlotte at Hunsford and Mr. Darcy sees Elizabeth for the first time and is smitten.

It took me so long to get this book from that I forgot why I wanted to read it. I don't normally like what ifs and variations and this is no exception. I wondered whether this was an updated modern version of the story because Lizzy and Darcy go out for walks on their own and share steamy, passionate kisses. Um no. Not in the Regency period. As Elizabeth points out, unmarried ladies are normally accompanied by a chaperone. There's no kissing in Jane Austen and especially not steamy kisses that make Elizabeth hot and Mr. Darcy um bothered. Elizabeth confides in Charlotte and Charlotte shares details about her married life with Lizzy, who is unmarried. (ew! I don't need to know Charlotte and Mr. Collins regularly perform as husband and wife. YUCK!) The author borrows quotes from the original and places them out of context in various places. The charm of the original is in the banter between Lizzy and Darcy and the gradual change of feelings. Mr. Darcy is an iconic hero because he recognizes he needs to change and changes for Elizabeth. I don't see him teasing and romantic, opening to Elizabeth when they first meet. This just isn't the real Darcy. I did like Elizabeth's objections to the match but the role reversal just didn't work for me.

There's a bonus story Mr. Darcy Steps In in which Mr. Collins plans to marry Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy steps in to save her. Again, I don't see Darcy doing that. He barely knows Elizabeth at this point and yet he's scheming to marry her. It just doesn't make sense. The story was cute though and romantic. It would have been a sweet short story if it was about original characters.

Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope -- Historical Fiction/Romance

Miss Mackenzie Miss Margaret Mackenzie, a middle aged spinster, has spent her life in service to her family. First she nursed her aged father through his final illness and now her older brother, Walter. When Walter's will is read, everyone is shocked he left his fortune to Margaret. None is more shocked than her older brother Tom, of Rubb and Mackenzie, tire manufacturers. Tom's wife takes personal offense at this snub. Margaret is finally getting the chance to live her life and she heads to Littlebath to join society there. Her niece, Susanna, comes along to attend school there with Margaret's money. Margaret is soon caught up in the Evangelical Christian Mrs. Strumfold's society where she meets the squint-eyed minister Mr. Maguire. Margaret is forced to choose between the Strumfoldians and her more morally free neighbors. She tries to straddle both worlds as best she can but Mr. Maguire has Margaret in his line of sight to be his rich bride. She's delighted with visits from her brother's business partner, Mr. Rubb, Jr. and promises to loan her brother money for a mortgage. As she discusses business with Mr. Rubb, she comes to enjoy his company very much and if he should propose... but he isn't a gentleman so naturally he's out of the question. A family tragedy brings her into the orbit of her relatives, Sir John and Lady Ball, their grown children and grandchildren. Sir John's son, John, Jr. is as dull as men come but he becomes a rock on which Margaret can lean on. Then, a chance meeting with her lawyer brings shocking news and Margaret's life will never be the same again.

I think Trollope must have read and enjoyed Jane Austen because this book has many similarities with an Austen comedy of manners. It gets a little more melodramatic in the end but it is at heart a witty social commentary a la Austen and Dickens. Trollope's humor isn't quite as overtly funny as Austen's but with characters named Mr. Slow and Mr. Bideawhile and a clergyman with a squint, you know he is playing with his readers the way Dickens did. Indeed many of the characters bear strong resemblances to Austen characters: Lady Ball is a cross between Lady Catherine and Fanny Dashwood and every manipulative, smothering mother you've ever come across. Mr. Maguire at first seems like a Mr. Collins character but he's no buffoon. She's shrewd and cunning and knows what he wants and will stop at nothing to convince the world he's right. Mrs. Mackenzie of Incharrow is like Elizabeth Bennet's aunt Gardiner with a dash of delightful matchmaker like Emma. I really enjoyed her character. She's manipulative in a good way. Miss Baker and Miss Todd are intriguing characters and I wish they were in the story more.

The main characters are Margaret, Mr. Rubb, John Ball and Mr. Maguire. Margaret is around my age but she seems much older and careworn like Anne Elliot. She's had a tough life and has never been loved so it's easy to root for her and want her to find someone to love. I wasn't thrilled with any of her suitors, they're just too dull, but she knew which one she wanted and so I wanted the match for her. She's a character who is easy to sympathize with. Mr. Rubb seems charming. I liked him. I didn't care for John, a 50 year old widower. I don't see him making a good lover. He's steady and dependable but I would wish for some passion in a relationship. I couldn't figure out who Margaret was going to choose until she did it. The pacing of the novel is quite sow for the first half and then once it gets going, it gets easier to read. I recommend this to fans of Austen, Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell.

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