Thursday, June 23, 2011

Janespotting: A Visit to Highbury by Jane Austen-Leigh

To begin my review of the various sequels to Emma, it's only appropriate I start with this one penned by Austen's own great-great-great-grandniece. A Visit to Highbury is subtitled "another view of Emma," and that's exactly what this provides, retelling the story from the point of view of Mrs. Goddard, who runs the school that Harriet Smith attends. The novel is epistolary, meaning it is told entirely in letters, which can provide charm but also have limitations.

Because Mary Goddard is well outside Emma's inner circle—she is the one left keeping Mr. Woodhouse company when Emma goes off to parties without him—her view of the novel's events is fairly tangential. But she speculates and passes along gossip in letters to her sister Charlotte Pinkney, who is living in London with her new husband and wondering if she has made the right decision in marrying him. In her letters back to Mary, she clamors for more gossip, looking for ways to entertain herself because her husband treats her as merely a housekeeper. Mary complies, speculating about the mysteries of why Mr. Elton has suddenly run off to Bath, who gave Jane Fairfax a piano, and why Frank Churchill has stayed away from Highbury so long. She also admonishes the tart-tongued Charlotte to be more dutiful and open towards her husband.

In Charlotte's letters, we get a few outside views of events, as the Pinkneys share an apothecary with John and Isabella Knightley, and on a trip to Bath they encounter the future Mrs. Elton and her family. Mostly, however, Charlotte Pinkney writes of her growing accommodation with her husband and their new friendship with a young girl who is being mistreated at the girls' school next door. She claims their sympathy by being the daughter of a missing naval officer and by sharing the name of Charlotte, and gains their friendship because of her sweet nature. As the elder Charlotte makes small overtures to Mr. Pinkney on the younger one's behalf, she discovers there is more depth to him than she had bothered to notice, and they grow closer. Mrs. Pinkney even shares the mysteries of Highbury with her husband, who has some very perspicacious theories.

The novel concludes with several happy endings: besides the three matches in Austen's Emma, we get one for the young Charlotte, whose father reappears and can bless her match with a young naval officer. We also get true love between Mrs. Pinkney and her husband, an expected baby, and—most desired throughout the book—an upcoming visit between the two sisters, which brings an end to their letters.

I found this a charming little novel, approaching Austen in tone and wit and giving a little embroidery to the events of Emma. Mrs. Pinkney is open enough in her letters to make her an interesting character, while the gently chiding Mrs. Goddard keeps a bit of the formal flavor of an Austen novel. If you're the kind of Austen fan who hates to see people take liberties with the original characters, this is the kind of "sequel" for you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Photo of the Week--6/20/11

I love it when historical places, like the city of Carcasonne in France, can spare a little corner to let visitors play pretend and live a little history. Carcasonne is an old-fashioned walled city and you can really be transported back in time as you walk the cobbled streets and see the fog move against the walls. And when you can look out of an old-fashioned fortress door and pretend to shut Mom out, well, that's the best!