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Captain Wentworth’s Diary, by Amanda Grange: A Review


Captain Wentworth’s Diary
by Amanda Grange

When one feels that one’s support of Jane Austen paraliterature is a hopeless business as the genre has become a quagmire of revolting twaddle written by people who think Jane Austen was a sweet little spinster penning pretty romances, it is a real relief to be reminded why we still bother. There are some gems to be found in the sludge, Gentle Readers, and Amanda Grange’s previous two books, (Mr.) Darcy’s Diary and Mr. Knightley’s Diary, are among them. We are pleased to relate that her latest offering, Captain Wentworth’s Diary, does not disappoint.

The point of these ‘hero’s point of view’ tales is to present backstory, to show the parallel to the heroine’s journey. In this retelling of Persuasion we are given a real treat: the whole story of the summer of the Year Six, when Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth fell in love. Young Wentworth is as full of “intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy” as Jane Austen described him; fresh from his heroics at St. Domingo, he rolls into Somerset ready to dance and flirt with every pretty girl. The last thing he expects is to fall in love–especially not with the quiet Anne; and when he does, and offers for her, and is accepted, the very last thing he expects is for her to break their engagement. He leaves Somerset, injured and angry, to make his fortune. Eight years later, Napoleon has been confined on Elba, and the Royal Navy comes home; and of all the great houses in England to lease, his brother-in-law chooses Kellynch, the scene of that mortifying romance. Wentworth arrives, fresh from the painful scene of helping his friend Benwick cope with his fiancee’s death, still resentful at his own rejection, and convinced that Anne Elliot’s power with him was gone forever. The stage is set, and the game is on.

When we read Persuasion, customarily we become angry on Anne’s behalf when Wentworth first appears; angry at his rudeness, at saying to the pretty young Musgrove girls that Anne was so altered he would not have known her. He had to know it would be repeated to her; he had to know how those words could hurt; how could a man once so in love say such a thing? He ought not, he does not! But Ms. Grange is gentle with her hero; we are shown his shock at first seeing Anne, beaten down by eight years of disappointment and regret, and mistaking her for a nursery-maid; at being so distracted by this change, and the emotions it engenders in himself, that he thoughtlessly utters the hurtful words. Instead of harboring our own resentment (or yelling salty naval expletives aloud, as is our custom), we found ourself, much to our astonishment, in sympathy with him.

Another interesting device is a paralleling of Anne and Wentworth’s stories. For instance, we know of Anne’s pain when Mrs. Croft talks of her brother being married; Anne thinks she means Frederick, when she means the eldest brother, Edward. In this story, the Crofts tell Wentworth that Miss Elliot is still very handsome, and her sister is married to Charles Musgrove. Wentworth, knowing the propriety of such a match for Anne, assumes she is Mrs. Charles rather than Mary, and experiences the same pain and same relief as Anne when he discovers his mistake.

The Year Six episode takes the first third of the novel, so some elements of the main story were, in our opinion, a bit more rushed than we would like; but we are a devoted Persuasionite and can never get enough of these characters. There certainly is satisfaction to be had: in following Wentworth’s change of heart as he acknowledges his true feelings; his self-reproach as he realizes his thoughtless flirtation with Louisa Musgrove could have serious consequences; his jealousy of Mr. Elliot and fear that he is too late to win Anne at last; thoughts streaming in bursts and gasps of emotion as he listens to a conversation and writes a letter; and a lovely, long talk on a walk from the White Hart to Camden Place, “spirits dancing in private rapture.” Like the other books in Ms. Grange’s series, scrupulous attention is paid to the original, even while interpreting what is not explicitly shown, and some well-known scenes are fleshed out while others are condensed, nicely complementing the original.

Anne Elliot is Jane Austen’s most mature heroine, and unlike her sister heroines has experienced her journey of self-knowledge prior to the opening of the novel. It is Wentworth who has the real journey in Persuasion, and in Captain Wentworth’s Diary we take that journey with him, from brash young officer to a mature man, shaped by experience and loss but still able to seize an opportunity when he can listen no longer in silence, and although we know the ending, we cheer when hope returns.

Captain Wentworth’s Diary is available direct from the publisher or from Amazon.co.uk; it will be published in North America by Berkeley next year.

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd (30 Jun 2007)
ISBN-13: 978-0709082811
Price: £18.99

Margaret C. Sullivan is the webmistress of Tilneys and Trap-doors and The
Cult of Da Man
and has a childlike fascination with big wooden ships and the men who sail
them. Her newest book, The Jane Austen Handbook is now available.

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Arthur Phillip: Founder of Sydney, Resident of Bath

1786 portrait by Francis Wheatley (National Portrait Gallery, London)
1786 portrait by Francis Wheatley
(National Portrait Gallery, London)

Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip RN (11 October 1738 – 31 August 1814) was the first Governor of New South Wales and founder of the settlement which became Sydney.

After much experience at sea, including command of a ship that was saved in a storm by convicts, Phillip sailed with the First Fleet, as Governor-designate of the proposed British penal colony of New South Wales. In February 1788, he selected its location to be Port Jackson (now Sydney Harbour).

Phillip was a far-sighted governor, who soon saw that New South Wales would need a civil administration and a system for emancipating the convicts. But his plan to bring skilled tradesmen on the voyage had been rejected, and he faced immense problems of labour, discipline and supply. Also his friendly attitude towards the aborigines was sorely tested when they killed his gamekeeper, and he was not able to assert a clear policy about them.

The arrival of the Second and Third Fleets placed new pressures on the scarce local resources, but by the time Phillip sailed home in December 1792, the colony was taking shape, with official land-grants and systematic farming and water-supply.

Phillip retired in 1805, but continued to correspond with his friends in New South Wales and to promote the colony’s interests.

Early life and naval career
Arthur Phillip was born 11 October 1738 in London England, the son of Jacob Phillip, a Frankfurt-born language teacher, and his English wife, Elizabeth Breach. His father died a year after he was born. His mother Elizabeth was originally married to a sailor named Herbert who died at sea of yellow fever. Phillip’s mother claimed him as the father of her son so he could be enrolled in the Greenwich Hospital School, part of Greenwich Hospital,a free school for the orphans of men lost at sea supported by Queen Mary. The treatment of the students was spartan but educational. Phillip learned how to navigate, draw (a skill necessary for making navigation charts) .At the age of 13 was apprenticed to the merchant navy. He spoke a number of languages in addition to English, including French, German and Portuguese.

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