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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; 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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Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

One regret I have in my busy life is the lack of leisure time I have for reading. Right now there are four stacks of books on the floor of my office, all waiting to be read. So many books! So little time. Given my schedule, I am glad I set aside the required hours to read Jane Austen Made Me Do It, an anthology of Jane Austen-inspired stories by published Jane Austen sequel authors and edited by Laurel Ann Nattress.

I rarely read anthologies front to back, but flit here and there, landing instead on a story with an intriguing title or by a favorite author. In this instance I began with Stephanie Barron’s tale of Jane And the Gentleman Rogue: Being a fragment of a Jane Austen mystery. I am so glad I did, for it prompted me to linger longer over dinner and read another short story. Beth Pattillo’s  When Only a Darcy Will Do was a delight, as was Margaret C. Sullivan’s Heard of You, which I read just before going to bed. The list of authors in this anthology is impressive: Pamela Aidan • Elizabeth Aston • Brenna Aubrey • Stephanie Barron • Carrie Bebris • Jo Beverley • Diana Birchall • Frank Delaney & Diane Meier • Monica Fairview • Amanda Grange • Syrie James • Janet Mullany • Jane Odiwe • Beth Pattillo • Alexandra Potter • Myretta Robens • Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino Bradway • Maya Slater • Margaret Sullivan • Adriana Trigiani • Laurie Viera Rigler • Lauren Willig.

I’ve always enjoyed reading anthologies. They allow one to pick and choose on a whim, and finish a story in a short space of time. Anthology stories serve as literary versions of amuse bouches, those tasty bites served at the start of dinner. Even the most the discerning reader is bound to find selections and authors they will love. (Or discover a new author!) Click here to read a short synopsis of each story.

I favored some stories over others, but won’t share them with you for the simple reason that some of the stories I disliked received rave reviews on other blogs. Anthologies appeal to a variety of tastes, and I found it remarkable how many in Jane Austen Made Me Do It captivated me.  If you decide to purchase this book, I can guarantee that you will discover new authors and stories that you will want to reread.

This is due, no doubt, to the hard work that editor Laurel Ann Nattress put into the project. As a blogger, I can’t imagine how much of her time was spent in contacting the authors and working with them, overseeing a contest for an  unpublished author (the honor went to Brenna Aubrey), working with her publishing house in editing the stories, and now publicizing the book. I tip my hat to Laurel Ann for overseeing this ambitious and very worthwhile project, for this is her first book.  I give Jane Austen Made Me Do It  five out of five Regency tea cups!

Ballantine Books
Trade paperback (464) pages
ISBN: 978-0345524966
List Price: £9.99

Vic Sanborn oversees two blogs: Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. Before 2006 she merely adored Jane Austen and read Pride and Prejudice faithfully every year. These days, she is immersed in reading and writing about the author’s life and the Regency era. Co-founder of her local (and very small) book group, Janeites on the James, she began her blogs as a way to share her research on the Regency era for her novel, which sits unpublished on a dusty shelf. In her working life, Vic provides resources and professional development for teachers and administrators of Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs.

This article was written for Jane Austen’s World and is used here with permission.

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Wickham’s Diary by Amanda Grange

Wickham's Diary by Amanda Grange

Wickham’s Diary
by Amanda Grange

George Wickham is a bad man. Let’s get that out of the way right up front. He is vain, self-centered, and doesn’t seem to care how many lives he destroys as he seeks personal gain. Why would we want to read his innermost thoughts? At least, that’s what we thought when we first heard about Amanda Grange’s latest production, Wickham’s Diary.

We are on record as being a big fan of Grange’s hero diaries, but we actually want to know what they are thinking. But Wickham? Really? We don’t want him to be redeemed or made sympathetic. He is a bad man.

Fortunately, Amanda Grange resists any temptation to make Wickham terribly sympathetic. He is spoiled, vain, selfish, and hedonistic, just as he ought; but he also is rather amusing, and really, how did he go from being Fitzwilliam Darcy’s “companion of my youth” to someone seeking complete revenge on him, as well as monetary gain, by cutting up poor Georgiana Darcy’s peace? We were hesitant, but this one had us by the second page, buckled up for a bumpy ride.

We meet Wickham (and Darcy) first at age 12. Wickham is not yet the bad man he will become, but he’s well on his way: spoiled by his flighty, extravagant mother, who manipulates her besotted husband, and given by her poor principles–rather than preparing and encouraging her son to make his way in the world, she teaches him to take advantage of the good nature of others. The Darcys, father and son, are willing and happy to give young George Wickham preference and advantages. At first George is pleased to imagine himself incumbent of the living Mr. Darcy Sr. designs for him, where at least he might live as a gentleman while he looks for an obliging heiress to marry: perhaps Darcy’s cousin Anne, in whom Darcy has no interest.

However, Wickham has not the character or training to take advantage of his opportunities, instead resenting the good fortune of his old friend’s birth and falling into dissipated, abandoned ways. He gets by on his charm; the only person immune to it is, of course, Darcy (though there is one scene in which Darcy’s behavior to Wickham absolutely wanted to make us hug Darcy, a novel experience for the Editrix; Darcy, for his many good qualities, is not exactly huggable). Darcy keeps trying to help Wickham see the folly of his ways, but finally gives up when he understands how Wickham has manipulated and lied to him.

We learn how Wickham meets the notorious Mrs. Younge, and how they work together to help him make a headway into Georgiana Darcy’s heart. It’s unfortunate that neither of them has a fortune, for they are a perfect couple, a pair of born grifters who use everyone around them–except each other.

Grange does her usual scrupulous job in creating her story around the text as written by Jane Austen. We know that for many readers such fidelity is not necessary, and the introduction of more incident, to use John Murray’s term, is desirable; but there certainly is enough incident in Wickham’s backstory to be getting on with, and we prefer paraliterature authors to play in Jane Austen’s sandbox by Jane Austen’s rules. Wickham’s Diary is a very short read–we suspect it will be much too short for some readers–and it doesn’t expand tremendously on the story as we know it, but it provides a couple of hours of absorbing entertainment, and as short as it is, we had a few “a-ha!” moments as we recognized another place where the plot clicked perfectly into Jane Austen’s original. One thing that readers learn from Pride and Prejudice is that there are two sides to every story, and perhaps it is Grange’s greatest genius, and what brings us back to her books time and again, that even while providing what should be one side of the story, the attentive reader still manages get the full picture.

So this isn’t the literary equivalent of Wickham sobbing on Oprah’s couch looking for public forgiveness. Grange gives him a few redeeming values: he loves his mother, not wisely but too well; he doesn’t really want to hurt Anne or Georgiana, but is convinced he will make them deliriously happy as he squanders their fortunes, though perhaps that can be chalked up more to vanity than anything else; and he is a rather amusing fellow. One cannot like him, though one perhaps might want to have a beer with him at the pub. Just keep a hand on your purse while you do so, for George Wickham is a bad man.

(If you like the sound of Amanda Grange’s Wickham’s Diary, you might also like to read Amanda Grange’s novel, Mr Darcy’s Diary.)

Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc (30 April 2011)
ISBN-10: 1402251866
RRP: £11.99

Margaret C. Sullivan is the webmistress of Tilneys and Trap-doors. She finds that she is too much like Mr. Darcy to truly appreciate his many perfections, and thus leaves that appreciation to others while she devotes herself to the rector of Woodston parish.