Written in 1913 (and published in 1914), Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton is the original Jane Austen sequel, though not a particularly memorable one (but, really, are any of them? Though I know we all have high hopes for P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley). From Bath to London to, of course, Pemberley, Brinton focuses on the love lives of Colonel Fitzwilliam, Kitty Bennet, and Georgiana Darcy, matching them all up with familiar minor characters from other novels (and, not content with just these six, also busies herself pairing off extraneous others in the background).
As happy as I usually am to encounter Austen characters in sequels, Brinton over populates her novel, including people from all six novels. While it is satisfying as a fan to encounter all of these well-remembered characters again, it is also distracting, making it difficult for the reader to ever grow fond of one hero or heroine. And while some of Brinton’s pairing are delightfully intriguing (a marriage between Tom Bertram and Isabella Thorpe is an enchanting idea, sadly played off out of the reader’s sight), and others blandly inoffensive (James Morland and a subdued, much improved Kitty Bennet), the central romance between William Price and Georgiana Darcy is absurd. He has goodness and good looks, yes, but really nothing else to offer, certainly no position or fortune. Frankly, I cannot imagine a world where either Darcy or Jane Austen would condone such a match.
Generally, the characterization was surprisingly loyal, particularly for the Bingleys. Brinton’s Elizabeth Darcy has none of the wit of Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet but I’ve come to expect that from most sequels. Our former heroes are almost entirely ignored or granted a few unmemorable remarks to prove they are still alive, except for Mr. Knightley who is apparently still energetically chiding Emma over her attempts at matchmaking. But there were some truly upsetting liberties taken with the character of Mary Crawford, robbing her of her energy and spark, leaving her as a virtuous but sad young woman, forced to put up with the advances of Sir Walter Elliot even though she has fallen in love with the (here) stupidly useless Colonel Fitzwilliam. I loved Mary as she was and this destruction of her spirits is unforgivable.
I was also frustrated by the scarcity of scenes with Kitty in them. We gets lots and lots of Georgiana (so much, people, so much) but Kitty, who appears charming and enthusiastic and generally quite winsome, is shafted into a corner with her naïve hopes and misguided dreams while Georgiana has a very trying romance awakening. If you’re going to steal Austen’s characters, why would you make them so dull and uninteresting and then centre the book around them? Why?
Despite my complaints, the book itself is actually not that bad (high praise indeed). Brinton obviously was trying to keep her writing style vaguely in line with Austen’s but no one before or since has ever written in quite the same eccentric style as Austen. Still, Brinton’s style of writing works, though she can be overlong. For the most part, the characters are as we know and love them and, even when they are not, most of the pleasure in these sequels comes from encountering familiar faces, regardless of how they may now behave. Certainly, if you’re looking for a sequel that offers a stunning volume of Austen characters, this is the one for you. Emma is the most under-represented book, with only the Knightleys appearing, but the other five all lend multiple characters. It’s fun, it’s silly but not too silly, and, if you’re the kind of person who reads Austen sequels, it’s a definite must-read if only because it is so thoroughly devoted to matching off every unmarried character Austen left behind.