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Archive for the ‘Beth Pattillo’ Category

Oh dear.  I should know better by now, shouldn’t I?  Alas, it appears I will never learn: I will remain preternaturally fascinated by all things Jane Austen.  It is almost impossible for me to shun any book even remotely related to her or her works (this has been particularly true over the last few weeks, as you’ll have seen from my recent reviews).  Sometimes, this can lead to amusement, even mild delight, but most of the time, the results are simply embarrassing.  Such was the case with Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo.

Emma Grant believes that Jane Austen ruined her life by leading her to expect a perfect, romantic ending:

All my life I had been taught that if you did the right thing, acted with integrity, and didn’t make a fool of yourself, not only would Mr. Right come along, but he also would arrive with full financing and a lifetime guarantee of fidelity (p. 1-2)

She believed she had found her Mr. Knightley (who, really, sounded nothing like Mr. Knightley, except for having been older than her) until she came home one day to find him amourously engaged with another woman.  On the kitchen table.  An ensuing scandal sees her fleeing the U.S. (why are the women in these books always American?) and fleeing to her cousin’s flat in London, drawn there by a woman who claims to have Jane Austen’s lost letters.  Emma has been an Austen scholar for years and vacillates between being a ‘slightly imbecile’ Austenite and a bitter, scorned wife, convinced that Austen must be exposed as a fraud for having exposed false romantic ideals.

Not buying into this premise probably impaired my ability to enjoy the novel.  To me, Jane Austen’s novels aren’t fairy tales.  Nothing about the relationships between her heroes and heroines is perfect and Austen herself makes no promises of ever-lasting bliss.  A Jane Austen heroine never made an unwise, lowering match and money and security are of vital importance in her books.  Love is important, but never all-important, never enough to blind a heroine to the dangers of a match, which is how Emma Grant appears to see it.

The plot is rather silly.  Emma Grant is set ‘tasks’ by The Formidables (aka “the Jane Austen mafia” or a “deranged group of fairy godmothers”) who are responsible for safe-guarding Austen’s letters and, by default, her legacy.  There are, as with any of Austen’s novels, two love interests for Emma and at one point a very unconvincing description of what is meant to be a Chanel dress (another kind of love…no, just me?)  As each task is completed and Emma proves herself worthy, she is given access to a letter, providing glimpses to a secret love affair in Austen’s past.

Why this modern mania for pairing Austen off, this conviction that she had and lost a great love?  It’s been the theme of several recent works.  Austen remains aloof and enigmatic because so little is known about her – for me that adds to rather than detracts from her appeal.  I do not need for her to be a suffering Brontë, wracked by grand, all-encompassing passions that seem almost self-indulgent.  Better she stay as she is, slightly distanced from us, appreciated by never entirely understood, with no tolerance for over-familiarity.

Overall, a tiresome, frustrating book, to be applauded for its brevity alone.  That said, my disappointment will not stop me from reading Pattillo’s new book, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart (I know, not a very promising title given my above criticism), and, as ever, hoping for more.

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