Inquiring Readers, Although SourceBooks came out with Old Friends and New Fancies last summer, we waited to review this first Jane Austen sequel by Sybil Brinton until now. Reviewed by Lady Anne
The only real problem with Jane Austen is that she left us with a paucity of books to read and re-read. Most of us find that our favorites shift and change as we age, and all of us want more to read by our favorite.
Sybil Brinton, an Englishwoman born in the 1870s, was the first to address this problem in her book, Old Friends and New Fancies. First published in 1913, the novel rounds up unmarried characters from Austen’s works and provides cross-novel romantic entanglement. Her main characters are Georgiana Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Kitty Bennet, all, of course, from Pride and Prejudice. During the course of several months, living the lifestyle of their class and time, these three meet characters from Austen’s other books. It is great fun to see them in Bath, London, and at the various estates to and from which they all travel. Here’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh, characterizing Persuasion’s Sir Walter Elliot as a “foolish old beau,” (I loved that!) and creating a huge scene in her inimitable style, urged on by Lucy Steele Ferrars and her sister Anne of Sense and Sensibility, still causing trouble by their malicious gossip, aided and abetted by Mr. Yates from Mansfield Park. Well-meaning old Mrs. Jennings, from Sense and Sensibility is still making her tiresome jokes about her young friends’ beaux, and Emma Woodhouse Knightly is still trying to run everyone’s lives for them. She and her husband are now living in London, Highbury being too small a stage for her activities. An inveterate matchmaker (one might have thought she would learn, but we do remember Jane introducing Emma as one who thought very highly of herself), Emma here plays havoc with Kitty Bennet. Kitty is still foolish, mostly interested in balls and clothes, but we have hope that she might mature with grace. She and Georgiana, much the same age and sharing family ties, become confidantes, although certainly they have little in common other than an attractive naval officer, William Price from Mansfield Park. The Darcys are quite concerned about their sister Georgiana, who remains shy and a little withdrawn, but becomes an interesting and thoughtful character as drawn by Brinton, and a more interesting foil for Kitty than Lydia was. Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy’s helpful cousin in Pride and Prejudice, meets and falls hard for the enigmatic Mary Crawford of Mansfield Park. Brinton’s Colonel is, perhaps, a little more unsure of himself (being that dreaded phenomenon, a younger son) than I would have made him, but he too gets a thoughtful delineation.
One of the best things about Old Friends and New Fancies is that Brinton gently maintains the tone of Jane Austen’s voice. The stories unfold in a leisurely pace; these people, generally of the same class and station, would likely meet each other, and the various characters fall in with people with whom they share similar interests. We can recognize that Elizabeth Bennet Darcy and Anne Elliot Wentworth would like each other, and are pleased that Elinor Dashwood Ferrars and her Edward have been given the living near Pemberley. The other characters, in new situations and among their peers, generally act as we would expect them to. We are happy to see Sir Walter get a strong come-uppance and chuckle at Elizabeth Elliot’s latest hope for a wealthy, handsome husband.
Austen is more satiric and sharper in her observations than Brinton; this book is a gentle resolution of several of the unwed finding their happily ever after among characters from the other books. As such, it is a friendly exercise and truer to Jane’s tone and ideals than most of the current Austeniana. While it is not necessary to be knowledgeable about all of Austen’s books to enjoy Old Friends and New Fancies, it does help, and Brinton’s opinions of Austen’s characters can only be understood if you know the originals.
Old Friends and New Fancies, surely a work of love, is the only book written by Sybil Brinton. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and reminded myself that it is long past time that I re-read Mansfield Park.
Little is known about Sybil Grace Brinton herself. The daughter of a wealthy Kidderminster carpet manufacturer, she was born in 1874 at Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, married in 1908, had no children, suffered from poor health all her life, and died in 1928, without writing another book.
John Adey, a genealogist who runs the Stourport-based Family History Research Ltd, could find out little more about her, despite weeks of searching. “There’s no known photograph of her,” he says. “And it’s odd that even now, the family can’t tell you much about her.” – Times Online, Old Friends and New Fancies
About Lady Anne, the reviewer: A confirmed Janeite and co-founder of Janeites on the James (our Jane Austen group), an expert on all things Georgette Heyer and the Regency Era, a lady well read and well bred, Lady Anne is known for her discerning eye for both literature and her breath-taking garments made by a select mantua maker. Cloth’d and coifed, Lady Anne knows few equals, and when she enters a room she is a commanding presence. She is also Ms. Place’s special friend and confidante.
- Click here to read a review about the second Jane Austen sequel, Pemberley Shades by D.A. Bonavia-Hunt, on Austenprose.