Saturday, May 14, 2016

Love and Friendship by Jane Austen: A review

Driving my dog to her vet appointment (which set me back $170) I listened to an NPR interviewer talk to Kate Beckinsale, the British actress, about her role in a new Jane Austen-based movie, Love and Friendship.  I was a little surprised because I had read a review of this on Christianity Today a while back, several months, and had read the book upon which is is based on Kindle in the meantime.

"Book" is a sort of misnomer.  Actually, I think the movie is based on two novellas, Lady Susan and Love and Friendship, which I haven't read yet.   Lady Susan is a novella, and an epistolary one no less, which I understand was not uncommon at that time. It took a bit of time to figure out the characters in this genre, but after a few letters it began to even out and I enjoyed the short read.  I am not a fast reader (too hyper to sit for long periods) so it took me a while, but for most it would be three hours maybe.

Compared to other Jane Austen's, especially Pride and Prejudice, one of the best novels in history (and by that I mean top ten), it is lacking and a bit one-dimensional, and its portrayal of just about everyone is unsympathetic and "edgy" (the word used by the NPR interviewer, I am afraid I forgot his name) or snarky.  Jane lets her full frustration with the place of women in her society out, but she also shows how it can create a nightmare of charm and flirtation like Lady Susan.

Essentially, Lady Susan is a very attractive and coquettish woman of about 35 with a 16-or-so- year-old daughter.  Lady Susan, a recent widow and used to the good life, does not like her daughter or being a mother, and tries to off load her on family members, boarding schools, and possible husbands with good connections.  Lady Susan, as a woman of her time, has no discernible skill and of course would not be allowed to make any money if she could, but working for a living wouldn't please her anyway.  I am sure there were lots and lots of women at that time who would have liked to earn their keep, at least to try it.  Lady Susan sees her only option to find a rich husband or maybe what could euphemistically be called "a sponsor," and it doesn't matter if the man in question is already attached.

Through a series of letters we see her flirting and intrigues and how others respond to it, specifically her late husband's family whom she is depending on currently.  Her attempts to marry off her daughter, who has quite shockingly run away from her boarding school to the refuge of another family and get her own rich husband, are thwarted.  The men in the book are pretty stupid and succumb much too easily to her charms, and the women get to be pretty catty.  It's a fun read but not the level of the "big six Austens" as I call them. 

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