It’s new to me: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict
My only excuse for not already having read Confessions of a Jane Austen addict is that it predates the beginnings of my own Jane Austen addiction. Well, my other excuse is that I am writing my own Jane Austeny timey-whimey thingie and didn’t want to get too mixed up. But when I grabbed the moderator’s role on the Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict discussion group at Good Reads, I decided I’d better read the book.
And thank goodness I finally read this 2007 book because I enjoyed it and can happily recommend it, although I must warn you of something that you may find annoying. The book is written as first person, present tense and I found this distracting, but I think I know author Laurie Viera Rigler’s intent. If you’ve ever seen Dark Passage with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, you may remember that the film starts with an “I am the camera” viewpoint. You feel trapped inside Humphrey Bogart’s bewildering experience and I think Rigler wanted to capture that same feeling. Of course, director Delmer Davies eventually switched to a normal camera setup so that we could see Bogart’s face, and I wish Rigler had found some way to transition to past tense. You will get used to it, however. Trust me.
First person, present tense is also the way characters in a lot of movies and TV describe dreams: “I’m walking down a long hallway and then I come to a door.” And Rigler’s heroine, Courtney Stone from present day L.A., certainly feels like she’s in a dream or having an out-of-body experience when she awakens in the body of Jane Mansfield, Regency lady.
Courtney has to learn to act like a proper lady and her lessons — from wearing a corset to blood letting to dancing — are our glimpses into the Regency world. Fortunately she retains all her host’s muscle memory, which prevents her from being a klutz on the dance floor and allows her embroidery to pass her mother’s inspection. Mrs. Mansfield, by the way, is the wicked witch of the story, putting to shame Lady Catherine de Bourgh or any other Jane Austen villian. The book’s Prince Charming is the handsome Mr. Charles Edgeworth, a man Jane Mansfield had resisted before Courtney arrived in her body.
Needless to say, Courtney is fascinated with her uber-Darcy, but she has just enough of her host’s memories to make her doubt his sincerity. That doubt is also strengthened when Edgeworth’s sister Mary, who apparently is a very close friend of Jane, also warns Courtney that her brother is not to be trusted. And Courtney is still nursing a hurt from the present day when she found her fiancé in flagrante delicto.
Anyone who’s seen more than a little Austen will inevitably make comparisons with the wonderful Lost in Austen ITV series, released in 2008. But any real examination shows considerable differences. Yes, both heroines are rabid Austen fans, but curiously missing from Lost in Austen is any real speculation by the heroine on the whys and wherefores of her transportation. Amanda Price is more worried about securing the match between Elizabeth and Darcy than getting back to the 21st century. But Courtney is ever thinking about how she found herself in Jane’s body and how she might return to the present day. I enjoyed that dose of reality in an otherwise very unreal story.
Oh, you might also reasonably make a comparison to director Penny Marshall’s Big, starring Tom Hanks.
I must also warn you that Courtney Stone is not the most likeable of characters. In her own time, she is a woman who keeps falling for men who have a wandering eye. She falls into bed far too easily and depends way too much on alcohol and Jane Austen to see her through the day. But over time, she matures and faces the realization that her choices are the instruments of her unhappiness and finally acts on that realization, rather than just moan about it. She also learns to care about the effect her actions have on others, even if they are people in some wild time travel fantasy.
Also, I must warn … no, assure you that there is a sequel, Rude Awakening of a Jane Austen Addict, which I hope to read soon. I assure you because you may find the ending of this book very abrupt, but keep in mind that if Jane’s body is hosting Courtney’s consciousness, then it stands to reason a Regency lady will find herself in L.A.
P.S. The thing that pushes this book over the top are the video clips promoting the book, which you can find at Rigler’s website. Any fan of Larry Blamire films will recognize Fay Masterson playing Jane Mansfield, while Arabella Field plays Courtney Stone.