Friday, June 5, 2009

Purporting to be Austen

I recently read Charlotte, Julia Barrett's continuation of Jane Austen's last written work-in-progress, revolving around a place called Sanditon. If you are an avid fan of Austen (and if you're not, I kind of have to assume you have no soul; (shrugs) sorry), I do not recommend this book.

This continuation is an ambitious project. While Jane Austen only wrote six complete novels during her lifetime, each of those novels is beloved by many, each of those novels is distinct, and a work of art. The beginning of the novel Jane Austen tentatively entitled The Brothers is a promising one, and causes the reader to want to know what happens next, and to be further saddened that Ms. Austen was taken from this world so soon. To ruminate on where the story might have gone, and publish those ruminations for other Austen fans to read takes courage, imagination, of course, and I admire Julia Barrett for sharing her thoughts with the world.

The manner in which this book is packaged, however, led me to believe that Julia Barrett's writing is supposed to resemble that of Ms. Austen's. The transition from Austen's writing to Barrett's is not at all seamless, but is instead rather abrupt. The first sentence of Barrett's, in fact, changes the attitude of the main character.

One thing I did like about this book is that Julia Barrett re-formatted Ms. Austen's writing so that it reads a little bit more like a more modern novel. This re-spacing was done, undoubtedly, to help make the transition to Barrett's writing less distinct.

Another thing evident in the book is that Barrett obviously did research on the time period. She also writes using archaic vocabulary, and really does try to make the reader feel that they are reading about people in the nineteenth century.

The difference between her writing and Austen's is evident, however, perhaps because Austen is writing from the vantage point of someone living in the nineteenth century. Rather than the point of view of someone looking back on that time and trying to recapture its essense, Austen WAS part of the nineteenth century, herself.

Barrett does research, and has some interesting ideas as to where the book was heading. Personally, I don't agree with her. I feel that Barrett changed some of the characters too drastically too fast, and while certain parts of her storyline seem accurate, many of them do not, to me.

Thus, while I congratulate Barrett on her thorough research, and for the mere fact that she attempted to complete a novel by such a famous author, I do not think that this book does justice to the story that Ms. Austen's fragment begins.

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