“Intimations of Austen” by Jane Greensmith: A Review

5 May

 

Intimationsofausten

 
The most successful fictional characters have a way of persuading new writers to tell, retell, and reshape their stories. Such a writer is Jane Greensmith, a prodigious reader and insightful literary blogger who has chosen to let some of Jane Austen’s characters fashion untold and alternate histories for themselves in her story collection, Intimations of Austen. These stories succeed, to my mind, because, like Jane Austen, Jane Greensmith has a distinctive narrative voice that I am delighted to meet again and again.

That is not to say that her stories are all alike–not at all! They present a fascinating range of themes, emotions, and fresh points of view, all handled with clarity and command of authentic detail. Whether she chooses to speak as Mrs. Bennet, Fanny Price, Fitzwilliam Darcy, or Henry Tilney, her writing shows a particular sensitivity for the tone and texture of a marriage after the momentous dénouement of a proposal–the arc of relationship between husband and wife, or between lovers separated by circumstance or misunderstanding, sometimes over many years. And she can conjure this depth of feeling in just a few pages, with a few fraught exchanges or revelations.

In “Three Sisters” Greensmith transforms the uncertainties of the marriage market in Austen’s world into a crisp and cautionary fairy tale. The character of each sister is deftly revealed through the desires of her heart and the suitor she chooses.  In “The Last Baby” Mrs. Bennet unburdens her heart which aches for an infant son who died and for the unrealized communion of minds she wished to have with her husband. Perhaps all of Austen’s readers have paused a moment to sympathize with her plight of five marriageable daughters having little or no dowry, but Greensmith  makes us look deeper into the marriage when it was just husband and wife, before the children came and after they were grown. In “All I Do,” the longest story, we enter an alternate universe of Pride and Prejudice, where the ending we know was derailed and delayed by decades.

Bird-of-paradise

My favorite story is “Bird of Paradise,” in which newlywed Fanny Price returns with her husband Edmund to a home run by housekeeper Mrs. Danvers from Daphne duMaurier’s Rebecca! A brilliant narrative combination, which reveals something profound about a bride’s finding her happiness only insofar as she finds her true self.

I recommend these stories very highly for the pleasures they offer and for the “Intimations” they give of Jane Greensmith as a talented new fiction writer.

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