By Beth Pattillo
Ellen and Mimi are two sisters on a Jane Austen tour of the English country side. Their late mother sent them on it as a condition of her will, so both sisters, who have grown apart, must attend the week long tour in order to get their inheritance. All they need to do is survive a week filled with Jane Austen tour sights and lectures, and the money will be theirs. Mimi has her sights set on the handsome and rich Ethan, and Ellen runs into an old flame. But when they discover the other part of their mother’s will – a mysterious diary that may or may not have belonged to Cassandra Austen, they aren’t sure who to trust.
Spoiler alert, this does not have to do with the Dashwood sisters, so, minus points for a bad title. The “Dashwood sisters” are actually the Dodge sisters, Ellen and Mimi. This is more of a very loose modern adaptation of the story than a direct spinoff. All the romance threads follow the same rough pattern as S&S, with Ellen/Elinor and Daniel/Edward falling in love, and the triangle between Mimi/Marianne, Ethan/Willoughby, and Tom/Col. Brandon. There’s that subplot, and then there’s also the plot with Cassandra’s diary.
Let’s start with the romance plot. It follows the source material pretty closely. Usually I’m in favour of that, but this time I’m afraid it made things rather boring. Is Ethan going to turn out to be Mimi’s prince charming? Well since he’s playing the part of Willoughby, I doubt it. There wasn’t much subtlety when it came to Ethan’s character. It’s pretty obvious he’s after Mimi’s supposed fortune. Same with Ellen and Daniel. Are they going to get together? Probably. The one thing they changed was that there was no Lucy Steele in his past. He seemed to have something to say about his ex-wife, something he wanted to confide in Ellen that she kept interrupting him for so he never quite got it out. Well that was never resolved because it’s not brought up again. The story could have used a wrench thrown into their picture perfect romance.
Secondly there’s the Cassandra diary plot. No such diary actually exists, so it was just a literary invention. Trust me, if Jane or Cassandra’s diary surfaced, we would all hear about it. I thought it was a bit presumptuous of the author to claim Jane’s heart was engaged, and that’s why she refused other offers of marriage. There’s kind of no proof of that, seeing as Cassandra burned most of her letters after her death. The code in the diaries was fairly obvious to me, but maybe I watch too many mystery shows. If it was supposed to be a crazy twist at the end that the code leads somewhere, it kind of failed. I figured it out almost right away, and I’m usually terrible at riddles.
The Formidables were a cool part of the book. But to be honest, that was more interesting than the actual plot. I would read the heck out of a book about a secret society of Austen loving ladies tracking down and finding Austen related treasures. National Treasure with a Jane Austen theme? Yes please! The mention of it felt like this was a followup sequel to that book, but as far as I can tell no such book exists. Yet another niche that needs to be filled by yours truly?
I always think it’s strange when a book modernizing an Austen plot references Austen’s works. Are we not supposed to know that sensible Ellen is Elinor and romantic and flighty Mimi is Marianne? In fact, they comment on their similarity with S&S’s characters within the story. You don’t happen to think it’s strange that your personalities, and even your names, are eerily similar to a book that your mother was obsessed with? I think it’s better, if you’re modernizing the plot, to pretend the characters have never read Jane Austen, or this is an alternate universe where Jane’s books don’t exist. You don’t hear Lizzie Bennet referencing P&P and constantly commenting about how weird it is that she’s just like a character in the book.
I also thought that the writing in both Cassandra and Jane’s diaries was very anachronistic for the late 1700s, when Jane would have been a teenager. If you’re going to write as Jane, at least make an effort. I really don’t think she would have written “Keep out, this means you Cassie” like a person today. Stuff like that always bugs me.
I enjoyed this book, for the most part. The author has written several other loose adaptations but I don’t feel the need to rush out and read them. Although it was somewhat predictable, it was still fun and light. I liked the parallels between the characters in this and S&S. The plot could have stuck closer to the original, rather than meandering into a (sort of) mystery novel, but on the whole it was a fun time.