Review: Charlotte Collins, by Jennifer Becton

Charlotte Collins
A Continuation of Jane Austen's
Pride and Prejudice
, by Jennifer Becton
published independently, 2010 | 256 pp
When Jane Austen was alive, one would not yet have conceived the notion of a spin-off. But since her time, secondary characters have made excellent material for just that, whether it's an alternate perspective of a beloved novel's main events, or a continuation of a novel that follows one of the story's side branches, as we have with today's subject - Jennifer Becton's Charlotte Collins.

For any lover of Pride and Prejudice, this is a delight. Its is constantly pointing in the direction of its inspiration, but it does not suffer for that. It is it's own creature, blossoming from a cutting, as it were, of the original novel - similar, but laying down its own roots - its movement independent of the original.

The story begins some seven years following the events of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Collins has died (in a manner suiting his folly) and Charlotte must find her independent way in the world. She will not do so alone, however, for her younger sister Maria seizes on this opportunity to make Charlotte her chaperone as she finds her way through society and attempts to secure a husband of her own. In Jennifer Becton's hands, their tiny world of Kent becomes much larger, and Austen's characters blossom into leading players.

For many readers, Charlotte and Maria are thankless supporting characters to the Bennet sisters' plot, so seeing them so fully fledged here brings a kind of comfort. Becton's ancillary characters create a new part of the world that is remarkably detailed and bears the sort of witty appraisals one might expect from Austen's own pen (were it not for some of this author's indulgences in 19th century American exoticism and a slightly more passionate portrayal of emotion in general - both common traits in this brand of writing).  It is a credit to both Austen and Becton that Charlotte and Maria (and Lady Catherine) have a strength of their own and have no need to stray far from there inherent characterization in this newer continuation. They are all very much the same people, but it is the new story that allows us to see them in full form.

Charlotte Collins is a real tribute to Jane Austen, with shades of her other novels - most particularly, I found, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility; but it bears the mark of its home world most of all. I have not found, in my reading of Austen offshoot fiction, a work focusing on a minor character to do so as successfully as Jennifer Becton has managed here. And while I can't recommend this book to someone looking for a fresh or modern Austenesque novel, I think that anyone who loves reading Austen in its original form could give it a go and be the better for it.


Top 10 Bookworm Delights

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Top Ten Bookworm Delights

Per Jamie at B&B - "These are just some really delightful book related 
experiences in life that can just make me happy on any given day." 

I think any bibliophile could make a longer list, but in the interest of not 
boring everyone else, we'll keep it to 10. 

1. The smell of books - This is a no-brainer. Doesn't everyone love the smell of books? 
Except maybe Fanny Dashwood, of course. There's something very old and homey 
about the smell of a printed page. It's probably got something to do with mold and/or
getting high off of some spore growing in the spine but, you know what? don't know. don't care. 

2. Hunting for used books - Sure, you could spend hours digging through the 
shelves at Strand, or a place like the old Derby Square Bookstore in Salem 
(now closed, I understand...) but there's something to be said for finding that 
out-of-print copy of the book you had as a kid and haven't seen in years on eBay, too. 

3. Seeing what others are reading on the train - I love peeping over the shoulders 
of my fellow commuters to see what they're reading, even if I can't see the titles. And I 
always smile to myself when I see someone reading a book that I already love. 

4. Finding a favorite dog-eared passage - I am a bit of a cur in the book-lover community 
in that I dog-ear like my life depends on it. Bookmarks can fall out, right? So unless I'm 
using a bookmark that's got a good grip, dog-earring makes a lot more sense. I love it when 
I re-shelf a book after moving things around and come across a spot I had left marked for myself. 

5. Getting to the point in a book where I can bend the spine back - Yes, I am truly 
a mutilator of the books I love so dearly. Not only do I fold the pages whenever 
I please, but I also break the spines. I love the convenience of holding a book in 
one hand when I'm commuting, and I love getting to the point in my book where it 
won't destroy the integrity of its construction if I do this. 

6. Reading during a storm - Truth be told, I also love sleeping 
during a storm. But reading is good, too. 

7. Crying during a book - Or, really, having any kind of real emotion while reading. 
To me, that's the sign of a wonderful book. 

8. Organizing my shelves - I have a very precise way that I like things - 
I like keeping the authors I love most together; that's why McEwan, Kerouac, 
Connolly, Bronte and Dumas all share a shelf. Austen would be there but she has her 
own shelf plus another shelf of Austen-inspired books. But then I also have shelves 
that are arranged by genre - my fantasy shelves - which include the likes of 
Barrie, Pearson, Funke, Jacques, Rowling and Martin. I have a non-fiction shelf. 
I have a shelf of plays combined with some of my favorite contemporary fiction. 
And then I have what I call my Europa shelf. There are only nine Europa Editions there, 
but combined with the colorful spines of my NYRB tomes, and sprinkled with my favorites 
that don't fit in with the likes of McEwan and Austen, it makes for a very pretty picture. A book has to really win me over to fit into my limited shelf space, and to make me re-arrange my collection. Which leads me to....

9. Getting someone to take a book off my hands - Because I can't keep all the books (and, in many cases, don't wish to keep them) I want to make sure that they go to good homes. I hate having to see a book I once treasured trapped living a life in my office's lending library. Speaking of a which - I have a bunch of books ready to head to the office if anyone is interested...

10. Their unchanging nature - No matter what happens, a book will always 
conclude in the same fashion. Sure, an author can add a sequel, but that won't change 
your head canon. Yes, other authors can write alternate takes on the same story, but that 
won't change the story itself. George Lucas can try to change the end of your favorite book 
all he wants, but it will still end with "Yub Nub" and Han will always shoot first, because 
you have the written, edited and published truth of the matter. That's an argument for 
paper books over e-books as well, but I feel like that's a fight for another day. 


Collected Book Reviews (4/17 - 4/24/16)

In addition to TLG's review of The Rescuers, be sure to check out more from the critics in this week's collected reviews:

Janna Levin's Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, 
which Maria Popova praises as "first-rate." 

Eligible - Curtis Sittenfeld's "crass and raunchy" millennial-updated Pride and Prejudice

Lisa Hilton (here, L.S. Hilton)'s Maestra which Bethanne Patrick calls "pure pulp madness."

And finally, a review that is from a while back, but which just came to my attention 
thanks to an article about Kirkus being the veritable Statler and Waldorf of 
book reviews (and anything that resembles my spirit muppets must be attended to):

Claudia Gray's Fateful. While I - and the reviewer - acknowledge that 
this book is from the height of paranormal mash-up fiction, even they sound resigned 
when starting the assessment with "It has come to this: werewolves on the Titanic."