Top positive review
One person found this helpful
River of no return
on 12 June 2018
Amusing escapist fantasy for Austen lovers who have often found themselves wanting to be in the novels, if only as serving maids, footmen, coachmen or boring vicars, excited about meeting people they’ve only ever known as ink on the page, images on celluloid, or phantoms in their imaginations, forgetting — conveniently enough — that they never existed anyway outside Jane’s own imagination. The power of fiction!
Darcy in particular fascinates, as does Elizabeth Bennet. Were his gentlemanly manners really as brightly polished as we think they were? Was Eliza truly so credulously blind to Wickham’s smarmy charm? Questions, questions — with Austen they are endless, speculation filling the gaps made by unsatisfactory answers. Thus the only way to really know how things were with these people is to mix in their circles, dine at their tables, dance at their balls, walk in their gardens, be in their theatricals.
Amanda Price thinks so too, held hostage to a life trapped in the wrong sliver of time, in the lousy sanctuary of the 21st century instead of the stately late 18th/early 19th century versions of time. Who needs cars, car parks and asphalt when they can have carriages, coachmen, liveries and fine horses? Who needs charmless men with awful diction and idiotic interests like football, beer and the lottery? Amanda, aged about 24, needs romance, courtship, flowery language and men with silk stockings and buckles on their shoes. In short, like millions of other women, she needs Darcy. But look around. She has. There are no Darcys anymore. Like the dinosaurs, they went extinct. Instead, there’s Michael, her deadbeat, dishevelled boyfriend. He would never read Jane Austen. It’s not that he’s illiterate. He can read The Sun and Daily Mirror and do the crosswords. He’s just culturally illiterate, like most of the rest of humanity. So, she loses herself in Austen, in a serene, elegant, beautiful world of knowable and manageable proportions.
How does this occur? Through a bizarre wormhole, it seems, one unaccounted for by Einstein’s two theories of relativity. Albert thought time flowed in one direction only — forward, barrelling into the future, powered by the thrust of the expanding universe. Not so, evidently, as one day Elizabeth Bennet, dressed in a flimsy nightgown and night cap, stands in the bathroom of Amanda’s tiny flat in Hammersmith, as dazed and confused as Robert Plant was in Led Zeppelin. Come to that, Amanda looks the same on discovering Eliza next to the sink and tub.
What is the wormhole? Just a simple door behind the bath that leads Alice-like through the looking glass into an alternative world — in this case, into the attic of the Bennet family house (Longbourn) in Hertfordshire, circa 1798. Amanda goes through the door, assuming Eliza will follow. But Lizzie locks it behind her, deciding to take her chances in the 21st century, marvelling already at its electric lights and toothpaste, thus abandoning Amanda to the pretensions of Georgian England.
A servant is the first to greet Amanda, then Mr. Bennet, who immediately finds her refreshing in her odd apparel and straight talk, her use of slang and strange metaphors particularly intriguing. The Bennet girls adore her too, the only family dissenter toward her Mrs. Bennet, who of course sees her as a rival to her daughters in the desperate game of securing husbands for her penurious offspring. It doesn’t help either that Amanda is very pretty, even sexy, though the word has yet to be invented for the condition. Amanda wears lipstick, eye shadow and earrings. Her hair is shoulder-length and straight, no attempt made to curl it with curling irons. Also, it’s worn in a fringe, her forehead hidden from view. Very strange indeed! What can it mean? Then there’s her apparel, raiment that catches even the rheumy eye of Mr. Bennet, a man who hasn’t been aroused in donkey’s years. She wears a one-piece tight-fitting dress made tight without the aid of a corset, the hemline amazingly short and most of her upper chest exposed due to the low cut that draws the eye toward the deep vertical line between her bosoms. She’s not a trollop but not a lady, either. Instead, something mysterious in the middle.
Back in modern Hammersmith before entering the wormhole door Amanda confesses frustration about her love life to her mother. But Mum, now divorced, is largely unsympathetic. Men are an abomination, she concedes, but what can you do? Marriage with all its faults is better than the lonely isolation of solitude made by a lack of matrimony. And she should know. She’s not handling her own solitude well, particularly missing the sex that love or lust brings. This is a drag, she confesses, as she takes another long drag on her cigarette.
Yet Amanda cannot marry deadbeat Michael. He’s a drunken, unromantic fool. He lacks manners, courtesy and decorum, qualities of gentlemanly behaviour well beyond his capacity to imagine, let alone adopt and imitate. He actually proposes to her, which is astonishing, but does so by producing a cheap ring during halftime of the football match he’s watching from her settee while drinking beer. She turns him down.
But — irony of ironies — the young Georgian men who seem so dashing and elegant in Pride and Prejudice actually pale in reality. Darcy is insufferably pompous, worse than Amanda imagined. Bingley’s a callow wimp, forever in the shadow of the domineering and judgemental Darcy. As for Wickham, we knew he was a worthless, selfish, scheming rogue. Jane Austen described him well, but alas not well enough. He’s despicable and Amanda says so straight to his face, an accusation so unadorned he’s unable to know how to answer it. Who is this creature, this bizarre female stranger? The buzz in Meryton (the village where the Bennets live) is alive in the same wonder.
Mr. Collins comes to Longbourn, he a young vicar and second cousin of Mr. Bennet. His intention is to inspect the Bennet daughters with a view toward marrying one of them. His reasons for doing so are sound. First, his patron (Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is also the aunt of Mr. Darcy) advises it. Second, a man in his position in the church should be married and seen to be married. And third, it would aid in his own personal happiness.
Jane Bennet, the beautiful and serene elder sister of Eliza, is spoken for. The chatter and hope is that she will marry Mr. Bingley, as he has made overtures toward Jane, dancing with her several times at the Netherfield ball. The other sisters (Kitty, Lydia and Mary) are still too young (mid-teens). But how about Amanda, Lizzie’s good friend from Hammersmith? Oh! The withering, contemptible gaze Amanda gives him fails to register at first, as Collins is too thick to apprehend much beyond the comfort of his own high self-regard. Rejection is out of the question, so when it’s finally perceived by him the fault lies with Amanda, not himself.
No matter. Charlotte Lucas is in the wings. She shall be the rightful wife of Mr. Collins as determined by Jane Austen and Amanda. But the contingencies of chaos theory must be correct. Nothing is quite fixed, so when a new element is introduced into any system, random, unpredictable effects may be observed. Amanda is the new element; her presence has an effect. Charlotte, Lizzie’s good friend and neighbour, has pedigree to recommend her. Her father Sir William Lucas is a member of the landed gentry. But Charlotte herself is shy and homely, and at 27 teetering on the brink of spinsterhood. Even Mr. Collins has standards, it seems. Youth and beauty matter. So with Lizzie gone (partying in 21st century Hammersmith) and Amanda unavailable, his lecherous gaze lights on virginal Jane Bennet, aged 21. Perfect!
What will happen? Much is the answer, but to reveal more would spoil the delight of the story. Suffice to say that fiction is not all it’s cracked up to be. At least when matched face to face with reality. The world of a novel is comfortable because it’s fixed, unchanging, forever ossified. Time and again we go back to it for its comforts. This is its role and magic. But make it real, spoil its magic, and it falls apart, just as messy and unpredictable as life is. Worse, really, because at least life is honest, unfolding as it will. We have expectations in it, but these are only hopes, whereas the veracity of a novel comes from its immutability. Once read, we know what happens. And once read again, the same things will happen again. Only our imaginations colour events, changing them via interpretation, but the events themselves do not change. Thus Mr. Collins must marry Charlotte Lucas. It is written as things in the Bible are, and to many people Pride and Prejudice is the Bible, or even greater than it. So, to be blunt, you don’t mess with it and Jane Austen.
Where is Elizabeth? Lizzie come back! She’s the only hope for normality, for restoring the integrity of events in the novel. Amanda is desperate for her, Elizabeth the saviour of everything. Besides, Amanda is homesick, pining now for her rightful temporal place in the scheme of things. She thought Georgian England would be better. But she was wrong. She misses flush toilets, central heating, television, weekends, half pints of shandy, cigarettes. She likes to party but the stuffy Georgians never do, too inhibited to let their hair down or fling their wigs or clothes off. The best they can do are formal balls, which are dull compared to all-night raves once the novelty of them wears off. In short, life in all its heartaches and disappointments is better than the ossified world of novels. She wants to go home.
And Eliza? You can imagine. Facebook and English football were fun for a spell. But where is the poetry and elegant music of the pianoforte? Where is the countryside in lieu of lorries and dual carriageways? Where is birdsong instead of boom boxes and rap? Where is serenity and tranquility instead of decadence and hedonism?
We each have our place in time and space. Actually, they’re the same, as Einstein said they were, two sides of the same coin. We hurtle through space-time at 30 kilometres a second on our iron ball of rock, never feeling it, barely knowing it.
Moral of the story: you can never go back, as there’s no back to go back to. The universe is expanding, not shrinking. You can only live now, day to day, as the days carry you along as if on some cosmic river of time and space, a river we can rightly call the river of no return.