Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Being Elizabeth Bennet

on November 20, 2010

This is my fifth non-Austen title for the challenge.  It’s been some months since I last used (“read” seems slightly inappropriate for this genre, as I shall explain) this book but I love it and shall no doubt be having another delve into its pages before the end of the year.

Being Elizabeth Bennet by Emma Campbell Webster is a book in the “choose your own adventure” style of genre.  For anyone unfamiliar with the format, the reader is addressed as “you” and takes on the role of a central character within the story.  At regular points in the narrative the reader is asked to consider a decision or challenge and turn to one of two or three different pages, depending on the option selected.  The outcome of the story will then progress based on whether or not the reader made a sensible or unwise decision and there are various possible endings.

The central character/reader of this book is a young Regency woman based on the character of Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and her aim by the end of the story is to marry both beneficially (in a financial sense) and for love.  The many decisions throughout the course of the story will introduce her to different men from Pride and Prejudice such as Mr Darcy (obviously), Mr Bingley, Mr Collins, George Whickham and Colonel Fitzwilliam.  Some of these will propose, and the reader’s decision over whether or not to accept the proposal form some of the choices in the narrative.  Bad decisions will sometimes result in the end of the story, usually with the reader being informed that she is in an unhappy marriage, or that she dies, and has failed at her mission.  If the story does not end the reader is eventually led through five sections, in some cases via visits to the action from other Austen novels (for those that find it, the opportunity is also available to marry Mr Willoughby, Colonel Brandon, Mr Knightley, Mr Elton, Captain Wentworth, “Mr Bennet” (based on Mr Eliot from Persuasion but with name changed because of being a relative of the heroine’s) and others, but not Henry Tilney, a disappointment to the sizeable number of Tilney fans out there, including myself.  However, these marriages come with varying degrees of success and in most cases are not deemed to be an adequate completion of the task set at the beginning of the book, so in that respect it’s probably a good thing that the lovely Henry isn’t mentioned and rejected in so off-hand a manner!

Of course, it isn’t all about romance and proposals, there is plenty about friendship, dancing, walks, and even the various accomplishments expected of a young woman in Regency times.  Some of the choices are not in fact decisions to be made, but multi-choice challenges to your knowledge of pastimes, etiquette or even geography.  Whether you answer correctly or incorrectly affects your lists of connections and accomplishments and, ultimately, your points score.

Ah yes, the points score.  In addition to the usual maze of decision-making and page-turning, Emma Campbell Webster has introduced another element to the game.  Keeping a piece of paper to hand (a fairly large one, as it turns out) the reader keeps a tally of points in confidence, fortune (sometimes financial, sometimes luck) and intelligence, and lists of accomplishments and connections (inferior as well as superior!).  The lists and tallies fluctuate as you progress through the game and gain and lose confidence, friends, etc.  Ultimately if you receive a proposal, one or more of your points scores might affect whether or not you are able to accept, and it’s sometimes a surprise exactly how the outcome can be dependent on your score.  There’s a wonderful place near the end (if you succeed in getting that far!) where Darcy proposes for the second time and you must take into consideration all your points and lists.  The results of the reckoning will bring a smile to your face, I can guarantee it!

I can recommend this entertaining and clever book for any Austen far.  The more of her novels you have read, the more of the references you will pick up on, but this isn’t really important and even if you’ve only ever seen the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice and never picked up one of her novels in your life, there’ll be plenty in it for you.  In addition to sections clearly recognisable from the books there are witty little asides from the author to the reader and extra sections – in other words, it’s a lot more than just a rehash of Austen’s novels with the word “you” replacing “she”.

In the US I believe this book was released under the title Lost in Austen.  I think it’s a fab title, much better than its UK one and I don’t know why it wasn’t called that here.  A year or so after publication, however, the ITV series Lost in Austen came out, and I wonder if perhaps that was already in the pipeline and the title couldn’t be used here because it had already been claimed by the programme-makers.


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