Laurie Viera Rigler: Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict is the flip side of Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict: the earlier novel cast 21st-century Courtney Stone’s mind into the body of a young woman in early 19th-century England. This (much better) novel brings the unfortunately (if significantly) named Jane Mansfield’s persona forward to modern Los Angeles and confronts her with dead-end jobs, suitors of uncertain reliability and trustworthiness, and the conundrum of how to answer the vast volumes of mail — physical, voice, and electronic — that a young lady might receive in a 3-day period.

Suspending my disbelief in Mansfield’s reactions to the modern world took some effort. I think, for instance, that an LED display reading “808” would first be interpreted as an abstract geometric pattern rather than as numbers. I’m inclined to think (although this may be partly my own prejudice) that when confronted with technology such as cars, iPods, cell phones, etc., that a 19th-century person might not be easily convinced that the technology is natural and human, rather than unnatural and infernal. But of course, if Mansfield were completely unable to engage with the modern world, Rigler wouldn’t have much of a book. So I’m willing to make allowances, and Rigler certainly establishes that Mansfield is strong-willed, intelligent, and unconventional — like most of Austen’s heroines; like Austen herself.

Rigler makes a more-or-less credible attempt to describe the modern world as a Regency-era person might see it. Even at its silliest, the novel often displays Rigler’s 19th-century knowledge, as when Mansfield explores Stone’s refrigerator:

…At last I have discovered a larder, bare though it may be.

Ah. There is an upper door as well. Frigid air issues from the interior, refreshing upon my skin. A giant, frosty bottle of something called Absolut. A jar, pliable as paper, of something called Cherry Garcia. I open it, dip in a finger and taste. It is a delightful variety of ices, sweet with chewy cherries and bits of what tastes like chocolate except that it is solid and much sweeter. Must find a spoon.

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict is none too deep a book, so perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but it could perhaps be considered an extended metaphor bridging the gap between Austen and her present-day readers.

I’ve spent enough time reading Austen’s fiction and biographies of the authoress to have formed a one-way emotional connection. But I’m keenly aware that if some time anomaly afforded me an opportunity to meet her, that she would find me dreadfully uncouth and unfit for conversation. Despite all the pleasure her words have afforded me, I’m certain she would find my paltry scribblings deeply appalling.

To a limited degree we can put ourselves in Austen’s shoes: reading her work, histories, even watching PBS’s Regency House Party. Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, with a character who shares many characteristics with Austen and her protagonists, and whose name blends Austen’s given name with the title of one of her novels, attempts the reverse. It suggests that, among other allowances, Austen could conceivably conclude that, at least in the climate of southern California, it might be appropriate for ladies to be seen bare-limbed.

I thought it was charming, and although mostly fluffy, not without a few insightful moments. I’d recommend it to anyone who finds the basic premise intriguing and isn’t completely allergic to anything that could be filed under “romance.”

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

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