I was particularly interested in reading Edmund Bertram’s Diary by Amanda Grange since it is based on my favorite novel, and I had already enjoyed Ms. Grange’s Mr. Knightley’s Diary, which wasn’t perfect, but enjoyable. However, going into it with high expectations, I was, naturally, disappointed.
The beginning of Edmund Bertram’s Diary was good. I think that Amanda Grange does a good job of portraying the Bertram family and their treatment of Fanny. Edmund’s love for Miss Crawford is convincing. Henry and Mary Crawford are charming, while still being suitably unprincipled. But, later in the book, Ms. Grange begins to hit some wrong notes.
My first objection is minor. Ms. Grange makes Fanny into a “very creditable” artist.1 I tend to agree with Richard Jenkyns, who, in his book A Fine Brush on Ivory, says, “I suspect that Jane Austen may have been trying to test the limits, to see how far she could go. Deliberately she withdraws from her heroine most of the attractions that might compensate for her timidity: Fanny is made to have no interest in music or drawing; she says that she does not want to learn them.”2 What we are meant to admire about Fanny, I believe, is her beautiful mind and character. Here we are invited to admire her for her accomplishments. But, as I said, this is really a very small criticism. I have others that are not so slight.
Tom keeps a mistress.3 Tom has his vices, of course, but it’s going a bit far to say that he kept a mistress (it is only alluded to briefly during some conversation, but it is still there). Edmund would have been completely shocked by such behavior, not have taken it as a matter of course, as he does in this book.
Edmund spills his guts to some complete strangers — a few of Tom’s dissolute friends, in fact. The scene takes place while Edmund is in London. When Tom tells some of his friends that his brother has a bet on a filly that will bring him twenty thousand pounds (referring to Mary Crawford), Edmund goes right along with it, instead of being absolutely disgusted by it as Jane Austen’s Edmund would have been.4 Later on Edmund again meets Tom with his “party of friends”.5
‘So, how is the little filly?’ asked Langley. ‘Got her into harness yet?’
I shook my head; Tom was sympathetic; and before I knew it, I was telling him my troubles.
‘Women are the very devil,’ said Langley.
‘Not worth it,’ said Hargate.
‘This one certainly isn’t. Why not marry one of the Miss Owens instead?’ asked Tom. ‘Any one of them would make you a respectable wife.’
‘Because it is Mary I want.’
Hargate nodded sagely.6
These incidents take Edmund grossly out of character. You don’t have to be a stuffy parson to find keeping a mistress revolting, and any honorable man would find it distasteful to have the woman he loves referred to as a filly that he is betting on (for the money it will bring him, no less). And as for confiding one’s innermost woes to a party of strangers (and strangers who are not the kind of people that that one would usually associate with, at that), it is simply not Edmund Bertram in the least.
Edmund isn’t allowed to just love Fanny for what she is, she has to change. She is made to become more and more outgoing until she becomes “an assured woman,” “no longer tongue-tied in company, but setting everyone at their ease by talking to them of their own concerns and replying with the same ease to their questions about her own.”7 All of this happens greatly to Edmund’s pleasure, for he’s been waiting for and wanting this to happen all through the book. In fact, it is during this time that he falls in love with her, and right after this particular episode that he proposes to her. Fanny becomes so bold, in fact, that she is capable of advising Sir Thomas himself.
‘I have had a letter from Julia,’ said my father, when we joined him and Mama in the drawing-room. ‘She has begged my forgiveness and she now asks for the indulgence of my notice. I would like your advice, Edmund; and yours, too, Fanny. You have seen more clearly in this business than any of us.’
‘It seems to me to be a good sign,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ said Fanny. ‘If they wish to be forgiven, then I think you should notice them.’8
I don’t have any problem with Fanny becoming a little less shy and more confident (actually, under the circumstances, I think it would be natural), but all that is taking it a bit far a bit fast.
Another criticism of the book is, the ending is too abrupt. Edmund realizes that he is in love with Fanny and proposes to her on the same day. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it would have been more romantic had he been given some time to court her after he falls in love with her (and Jane Austen never suggested that Edmund had been in love with Fanny all along).
Finally, I must add that Amanda Grange is too fond of the word “satirical.” I know this is a trivial complaint, but, still, there it is. She overuses it and it gets annoying. After finishing Edmund Bertram’s Diary, I went on to read Darcy’s Diary by Ms. Grange, and found it also liberally besprinkled with the word “satirical.” Also, as my sister pointed out to me, these two books are generously strewn with “whilst” — a word almost never found in any of Jane Austen’s novels (it is used four times in Pride and Prejudice, but never in any of the other five completed novels). This, of course, does not mean that it should never be used in Jane Austen fan fiction, but, if plain “while” is good enough for Jane Austen, it is good enough for me.
Anyway, all that said, Ms. Grange’s works are mostly clean, mildly clever, and gently entertaining. Edmund Bertram’s Diary has the merit of not being too long for the subject matter, providing an enjoyable read for those who like fan fiction and just can’t get enough of Jane Austen.
This is a review, though slightly edited, that I have posted before.
1. Amanda Grange, Edmund Bertram’s Diary (New York: Berkley Books, 2007), p. 227.
2. Richard Jenkyns, A Fine Brush on Ivory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), ch. 4, A Park with a View, p. 112.
3. Grange, p. 237.
4. Ibid. pp. 237-238.
5. Ibid. p. 247.
6. Ibid. p. 248.
7. Ibid. p. 286.
8. Ibid. p. 276.