Laurel's Reviews > Mrs. Elton in America

Mrs. Elton in America by Diana Birchall
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Aug 07, 08

bookshelves: austen-sequel, austenesque, fiction, humor

Austen’s “insufferable woman” storms the American Colonies!

In Jane Austen’s novel Emma, her over confident heroine Emma Woodhouse may make all manner of misapplyments in her assessment of character, but in her appraisal of Mrs. Elton as an “insufferable woman”, she need not be corrected. Austen’s characterization of the social climbing, vulgar and officious Augusta Elton may be one of her most monumentally satiric achievements. Of all the supporting characters in Emma, Mrs. Elton never failed to make me laugh out loud or roll my eyes in exasperation, so I was delighted to learn that I could visit with Mrs. Elton yet again in this compilation of three stories written by Diana Birchall; In Defense of Mrs. Elton, The Courtship of Mrs. Elton, and Mrs. Elton in America, all presented as The Compleat Mrs. Elton.

In this Austen-esque sequel, Mrs. Elton is given her due as a lady of consequence (in her own mind), and her story continues with her caro sposo and family in tow as she ventures yet farther to the distant shores of the American colonies in an adventure as ambitious as her social climbing schemes and ego can take her. Boston and New York society may never quite be the same, nor a southern slave plantation or the Comanche Indians, but rest assured that even though her path leaves a wake sardonic remarks and biting social observations as affective as General Cornwallis, she does not change the course of American history.

I was completely charmed by author Diana Birchall’s clever use of Austen-esque language and style. I have read quite a few of the recent onslaught of Jane Austen prequels, sequels, spinoffs, retellings and pastiches and Birchall’s skill and voice have yet to be matched by any other writer endeavouring to emulate or honour Jane Austen or her characters. I am astounded by her complete channeling of the character of Mrs. Elton, and captivated by the entertaining and adventurous story of one of literatures most famous egos. Mrs. Elton may be an “insufferable woman” in Emma Woodhouse’s view, but she will please Jane Austen ‘purists’ and ‘lightist’ alike.

Laurel Ann, Austenprose
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