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Colonel Brandon's Diary by Amanda Grange

(My first posted review!)

Colonel Brandon's Diary
Amanda Grange
Berkley, 2008
295 pages (but a very quick read - sadly!)

Thank you, Amanda Grange, for realising the heroic and romantic potential of Colonel Brandon, which is merely suggested in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Also, thank you for the first ‘parallel novel’, or ‘missing scenes’ tribute to a classic story, which not only works, but is beautifully written and well researched.

 

Forgive my gushing praise of this delightful book, but every word is well deserved!

Though not a fan of Austen’s books, the patient, caring and devoted Colonel Brandon instantly won me over, despite the fact that he is absent for a good part of the story! Modern, younger readers of Sense and Sensibility, if there are any teenagers who discover Austen for themselves, without having her ‘genius’ thrust upon them at school – will no doubt appreciate Willoughby more and wish that Marianne could have married her first love, but on second thoughts, I think that Austen made the right match for her more passionate heroine in the end. Yes, Willoughby is young and exciting and charming, but he is also shallow and selfish. Colonel Brandon is older – not elderly, at thirty-five, just older than Marianne’s seventeen years – but he is deeper, wiser and his love for Marianne far more constant than the pretty playboy. So what if he will be a father figure as well as a lover to her – a calmer, more mature Marianne will need both companion and suitor to keep her happy.

‘Willoughby was nothing but a tawdry tale bound in gilt and leather, whereas you, dear Colonel, have in you the poetry of Shakespeare, though your cover is not so fine.’

Colonel James Brandon – he doesn’t even merit a first name in Austen’s story! – is worth waiting for. For the many other readers who, like me, fell for him in Sense and Sensibility, but felt cheated out of his company, Colonel Brandon’s Diary is the perfect complement to the original novel. Tempted by the recounting Brandon gives to Elinor of his tragic love affair, and the contrast of a once lively and loving youth with the older, heartbroken man he becomes, Amanda Grange obviously had to bring this ‘good man’ to life. And such is the author’s familiarity and expertise with Austen’s characters, in her dialogue and descriptions, that she can employ them expertly in her own version. Mrs Jennings is just as funny, but Miss Grange also adds her own wit in the form of Brandon’s Wodehousian aunt and Eliza’s landlady (‘And then she said, “Maybe he’s got the smallpox,” but as I said to her, “I hope it’s not the smallpox. Just think of my sheets,” so then she said he probably dropped off his horse, as gentlemen have a habit of doing.’)

Whereas Austen also makes me laugh, however, only Amanda Grange’s take on the story really touched my heart, or made me *sigh* with feeling. Reading this novel, which I absorbed in one day and will no doubt return to soon, I was struck with the realisation that Austen left the best scenes out of her book! Brandon’s angry confrontation with his dissolute brother, his beloved Eliza’s death and the tender love he has for her daughter, only to find that Willoughby has broken her heart and ruined her. The duel they fight, which is passed over in a line in Sense and Sensibility, is all the more dramatic when experienced from the Colonel’s point of view. His judgement sharpened by concern for Marianne – and perhaps a touch of jealousy – Brandon is able to see through the young pretender from the start: ‘he is all surface, with nothing underneath’. Willoughby’s heartless treatment of both young Eliza and Marianne leaves him seething with rage, and the reader can only sympathise (and wish him good aim!)

The story starts in 1778, with Brandon studying at Oxford and returning to Delaford only to learn that his father has promised Eliza to his elder brother, and opens his diary and his heart to the reader through disappointment, travel abroad, a change of fortune, grief, and hope, to his marriage with Marianne in 1798. Grange captures his voice and inner thoughts so well, growing older and darker with experience, but also makes Marianne an appealing and (more importantly) willing match. The Colonel sees and admires in her the same qualities that make her my favourite Dashwood sister, who is ‘as honest and open as the day’ with her opinion. And whereas Austen’s last word on their union is rather depressing, almost forcing Marianne to marry him for his money, Grange gives Marianne a rousing speech bidding ‘adieu’, once and for all, to Willoughby (‘And for whom did I almost die? A man who did not deserve my love’) and shows her growing love and admiration, long overdue, for Colonel Brandon. The final scenes are so intimate and touching that I have now officially substituted Austen’s hurried summary for Amanda Grange’s thoughtful and lingering courtship:

‘You have loved and suffered, and yet it has not made you bitter, for you have the courage to love again. It is you who are the figure out of romance.’

Colonel Brandon and Marianne have both loved and lost, which is ironic for her – who proclaimed that she did not believe in second attachments – but makes them right for each other. Bringing them together slowly and with patience, instead of pushing them together in the last paragraph, is the difference between a May to December arranged marriage and one of the sweetest literary romances I have ever read. And the difference between Jane Austen and Amanda Grange.

There are other 'diaries' in the series, too - Mr Knightley, Captain Wentworth, Edmund Bertram - but as I have only read Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, I'm not tempted.

Rating: Admirers of Colonel Brandon, show your appreciation - read it now! 
 





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