Book Review: Being Elizabeth Bennet by Emma Campbell Webster

This book managed to irritate and entertain in different parts.  Perhaps it was the lack of choices, rather heavy reliance on a point system and the often awkward inclusion of characters, but it left a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth.  If you’ve read a “Create your own Adventure” novel before, you will know what this book has in store when it subtitles itself “Create your own Jane Austen Adventure”.  For the others, I will explain in full.  Disjointed storylines are symptomatic of this book genre, a genre of which I am admittedly not a fan, and Webster did have a better attempt at it than most.

So, will you die a horrible death?  Marry Mr. Darcy?  Become a writer?…

The basic premise is this. You are Elizabeth Bennet. Where there was the option in Pride and Prejudice for her to take a different path (physically and metaphorically) in her life, you now get to decide what she does and where she goes.  For instance: “To trust in her improved appearance and urge Jane to borrow Mr. Bingley’s carriage immediately, turn to page 42.” “To suggest Jane takes advantage of the restorative properties of fresh air and exercise by walking … 37” “To stay a few days longer … 7”.  Webster times well the interruptions of the story, but fails to make quite a few of the ensuing chapters and new storylines as plausible.  While it is a joy to see characters such as Willoughby, Emma, Fanny Price, Mr. Knightley and Colonel Brandon involved, the dynamics of the story become confused.  If you’re anything like me, this is entirely your own fault as you’ll want to read every storyline (and so keep going back and checking each and every option until you’ve used up all possibilities) and this sort of attitude will serve you up a mighty headache of Too-Many-Characters and Too-Many-Subplots. Similarly, I’m not the sort of reader who keeps track of a score.  While Webster states: “If the mere suggestion of score-keeping gives you palpitations, fear not; you can choose not to keep track of your own scores if you so wish. When asked to check them, simply choose whichever score you fancy from one of the two options you are offered.” But surely this then defeats the whole point of the game? And, there are smaller jokes missed by not involving yourself in this point system (for instance, certain male roles will only accept you based on a specific number of fortune points etc while others do not care).

Points are awarded and deducted in the categories of: ACCOMPLISHMENTS, INTELLIGENCE, CONFIDENCE, CONNECTIONS and FORTUNE. These get more complicated as the story goes on and you meet good and bad connections.  Unfortunately, you often lose points for elements that are completely out of control (annoying) although you can gain them back by answering some pretty good questions about the era/types of dancing/locations (this bit is lots of fun, I just wish there was more of it!). It does shed a bit of light on just how difficult the regency era may have been fot the females living in it, and perhaps it was because so many elements were just beyond my understanding and power that it bugged me so much- reflective of how I myself would become frustrated with such a marriage-centred world- however in a novel made for fun and not education more choices and less incidental loss or gaining of points would serve well. 

The game is divided into three stages of the book, which makes it a bit more logical.  A great addition is the inclusion of notes at the back, where it explains the diversions and where they came from (Emma, Love and Freindship etc).  This made the plot twists a lot more fun, as it felt like you were learning a bit more about Austen as you go.  The notes also mention nice things about Pride and Prejudice, including some detail about Fordyce’s sermons (used terrifically in one of the storylines) and different types of carriages.  It also details where exact quotes have been taken from different sources e.g. Mansfield Park, Jane Austen’s Letters to Cassandra, Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane, notes from different editions of Pride and Prejudice and letters from Jane to Fanny Knight (her niece). 

I suppose reading this version of Jane Austen is good as it allows you to think just how carefully she considered the storyline plots she chose when all of these other endings were potentially at her disposal.  Unfortunately, a lot of the original Pride and Prejudice is merely paraphrased with the pronoun ‘you’ put in place instead.  It would have been far better if Webster had stuck to more of the original wording.  Some of the completely new passages (or used from the other novels) are great additions, such as this hilarious anecdote: [after being approached by gypsies asking for money] “When you confess you have none, they set about disfiguring you until your face is so disfigured that you are never again able to attract a husband all your livelong life.”  Now THAT’S the sort of action that needs to be more of the way through.  When it’s dramatic, this novel is excellent.

From a bit of trial and error, I have found it infinitely more enjoyable when played with a friend.  Reading each passage aloud, dicussing what is a good move and what is not, provokes some rather interesting discussion on the book, and I enjoyed it thoroughly this way.  If you’re already a fan of Austen and the adventure novel genre I expect you will love this to pieces, for myself I was very torn.  While in an excited stupor for much, some passages were a bit flagging and the writing style got under my skin (perhaps because I am unused to reading about “you” oneself).

While I picked this book up for (AU)$5.95 after a bit of digging around in Basement Books, Central, Sydney I recommend checking out the preview on Amazon.

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3 Comments

Filed under A good find, Book Review

3 responses to “Book Review: Being Elizabeth Bennet by Emma Campbell Webster

  1. Pingback: GAME Review- Matches and Matrimony: A Pride and Prejudice Tale | The Bennet Sisters

  2. Pingback: Pride and Prejudice book reviews in Frankie magazine | The Bennet Sisters

  3. Pingback: Pride and Prejudice Book Review | Age of Reason or Romanticism? `

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