L.A. girl lives a fantasy life: Austen's

A modern fan copes without modern conveniences in the persona of the adored author.

Posted: September 02, 2007

By Laurie Viera Rigler

Dutton. 293 pp. $24.95


Reviewed by Elizabeth Fox


This is the age of Jane Austen. The novels to which she once could not attach her name are revered as classics, cinematic extravaganzas are made of her life, and excessive fan love is at an all-time high. It doesn't matter that she died 190 years ago - her time is now.

In this spirit comes Laurie Viera Rigler's novel, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. In it, she sends Courtney Stone, an L.A. girl nursing a broken engagement, back to Regency England to inhabit the body of Jane Mansfield (go ahead, giggle), a wealthy, 30-year-old woman in search of a husband. And thus Courtney proceeds to live Jane's life, wreaking havoc in the 18th century with her modern ways and winning the heart of the rich hottie at the next manor, Mr. Edgeworth. In addition, she manages to see the countryside, Bath and London, and even runs into Austen herself.

All of which is pretty much quintessential fantasy fulfillment for any Jane Austen aficionado. Courtney's constant references to Austen's characters, and her prominent mention of today's National Jane Austen Society of America, just serve to underscore the notion that Confessions is a book written by an Austenite for other Austenites. Never has a target audience been so obvious.

Speaking as one of the in-crowd, though, that's what makes it fun. Austen's fans are pretty consistent in their love for romance and happy endings, so Rigler's predictable formula works well. Anyone who has ever read Pride and Prejudice with that glazed "if only" look knows the dream of being a pampered Regency woman attracting a rich man as gorgeous as Colin Firth. Watching a modern girl struggle through the 18th century without indoor plumbing or makeup is also amusingly appealing, since it feels real, or at least as real as time travel is ever going to get. Even her run-in with Jane Austen, in which Courtney comes across as a madwoman, is endearing, since it's easy to see any modern fan reacting in the same way.

Despite being appealing and understandable, however, Courtney actually proves to be the novel's main problem. She frustratingly spends half the book pondering the philosophical ramifications of switching lives. Her opinion changes every other page, and she details every mind-numbing nuance.

Even more annoying, for all her thinking, Courtney rarely acts intelligently. Instead of adapting to her new society, she fails to conform in obvious and idiotic ways. It's not until late in the game that she grasps that maybe casual sex isn't the best idea, or that there's really not much she can do about the restrictions on women without becoming a social pariah.

And even these issues cannot compare to the confusion that Rigler creates trying to explain how Courtney is able to inhabit Jane's body. It's unclear why she even bothers with an explanation, since her book concerns Austen and romance, not physics. The ridiculous combination she produces of time, space, desire, and a magical psychic actually raises more questions than it answers, along with some serious questions about how Rigler survived high school science.

That said, though, Austenites will still find Confessions worth a read. It's a frothy page-turner, the kind that's perfect for the beach. Even when the writing is poor or the activity silly, Courtney's worshipful passages on Austen and her modern-day opinions on Regency practices allow the reader to see herself there. And in this case, "there" is exactly where any Austen fan wants to be.


Elizabeth Fox was a summer intern at The Inquirer.

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