To Be Frank

Frank Churchill. In the pattern of casting a Jane Austen novel, Frank is “the rake/rogue” in Emma, joining the company of Wickham, Willoughby, Henry Crawford, John Thorpe, and William Elliot. He isn’t the hero, he isn’t the hero’s best friend, so that’s the spot allotted to him.

And certainly, after the despicable Eltons he is the least admirable character in the book. He’s selfish and self-centered, and his lies form the basis for the mystery at the centre of the plot.

But the first time I read Emma, I had another one of those moments when the voices in my head started saying, “What if…” (Long time Indie Janeites will remember I got the idea for my first Austenesque novel while reading P&P–Darcy spoke up as I was reading and started giving me his point of view. I call him the Darcy in my Head.)

You see, there’s something else interesting about Frank: Jane Fairfax loves him. Jane Fairfax, who is never portrayed in anything less than a flattering light. (Except by Emma, who is–frankly–jealous.) She is good and wise, as well as being exceedingly talented in almost all the ladylike virtues.

So why would a wise young woman fall in love with a feckless young man who never seems to give thought to anyone’s comfort but his own? Now, the cynic might say that even the Janes among us make mistakes. However, if you follow the course of the story, Frank eventually repents of his selfish behavior and comes back around to realising his own failings.

The answer, to me, is that Jane saw something in Frank that he didn’t even see in himself. She saw a seed of goodness, something she could relate to. But what was it?

I’m planning a novella about Frank Churchill called To Be Frank. Hopefully I’ll figure out some of the answers in the course of writing his story.

Review & Giveaway: Mr. Hurst’s Ambition

 

I have to admit that when I got the email asking me to review Mr. Hurst’s Ambition, I looked at the title and said, “Who?” I had to think for a minute about where exactly Mr. Hurst appeared in the pantheon of Austen characters. But finally it hit! In case you also need a refresher, Mr. Hurst is Louisa Bingley’s husband. Louisa is sister to the more famous Caroline and Charles who feature prominently in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Mr. Hurst is not a character most people would focus on. And that’s kind of the point in Lynne Scott’s novella.

Mr. Hurst is a nobody, really. He’s a quiet man who sleeps whenever he gets the chance and feels more at ease with his favorite dogs than he does with the people around him, especially when those people include his gossipy sister-in-law Caroline. He quite likes his brother-in-law Bingley and Bingley’s friend Darcy, though, which is good because the novella takes place largely in their company.

As the story begins, we see Mr. Timothy Hurst wondering how to get rid of his sister-in-law Caroline so that he can settle down to a quiet and sedate life with his new wife. But he’s also a bit disillusioned with Louisa. She can seem very silly, indeed, even if she is attractive. He doesn’t quite know what to do with her or how to handle her.

His doubts lead to a lot of contemplation of his old life. His memories of his former playmate Hillary and her mother Mara Windsor occupy a lot of his time. Mara Windsor became Hurst’s governess after being rescued from India by Hurst’s father. But Hurst’s mother Maude grew increasingly jealous of Mara and the two had some combative fights. This ended with Mara and Hillary going away and Hurst being left with a void in his life. The author conveys Hurst’s regret well. Even many years later, he’s haunted by the actions he didn’t take to stand up for his friends and what he knew was the right thing to do.

This regret actually helps inform his decision to involve himself in the political debates going on around the abolition of slavery. I quite liked the inclusion of this part of political life during the time when crusaders like William Wilberforce were gaining popularity and support for their causes. Louisa and Hurst actually begin to bond over their interest in the subject and in the person of Mr. Wilberforce. It was nice to see them finally have something in common.

But I’m not sure it was enough. While the story is an entertaining speculation on a little-known character, it sometimes felt more like Hurst was simply a vehicle for giving us an “outside” observation of Mr. Darcy rather than truly having his own story. And it seems like such an intriguing story! I wanted to know much more about him. The story could have done with more focus on how the couple comes together, especially as they begin to find a common cause in the abolition of slavery and their social concerns.

The limits of the novella length are maybe why I felt like the narrative sometimes jumped around too much and lacked a driving goal for the characters. There are hints in the narrative as it exists, but I kept wanting more, especially about the growing respect between Hurst and Louisa. There was a lot of potential for them to have their own love story like Darcy and Elizabeth.

In spite of this, I did like that it all came together at the end for a satisfying novella about one of the secondary characters in perhaps the most famous love story of all time.

3 out of 5 eye-rolls in Caroline Bingley’s direction

*****

Lynne E. Scott began screenwriting in 2004 and has completed five scripts.  Her first published work is “Dingo Devotionals:  Learning to Heel” and an essay of hers was published in “This I Believe: On Love.”  In 2009, she tried novel writing thanks to NaNoWriMo.  She has completed three novels, the first of which, Miranda’s Bottom, is available at Amazon.
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