Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken
So I have heard people say how much they enjoy Joan Aiken’s books. I have put all on my to-read lists and when I came across her book Jane Fairfax a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, I jumped at the chance to grab it and read it.
However, I didn’t like it.
Aiken is not a bad writer, but the style didn’t suit me. I tried reading this book three times and could not get involved in it, forcing myself to finish it so I could review it.
The book is told from Jane’s point of view, but while I thought this would be interesting…it was not.
The book starts off with Jane growing up in Highbury, angry and upset with Emma as she has money, a sister, a father and mother-then later a governess, clothes, etc. She can’t stand Emma as she wishes she had her life-after all Emma is rude and doesn’t deserve what she has.
She also has a humongous crush on Mr. Knightley, on that grows with every gift of apples, every horseback ride, every moment with him, etc.
She is given the opportunity to live with her father’s old friend. Life in the Colonel Campbell home is not what she expected: the Colonel is a mean and grouchy man who is always yelling at his daughter; his wife is a woman who is uninterested in anything regarding her child; Colonel Campbell’s mother-in-law is grouchy, gives unneeded advice, and is rude to Jane.
Her only friend is the mousy and insecure, Rachel Campbell.
When the girls are young they meet the Dixon boys who are annoying at first but then they grow on the girls. Jane also meets Mr. Knightley, Mr. Weston, and Frank Churchill occasionally in London. And every time Jane’s heart goes thump-thump when she sees Mr. Knightley.
When the girls are older they go to Weymouth and spend time with the Dixons, Jane realizing she is in love with Matthew. Unfortunately, Rachel is too.
But then Matthew reveals his love for her, Jane-and it is all she can do to refuse it. You see Matthew has debts that need to be paid and Jane has nothing-no money, no connections, and definitely no dowry. She convinces him to marry Rachel, he proposes to her, and the two leave for Ireland while Jane will be sent back to Highbury.
To her surprise Frank Churchill, who she thought little of, has fallen for her.
As she lost her real love and knows that Mr. Knightley is not likely to be with her she says yes to his engagement.
And then we enter the Emma story as Jane is sent to Highbury waiting for Frank’s aunt to die so they could be together.
I didn’t like this as Jane seemed so cold and calculating, choosing Frank not because she loved him, but because she wants money, security, a home-basically she is Charlotte Lucas.
Reading Emma, I never cared for Frank Churchill and thought he was a total jerk, and that Jane deserved better. Whenever I read it all I can think is she must have really, really loved him to put up with all the crap he does-romancing Emma as a smokescreen, talking about her to Emma, making fun of her, etc.
So having her not really care for Frank is…weird. I mean she is sooo practical through the whole thing. At age six she knows she will never get married but is destined to be a spinster and governess (that is what Aiken writes), so for her to enter an engagement that has very little chance of coming to fruition seems like a weird choice for someone so practical and logical.
Now if she was in love with him, well love is blind that makes sense.
But as she isn’t, why would she even think this would work? If anything her character makes more sense to believe that as soon as she leaves London his ardor for her will too.
Anyways, she comes to Highbury, Frank is a jerk, she moons over Knightley which I also thought was weird. If she was interested in Knightley, why not make a play for him over Frank? It is far more likely that Mr. Knightley would marry her than for Frank to.
And Jane is just horrible to Emma. I think the author wanted to go with past hurts can color your current behavior, and that Jane is still upset over the behavior of the Emma when she was a child-but I couldn’t stand it. Every time Emma enters the room Jane is all look at the disdain she gives me, she doesn’t care. She’s pretending to be kind and she’s really a snake.
This makes this a not a very fun read as she is just mad all the time. I don’t like characters that are just mad all the time.
The part I did like was when Jane goes to Highbury and has a hard time fitting in as she was in a different position as Colonel Campbell’s ward versus Mrs. & Miss Bates’ ward. That isn’t something you really think about or see in the movies and I enjoyed that view.
Most of the story is about Jane having a crush on Mr. Knightley, this continuing until she is heartbroken to find him marrying Emma her longtime rival.
The only part I enjoyed was at the end when Jane and Emma talk and Jane apologizes for being cold and distant as she realizes she was angry and jealous of Emma; and Emma apologizes for ignoring her and being distant as she was jealous of her. They both realize that Mr. Knightley was right and they would have been good friends, regretting that they didn’t listen to him when they were younger.
But that was at the end and I had to wade through the whole book to get there. I don’t recommend this and say hard pass.
For more Emma adaptions, go to Rational Creatures: Emma Woodhouse, Miss Bates, & Harriet Smith
For more Jane Fairfax, go to Dangerous to Know, Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues: MODERATE
For more Jane Austen adaptions, go to Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors