Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review: Colonel Brandon's Diary

As part of my Sense & Sensibility challenge, I just finished reading Colonel Brandon's Diary by British author Amanda Grange. I readily admit that Colonel Brandon is my favorite male protagonist in Jane Austen's repertoire, a true "knight in shining armor." I chose this book because I wanted to hear his side of the story (grin) and hoped it would be in line with the character that Austen created. I was not disappointed!

The book spans the years 1779 to 1798, and begins when James Brandon (not yet Colonel) is 18 and returning home to Delaford from his studies at Oxford. The book is in diary form and so we read Brandon's own words about what he is feeling and experiencing (at some point I began hearing these words spoken in Alan Rickman's voice!). He is in love with Eliza and hopes to marry her, only to find that his father has betrothed her to his brother Harry (his father is Eliza's guardian), who is already a drunk and libertine (the father hopes for Eliza's money to improve the estate of Delaford and pay his debts). Brandon fights against this, but of course he is defeated and he abandons his studies. He joins the army and is off to India. Four years later, he returns to find that Harry has divorced Eliza and she is in the poor house, dying and with a tiny daughter. Brandon does his best to save his Eliza, but she dies in his arms. He takes charge of Eliza's daughter (also called Eliza) and determines to bring the child up as his ward and protect her.

The diary then progresses into the scenes we know so well from Sense & Sensibility. Brandon meets Marianne and begins to be intrigued with her, then to fall in love with her. We learn of his feelings as the story progresses: his dismay at finding Willoughby "courting" Marianne and falling for his wiles, how he makes himself available during Marianne's illness, and etc. The diary paints a portrait of a man in love wisely biding his time, not daring to hope that Marianne will love him, always on the sidelines making things more comfortable for the Dashwood sisters, always in the wings and ready to serve. Of course we know that in the end, his patience and lovingkindness prevails and Marianne does fall in love with him. I felt myself admiring Brandon even more as I read "his" diary entries.

The contrast between Willoughby and Brandon is even more stark in this diary than it is in S&S. We are shown a more thorough portrait of Willoughby in his seduction of Eliza. We see the contrast between Brandon, loving Marianne for herself, and Willoughby, lusting after Marianne and wanting her for only one thing--sex. In fact, often I thought of Willoughby as a 21st century man, wanting to satisfy himself and not caring about women as persons. The book ends with the marriage of Brandon and Marianne, a wiser, more mature Marianne who has evolved into a loving woman who values the sensibility of a caring, loving man.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Brandon's inner life. Amanda Grange's writing is true to the Austen story and she includes lots of detail that makes the diary come alive. It is not flowery or showy (like some modern Regency writers) and I really respect that, as Austen's writing is straightforward and austere in places. Grange is to be commended for writing a male diary very successfully! I look forward to reading her other diaries soon!

Colonel Brandon's Diary by Amanda Grange. Berkley Books, New York, 2008. ISBN 9780425227794.

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