Sunday 24 November 2019

Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen's Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues - Review

Book Cover: Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen's Rakes & Gentleman Rogues by Various - Anthology Edited by Christina BoydToday I'm sharing a review with you of a book I read back in the summer - it's an anthology focused on some of Austen's less admirable characters, brought together by editor Christina Boyd - Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen's Rakes & Gentleman Rogues. I took part in the blog tour of this book a couple of years ago - you can read that post, which includes an excerpt, here. Let me share the book description with you, and then we will move on to what I thought of it :)

Book Description

"One has all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it." —Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s masterpieces are littered with unsuitable gentlemen—Willoughby, Wickham, Churchill, Crawford, Tilney, Elliot, et al.—adding color and depth to her plots but often barely sketched. Have you never wondered about the pasts of her rakes, rattles, and gentlemen rogues? Surely, there's more than one side to their stories.

In this romance anthology, eleven Austenesque authors expose the histories of Austen’s anti-heroes. "Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues" is a titillating collection of Georgian era short stories—a backstory or parallel tale off-stage of canon—whilst remaining steadfast to the characters we recognize in Austen’s great works.

What say you? Are you in? Everyone may be attracted to a bad boy…even temporarily...but heaven help us if we marry one.

My Review of Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen's Rakes & Gentleman Rogues 

Inspiration for Dangerous to Know
Inspiration for Dangerous to Know
Following on from the success of The Darcy Monologues, an anthology of stories all from the point of view of Mr Darcy, editor Christina Boyd was struck with inspiration by a fun promo picture made by one of the authors. The inspiration was for a book of stories taking a closer look at some of  Austen’s anti-heroes. Most people love a bad boy (I am an exception, so I won’t say everybody loves one!) and since these are in the main less popular characters there is certainly some interesting scope to look at them more closely.

The stories in the anthology vary from entirely chaste to having sex scenes, and they are clearly labelled, so no worries about being ambushed by a type of scene you might rather avoid.

The stories are as follows:

Willoughby’s Crossroads by Joana Starnes – obviously a story about Willoughby – before he meets the Dashwoods, before he even meets Miss Williams. Willoughby’s lover is marrying an older man for money and he feels completely betrayed.
Her misplaced archness revives my forgotten fury. She jests. My world has just collapsed around me—and she jests!
I felt quite sorry for him to be honest. Watching anybody’s heart break is sobering stuff. Obviously one person’s heartbreak doesn’t justify their later behaviour. I didn’t feel in S&S that Willoughby came across as such a cynical character as he is shown in this short story, but he must have been worse than he appeared in order to have treated Miss Williams so badly.

A Wicked Game by Katie Oliver – a story about Wickham, starting after his marriage, where the danger he finds himself in during his active service sees him taking stock of his life. He also thinks back to events in his youth and reassesses them through new eyes.
A laugh burbles up now in my throat. How noble—I close my eyes—how fitting. When at last I vow to mend my ways, I am struck down in battle, let to die an unlamented death in a field in Spain.
I found this story very touching. I think that anybody would think about how they spent their life if they thought they were at the end of it. So often in fanfic Wickham is drawn as an irredeemable villain but Austen’s character is not, and this story was sympathetic towards him.

Fitzwilliam’s Folly by Beau North – Colonel Fitzwilliam in P&P is a bit of a charmer but has no plans to marry, unless he meets with a fortune. In this story, he has a bit of a reputation, which somebody wants to use to their advantage.
He did have a reputation; Miss Campbell had been quite right in that regard. He had never felt ashamed of it, until this night, until this very moment.
I’m actually not a huge Colonel Fitzwilliam fan, mainly because of comparing him against his cousin, Mr Darcy, who I love a lot :) Yes, he’s charming, but he seems quite surface charming for me, and very cold blooded in his views on marriage. This short story paints him as just as much as a romantic as his cousin. Darcy should have been looking for a suitable wife, but instead he waited and proposed when he met somebody that he could love and Colonel Fitzwilliam decides that he wants the same. I found this story charming.

The Address of a French Woman by Lona Manning – a story about Tom Bertram from Mansfield Park. The man who lived for the good life leaves home having ruined his brother’s future, disappointed his father and learned nothing whatsoever from it. He returns home ill, having been abandoned by his ‘friends’ and a much more reflective person. This story looks at what might have happened to him in the interim to contribute towards the change.

This story is written as if Tom is telling the tale directly to his cronies himself, and for that reason is really amusing. This one was a real favourite for me!
In fact, sirs, raise your glasses, every man jack of you, and drain it dry. “To Beauty.” And fill mine up again, will you?
Last Letter from Mansfield by Brooke West – looks at Henry Crawford. We know that he had an upbringing that was very morally lax. Here, while his relationship with Maria has soured and he’s waiting for her to leave him, he thinks back to some of that upbringing.
He intended for them both to be quite miserable. While all the world would see Henry as the scoundrel who ruined a gently bread woman, Henry could only think of Maria as the vixen who wilfully parted him from his love.
I found this story quite poignant. I don’t see Henry Crawford as entirely irredeemable and he thinks back to some of the events that set him off on the wrong path.

An Honest Man by Karen M Cox – You wouldn’t guess from the title of this story, but it’s about Frank Churchill and his secret engagement with Jane Fairfax. Just how did he entice the very proper Jane to agree to it, and what attracted them to each other?
She appeared to be one of those shy, wallflower-type creatures that found male attention terrifying, no naturally I tried to engage her further.
I thought her disinterest was a good reason for him to have been intrigued by her, but the reason for her attraction to him was harder to fathom, when you think of how careful Jane Fairfax had to be. In this story I was a little surprised at Jane’s behaviour, although if she had behaved in this way it made sense that she would persevere with the secret engagement, despite how wrong it was. One thing I thought was clever in this story is that, despite being in Frank’s head, it doesn’t necessarily make you like him more! He is the type of man that his hard to admire.

One Fair Claim by Christina Morland – The name of this story refers to a quote from Persuasion; Sir Walter Elliot’s good looks and rank had ‘one fair claim’ on him – it had procured for him a wife who had a far superior character to him. This story looks at their courtship, and a peep at her realisation of the situation her youthful infatuation with him had left her in.
Miss Stevenson’s complexion was so lovely that Sir Walter found himself utterly enchanted. No freckles, no lines, just a hint of pink that bloomed like a flower when she blushed.
It tickled me that Sir Walter’s reason for marrying was based on his prospective bride’s wonderful complexion, when you consider that he is very keen on complexion, mentioning both Anne’s and Mrs Clay’s in Persuasion.

We know from Persuasion that Lady Elliot at some point realised that Sir Walter wasn’t the man she thought he was. In this story he has realised that she is mistaken in his character during their courtship:
That her esteem was based largely on the appearance of goodness, rather than the reality of it, troubled him not, for he had always subscribed to the philosophy that appearance was reality.
On the one hand I felt a little sorry for her, knowing what disillusionment she had ahead, and I felt sorry for him as well, although he is so shallow and self-centred, because he thrives on admiration and at some point the only admiration she will have for him is how he looks, because there is very little else to admire. This is quite a melancholy story which fitted the situation.

Book Cover: Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen's Rakes and Gentleman Rogues by Various - Anthology Edited by Christina BoydThe Last Chapter in the Life of William Elliot by Jenetta James – William Elliot of Persuasion changes from a man who wants money to a man who wants respectability and to protect his inheritance of a title. This story looks at what might have happened between the death of his wife and him re-entering the lives of the Elliots. I find Mr Elliot a very calculating man, and this is how he was shown here:
When you know what a person desires, you know them, and how to approach them.
When I realised that this story was set just before he reintroduces himself to the Elliots in Bath I had expected things to build towards why he’d changed his mind about the importance of inheriting his title, but I didn’t get that sense from this story. Instead the story looks at him receiving a life lesson, but what was interesting was that he takes the lesson, shrugs his shoulders and moves on. I thought that was in keeping with his character and how cynically he views things.

As Much As He Can by Sophia Rose – General Tilney. In Northanger Abbey General Tilney is a cold and calculating sort of man, but after Catherine’s misjudgement, Henry informs her that the General was genuinely fond of his wife. In this story, Henry’s canon judgement of his father’s affections has fallen short; his father is portrayed as feeling quite lost without his wife’s affection and counsel.
Better they think him unfeeling or some sort of villain than the truth: his loss was so deep that he wanted to get down in that grave along with her.
I am not sure that I entirely got on board with this very sympathetic portrayal of General Tilney, but that isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it!

The Art of Sinking by J. Marie Croft focuses on one of Austen’s most unlikeable characters, Northanger Abbey’s John Thorpe. I find him a pretty unpleasant man, with his lies, self-delusion and bragging. This story shows some of John’s thought processes in this regard:
Glory and survival justify duplicity. To achieve one’s goals, such means are acceptable, according to both Machiavelli and my mother.
The approach is very light hearted. A number of very unpleasant things happen to John, both from childhood and in adulthood. I would think some readers would enjoy him receiving such comeuppance for his unpleasantness, but I struggled a bit with this story. The things which are described as happening to him as a child that I can't view in a lighthearted way. I would like to have seen him realising how brash his ways are and for him to change his ways but although he gets punished for his behaviour he doesn’t seem to learn from it.

For Mischief’s Sake by Amy D’Orazio focuses on Captain Frederick Tilney. We know from NA that he purposely enjoyed charming Miss Thorpe while all the time he knew that she was engaged. Henry says that his brother’s attentions to Miss Thorpe in themselves wouldn’t be damaging; the thing that torments James Morland is how she receives them. But what if this is something Frederick habitually does? This story looks at Captain Tilney being so cynical about the value of a woman’s love that he goes out of his way to seduce young ladies to ‘save’ their potential husbands. This is obviously an appalling thing to do, because it’s not just broken relationships he leaves in his wake but broken reputations.
“I… well…” An unusual sensation plagued me; it took a moment for me to recognise it as shame.
This story shows Captain Tilney finding out the error of his ways. One thing I particularly liked about it was how it showed Catherine Morland because I think she’s adorable in her innocence and in her genuineness. She’s the exact opposite of somebody like the manipulative Isabella Thorpe, who plays games. You know how Catherine feels because she doesn’t disguise.

This was a lovely story to finish off the anthology with, although I don’t think Captain Tilney was actually this bad.

Like all anthologies, this was a bit of a mix. The stories were interesting. Because of the subject matter, the rakes and gentlemen rogues, there was quite a bit of heartbreak in the book, both in the wake of the characters’ actions, and in causing their characters to be what they were so I found quite a few of the stories made me feel a little melancholy. My particular favourites were the Tom Bertram one, which I liked because I thought it did a great job of capturing his voice, the Wickham one, because I feel he’s a man who could redeem himself if he cared enough about something and the Captain Tilney story, which showed him learning the error of his ways.

I started off my review by stating that I don’t really like a ‘bad boy’, and bearing that in mind it’s no surprise that the stories I enjoyed the most were all very strongly redemption stories, but other readers may find themselves more fascinated by the descent into rakedom and trail of damage that lowers my spirits! It’s an anthology that I’d say is well worth a read and for me was a four star read.

Four Star Read

Book Cover: Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen's Rakes and Gentleman Rogues by Various - Anthology Edited by Christina BoydBuy Links

Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen's Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues is available to buy now - Amazon US / Amazon UK

You can also add it to your shelves on Goodreads 

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  1. Thank you for a lovely review, Ceri! We actually had a lot of fun writing the rakes and rogues from Miss Austen’s novels. Not your typical Austenesque fare, but intriguing nonetheless :)

    1. Hi Karen. It must have been such a change for you to focus on the less honourable characters!

  2. I am so appreciative of your through and honest words and especially for your time to read these eleven stories. I am so glad you saw what we were trying to achieve by teasing the edge of Austen’s masterpieces and her deftly drawn characters, remaining honest to her originals while offering their backstory, or parallel story, or sequel—and not allowing them any excuse for bad behavior. Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Christina! It's such an interesting subject matter for a book, I can't think of another book out there which has done the same as this one!

  3. Great review, Ceri. I thunk I enjoyed the 'redemption' stories the most, too. Though the John Thorpe story did make me chuckle as his is a character I'd like to give a good dunking in the river, as well! On the whole, a great anthology that Christina put together and even better to listen to on audio.

    1. I think I'm an incurable optimist, Anji, I like to think even the most desperate character can improve :)

  4. In real life, I am one who prefers a guy who is far from a 'bad boy' sort, but it was fun to explore Austen's bad boys in this project. Your insightful review was a joy to read, Ceri. Thank you. :)

  5. Thanks for reviewing Dangerous to Know, Ceri, and for including the cartoon. I had forgotten about that series of graphics for the The Darcy Monolgues. Christina’s first anthology was a hard act to follow. And redeeming all of Austen's rakes or rogues wasn’t plausible, but we enjoyed trying.

    1. I knew I'd definitely have to include the cartoon, because I thought it was so great that your picture sparked the idea for a whole book :)

  6. Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough review, Ceri!

  7. I enjoyed reading this book quite a while back. I also posted my review. Great anthology.

    1. I was supposed to read it a while back, Sheila, I was very behind with this one. Glad you enjoyed it too :)


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