Lost in Austen
By Emma Campbell Webster
Paperback, 345 pages
2007, Riverhead Books
From the back of the book: Your name: Elizabeth Bennet. Your mission: to marry both prudently and for love, avoiding family scandal. Equipped with only your sharp wit, natural good sense, and tolerable beauty, you must navigate your way through a variety of decisions that will determine you own romantic (and financial) fate. Ever wonder what would happen if Elizabeth accepted Mr. Darcy’s proposal the first time around? Or ran from his arms into those of Persuasion’s Captain Wentworth? Now is your chance to find out.
Get ready, this is a long review!
What I liked:
First and foremost, the concept! Who doesn’t love choose-your-own-adventure stories? I honestly can’t believe it took me so long to discover this book, but I’m so glad I finally did! This book has many moments which will be familiar to readers of Austen’s work, and not just from Pride and Prejudice. In addition to the various choices you get to make, there’s also additional (and sometimes smarmy) commentary inserted throughout the stories. But wait, there’s more! Webster also included some score keeping elements. Different actions, or just the narrator’s whims, will cause you to lose or gain points in Intelligence, Confidence and Fortune. You can also gain Inferior and Superior Connections, Accomplishments and Failings.
This part is optional and I decided to participate fully. You start with 200 Intelligence, 200 Confidence and only 50 Fortune points. I kept little post-it notes handy to track my scores, which varied wildly. I was constantly losing and gaining points, which was sometimes frustrating, but I suppose that in real life little things happen all the time that cause us to lose or gain a little confidence or intelligence. There are also a few quizzes to help you gain (or lose) points in these categories.
My list of failings was quite long and included gems such as: No style, taste or beauty; blind partiality; willful prejudice; no real friends; no governess; breathtakingly poor judge of character; reprehensibly remiss in duties to those less fortunate; and many, many more! Some of my accomplishments were: screen covering, outstanding appreciation of the picturesque, and the ability to feign interest in the utterly boring.
In the end, I finished with 150 Intelligence, though I reached a high of 640 at one point, -170 Confidence (or 50 if the point is not to get into negative numbers), and 190 Fortune (or 340, if again, the point is not to have negative numbers).
And let’s not forget the various endings! I was very surprised at the (usually funny) results I received when I strayed from the traditional path and a surprising amount of them ended in death! For example, if you decide not to dance with Darcy when he asks you at the second ball, and instead take a walk outside to clear your head, when you rush back inside to get warm you slip on some ice, fall, and break your neck. That was actually the first ‘Failure’ ending I received and it cracked me up, mostly from surprise. Other endings could include suicide, you (Elizabeth) murdering someone else, being murdered, unhappy marriages, scandal and ending up sad and alone. Each one was pretty amusing. I used little sticky tabs to keep track of my choices and it made it easier to go back and explore different paths. In my journey I happened upon all but two endings (somehow I missed both concerning Colonel Brandon!) and very few result in a “successfully completed mission.”
“You do have more than one failure of perfect symmetry in your form and are wearing unfashionably long sleeves.”
“You are displaying an inappropriate level of psychological maturity. Stop trying to be clever, and deduct 20 Intelligence points for your impertinence.”
“Add ‘Ability to Feign Interest in the Utterly Boring’ to your list of Accomplishments. You’ll need THAT when you’re married.”
What I didn’t like:
Remember the phrase from Whose Line Is It Anyway? “The show where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.” Sadly, I feel that mostly applies to the points in this book – there are a few instances where your Intelligence score matters, but they are rare. In fact, I spent the last portion of the book in the negatives for Confidence and Fortune, and in the end (the true end that you’re supposed to achieve) neither of those categories mattered. My Connections, Accomplishments and Failings didn’t matter either – though all of these did provide amusement, so I don’t think it was a wasted effort, but I do think it could have held a little more weight.
As much as I loved the endings, I wish there were more successful options. I discovered 4 successes: one is obviously marrying Darcy, and there are two other Austen gentleman you can marry IF you pick the right option in regards to your Intelligence. If you’re too smart, you won’t be happy – not sure how I feel about that statement, but maybe I’m thinking too hard. The last ending is a result of rejecting Darcy a second time, and if you decide to read the book, I’ll let you discover that clever result on your own. However, I wish there had been a few more options for happy endings. Since I’m familiar with Austen’s novels, the path I was supposed to take was fairly obvious. I purposely tried to deviate and really create my own Austen adventure, but I was constantly foiled by these failure endings!
All in all, this was a very fun and amusing read. I would have enjoyed a little more liberty with my choices and the resulting endings, but I enjoyed the journey anyway. Austen fans should check this out!