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James Fairfax Paperback – August 1, 2009

3 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 504 pages
  • Publisher: Norilana Books (August 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1607620383
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607620389
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,989,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Campan says in the introduction that this was a thought experiment--to take one of Austen's novels and recast it as if it happened one universe over, in which same-sex marriage is accepted. At first, it seemed to be the same as EMMA, except the story seemed to read a bit faster. It wasn't until I took out my copy of EMMA and compared the two that I discovered the changes began very subtly, with just about every sentence altered. Those trainload sentences connected by series of em-dashes have shortened, yet the natural rhythm is kept. Page-long paragraphs that sometimes restate what was already shown are smoothed away, replaced by character detail in minute portions that begin to build. By the time the story gets to the section where Mr. Elton, Harriet, and Emma are busy with the portrait and the puzzle verses, the comedy potential in their expectations soared. Elton thinks Harriet is a rival for Emma's fortune, whereas Harriet is still deciding if she wants to court Emma and gain her very own carriage. That's a simplistic way of stating a surprising number of character traits quietly added, but by the time Emma and Mr. Elton are shut in the carriage together, Elton is already considerably different from Austen's original.

When half-blind James Fairfax is added in, all the characters assume subtle differences that keep building. Even the dynamic between Emma and Mr. Knightley gains new perspective, which culminates in Emma's final insight: that her behavior is more like the Mrs. Elton she despises than she'd comfortably assumed. The new scenes add dimension to the tale, making me wonder at times if the ending would be all changed. I appreciated the way that Campan brought the close to a parallel to the original, but with profound changes to characters, especially Elton.
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One of Jane Austen's recurring themes is the choice between marrying for love or for money. Indeed, for many of her characters it is not even a choice: social pressures, economic necessities and class prejudice oppose true love at every turn. But although Austen eloquently portrayed the strength of same-sex friendships and sibling devotion, conventionality of her time limited marriage partners to only half the human race.

In his brilliant variation of EMMA, Adam Campan removes this single obstacle and then lets the story unfold. The historical basis for this conceit is not utterly untoward. As Campan points out in his Foreword, many among the nobility of Europe had preferred their own sex, but married conventionally for the sake of the proper passage of property and rank. What if, Campan asks, same-sex marriage ("marriage a la mode") were permitted by royal decree? What else would change? More significantly, what would remain the same?

Unlike many Austen pastiches, which lay into the original stories with a heavy and insensitive hand, Campan's touch is deft and sure. Much of the original text is preserved (hence Austen's name quite rightly appears in the byline), but subtle details that at first appear to make little different. But as Campan allows those tiny changes to build on one another, a startling revelation emerges, one which is both faithful to Austen's premise and relevant to today's social mores: even in a world in which sexual preference is no hindrance, nothing has changed. In marriage as in all else, people still betray--or follow--their own hearts.

Austen would have been proud.
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Format: Paperback
Adam Campan calls this a "thought experiment" and there are some interesting ideas here, but my bottom line is that I think he would have done better to write his own novel set in this alternate history version of Regency England. His changes distort a lot of what makes Jane Austen one of the most loved novelists in the English language.

The "central" love triangle of the novel works well. Adam Campan has reimagined Jane Fairfax as a man (James Fairfax) and the triangle of misunderstandings and error between Emma, Frank Churchill and James Fairfax works as beautifully as it does in Austen's original novel. There is a strong feeling of truth to the premise that Frank Churchill is only using Emma as a smokescreen, but he never falls for her because he is really in love with James Fairfax.

However, this is (in my opinion) the only part of the novel which works well. Unfortunately, turning Jane Fairfax into a man distorts most of the other relationships in the novel and is in general a distinct drawback. For example, when Mr Knightley rebukes Emma for not paying more attention to James Fairfax and how he would have been a companion more suitable than Harriet Smith - it reads rather strangely. Similarly all the parts about poor James having to go out and earn a living as a teacher don't work nearly as well for a man. I didn't feel sorry for him, as I might have for Jane Fairfax - I just felt that he should pull up his socks and stop hanging around with his aunt and get on with it. The plot device of having him very short-sighted doesn't really overcome this problem, again, in my opinion.

The other relationship which doesn't work at all well in this setting is the premise of Mrs Elton as "Lady Patroness".
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