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Friday, July 08, 2005

The Sugar Camp Quilt

I finished this book last night and am quite stunned that there was no credit given to Jane Austen. Jennifer Chiaverini used the tone and feel, and quite a few of the scenes and lines, from Pride and Prejudice, just put them in a different setting and time frame. Within the first few pages I was shocked at the similarity and outright transposition of the first dance scene in Meryton to this pre-civil war era Pennsylvania town. Perhaps there are not other people who have been reading Pride and Prejudice since they were nine years old, but to me it was unfathomable that the similarities in this book were an accident. Even having the lines and scenes deeply embedded in one's mind would not remove the knowledge from which they came.

The basic theme to the plot was of "First Impressions," the villain being perceived by the heroine to be the hero and the hero being perceived as the villain and all of this coming out when the true character is revealed in the "villain" as the heroine learns more about him. Cyrus Pearson plays Wickham pretty well in this book, with a few dalliances as Bingley, though he gets one of Fitzwilliam's lines and describes his mother using Darcy's words. Thomas Nelson does a wonderful Darcy, though without the wealth, and Dorothea Granger is a stunning Elizabeth Bennet, with a hat tip to Lorena for having some of the ridiculous character of Mrs. Bennet.

I would like to think that Chiaverini did this unwittingly, but it seems odd to me that so many similarities, down to scenes and almost exact lines would show up in this book without her knowing their source. I checked the acknowledgements and end notes carefully to see if she credited Jane Austen, or Pride and Prejudice, and perhaps had done an purposeful imitation, perhaps as a tribute, but there was no such line.

The first chapter includes a country dance to welcome a newcomer to the neighborhood (hmmm, Meryton ball? A certain resident of Netherfield?), but this is a common enough theme. There is, however, an interesting exchange between Cyrus and Mr. Nelson which is similar to that of Bingley and Darcy, in which Cyrus asks why Nelson isn't dancing. He is chiding him for his ill manner, and trying to coax him to the floor. This passage in particular is where I was shocked to find that it wasn't simply a borrowed theme:

"Pretty?" Mr. Nelson paused. "Yes, perhaps one of two of them are somewhat pretty, but I do not find ignorant country girls amusing. It is far better for me to avoid them than to subject us both to an excruciating attempt at conversation."

"I cannot believe you seriously mean this. What about her?"

Dorothea closed her eyes, hoping fervently that Cyrus was directing Mr. Nelson's attention toward the other side of the room

"That young lady is Dorothea Granger," said Cyrus, with a suggestion of pride. "Surely you can see how lovely she is...[he describes some details about her as a character in this book and Mr. Nelson replies with a similar detail then says this]

"...In any event, the manner in which she gazes so longingly at the dance floor suggests that she has not set foot on one in quite some time. I assure you, I have no intention of directing my attention to any woman ignored by other men, especially those here, who know her character."

Note especially the part I have in bold. Now, here is the passage from Pride and Prejudice which was immediately brought to mind:

Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged by the scarcity of gentlemen to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes to press his friend to join it.

"Come, Darcy," said he, "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."

"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."

"I would not be as fastidious as you are," cried Bingley, "for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening, and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty."

"You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room," said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

"Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say, very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."

"Which do you mean?" and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me."

Again, note the passage in bold at the end here.

In The Sugar Camp Quilt, Dorothea goes home and has much the same dissection of this interchange that Elizabeth did in Pride and Prejudice.

Later, Cyrus accuses Mr. Nelson of wrongdoing, and implies that Nelson wishes to avoid him in a most similar manner to Mr. Wickham. Shortly after that is when he gets to speak Darcy's line, only instead of being about himself, it is about his mother:

"This is most unfortunate." Cyrus's characteristic grin had fled. "Mother's good opinion, once lost, is rarely regained."

Here, from Pride and Prejudice, Darcy speaking:

"My good opinion once lost is lost forever."

There is even a scene where Mr. Nelson tries to be honest with Dorothea about their differences, but insults her in the process, without the marriage proposal that is included with Darcy's speech. As Dorothea begins to distrust Cyrus' nature and character, and learns that she does not love him, she is also awakened to the fact that she is not marriageable to him because she had no money to bring to the union, much as in Elizabeth and Wickham's case, however, he explains it to her as Colonel Fitzwilliam did in the walk at Rosings. From Sugar Camp Quilt:

"A man with property of his own may make choices a man without it cannot."

And from Fitzwilliam himself:

"A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence." [as background]

"Younger sons cannot marry where they like."

The plot follows very closely along the lines of Pride and Prejudice, of course with different details (the villainy is slave catching rather than womanizing, the place, time and setting are different, and there are not so many main characters, so some are combined). The worm turns for Cyrus, as he loses esteem in the eyes of those who matter to the reader. He becomes suddenly engaged to another woman, after having paid much attention to Dorothea, again, much like Wickham and Miss King. There is a point when Mr. Nelson turns from scorning Dorothea to courting her favor, as Mr. Darcy does for Elizabeth. He helps her family out of a tough financial spot, grows closer to her and more agreeable in her eyes and the point when she discovers that he is precisely her ideal of a man of character. There is a confrontation between Dorothea and Cyrus which is more pointed than the hints Elizabeth gives Wickham that she has his number, but it parallels as well.

Another line which triggered my memory was Mr. Nelson's to Dorothea, after their relationship became more amiable:

"I am quite sure I deserved your censure."

Mr. Darcy says:

"What did you say of me that I did not deserve?"

The words are not the same, but the meaning is, and the timing was. At the point when they are discussing their past misunderstanding of each other, her criticism is found to have been just. Fill in whichever him and her you wish, they are interchangeable at this point.

Toward the end of the book, Dorothea and Mr. Nelson have a continuation of this enlightening, which is part of the same scene with Darcy above as well as a comment to her sister Jane. Dorothea visits Mr. Nelson and he says:

"Would you please sit down? Shall I call for some tea? I apologize for being such a poor host. When I think of what I said about you upon the occasion of our first meeting, I cannot consider myself deserving of this visit."

Dorothea forced a shaky laugh as she seated herself. "So much has happened since then, I hardly remember what words we might have exchanged."

"I cannot forget them."

Dorothea flushed and bowed her head. "I have forgotten them, so you must do the same. If we are to keep teaching together, we must attempt to be civil."

The tone is very much the same as the final "proposal" Darcy gives to Elizabeth. Their discussion of their past together, the undeserving feeling of Darcy.

"We will not quarrel for the greater share of the blame annexed to that evening," said Elizabeth. "The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, will be irreproachable; but since then, we have both, I hope, improved in civility."

"I cannot be so easily reconciled to myself. The recollection of what I then said, of my conduct, my manners, my expressions, during the whole of it, is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: 'had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.' Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me; though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice."

Elizabeth replies later with:

"Oh! do not repeat what I then said. These recollections will not do at all. I assure you that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it."

There is further similarity in what Elizabeth says to Jane on discussing her engagement to Darcy:

Jane looked at her doubtingly. "Oh, Lizzy! it cannot be. I know how much you dislike him."

"You know nothing of the matter. That is all to be forgot. Perhaps I did not always love him so well as I do now. But in such cases as these, a good memory is unpardonable. This is the last time I shall ever remember it myself."

Although The Sugar Camp Quilt is interesting, and provides some background to the Elm Creek Quilt series, the imitation degrades it. Pride and Prejudice was a far better book.

As a loyal P&P reader, it does sound like there was a lot of borrowing going on!

Oh...and entirely unrelated, I've determined that Darcy's father's first name must have been George. Here's why:
1) First, we know that eldest daughters often get their mother's names, while eldest son's often get their father's names.
2) We know that Darcy did NOT get his father's name--he got his mother's maiden name (Fitzwilliam), which was apparently fairly often done. We can be nearly certain that it was his mother's maiden name because his cousin's last name is Fitzwilliam.

So, where did the name "Georgianna" come from? Not from her mother (who was Lady Anne), so it probably came from her father, especially since her father got by passed when the son was named. Thus, Darcy's father's name was probably George.
I know this is an older post but I found this because I just finished reading Sugar Camp Quilt and went searching for something to explain why this book is almost a copy of P&P without any mention of it on the inserts or forward. I figured I would find something on her site, but I found your post instead and agree whole heartedly with you! From the very beginning to the final page it was like the story line from P&P! Have you since found an explanation from the author?
Nope. I actually wrote to the author and got a bland reply about her liking Jane Austen, but no acknowledgement of her plagiarism whatsoever.
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