Apr 182010

Three Amusing and Enlightening Tales About Mrs. Elton!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Source: Review Copy from Author

In Emma, Mrs. Augusta Elton is portrayed as vulgar, ill-mannered, pretentious, and obnoxious. However, a lot of what see of Mrs. Elton is through the eyes of Emma Woodhouse, and she may have been a little too prejudiced and eager to find fault. True, Mrs. Elton does tend to think a little too highly of herself and her manners are not very genteel, but she does possess some good qualities, such as her good intentions towards Jane Fairfax and her overtures of friendship with Emma. Jane Austen is very skillful at creating satirical and exasperating characters, and Mrs. Elton is without a doubt one of her finest creations! Diana Birchall must be of this mind set too because she has crafted three lovely novellas about the presumptuous and insufferable Augusta Elton.
The Compleat Mrs. Elton by Diana Birchall is a collection of three novellas in one book. Here is a brief synopsis of each novella followed by my thoughts:

The Courtship of Mrs. Elton: Miss Augusta Hawkins, at the age of twenty-five, finds her self once again enduring another Bath season and entertaining the futile hope that it will be her last. After eight seasons without receiving a marriage proposal Miss Hawkins is beginning to fear that she may never marry. However, Augusta need not despair for long since the handsome and agreeable Mr. Elton and the attentive and romantic Mr. Bird both single her out from her friends and lavish her with attention and admiration. I was charmed by these scenes between Mr. Elton and Augusta and was endeared by their mutual attraction for each other. Furthermore, I loved the additional new characters Ms. Birchall developed; we certainly see where Mrs. Elton learned her manners from! My only issue was that it was all too brief (only 30 pages). I would have loved a more drawn out and detailed account of those few brief weeks of courtship between the Eltons.

In Defense of Mrs. Elton: Mr. Elton is very proud and eager to present his lively and sophisticated wife to Highbury society, and Mrs. Elton is very anxious to make a good impression on the small village where she aspires to become a great lady of importance and influence. Because she is entering Highbury friendless and with two possible enemies Mrs. Elton feels great apprehension and has many insecurities. It is because of these insecurities that she does things like talk too much about Maple Grove and adopt a too familiar manner with her new neighbors. In Defense of Mrs. Elton is my favorite work in this collection and I think it is where Ms. Birchall’s skill and talent really shine. She capably redeems Mrs. Elton in such a way that is believable and gratifying. In addition, I loved how she took us beyond the plot of Emma to include a visit from the illustrious Sucklings. (I have always wanted to meet them!) Moreover, I was very pleased to see a change in the relationship between Emma and Mrs. Elton.

Mrs. Elton in America: After ten years of marriage Mrs. Elton has decided it is time for to do some world traveling. Mr. Elton does not feel the same way as he has just come to realization that they have drastically exceeded their income and are now in some financial distress. It soon becomes evident to the Elton’s that their only course of action is for them to retrench for some years in America where Mr. Elton could work as a missionary. The Eltons sojourn to America with their three children where mishaps and misunderstandings abound and they find themselves in a much different situation than they originally anticipated. This novella is the longest and most detailed account in the trilogy. Ms. Birchall expands the character and depth of Mrs. Elton as she encounters many hardships, witnesses slavery and Native Americans, and experiences tragedies. However, since this tale took place in America and portrayed American manners and mentality, I felt it lost some of the Austenesque feel and tone the first two novellas had. Nonetheless, it was an entertaining read and I enjoyed the growth of Mrs. Elton’s character. I would have liked for Emma Knightley to have experienced some growth as well though. I felt she was sometimes depicted in too negative a light and I would like to think that she would eventually mature enough to overcome her strong dislike of Mrs. Elton.

The Compleat Mrs. Elton is a delightful and entertaining trilogy that embodies witty narration, clever writing, and, of course, the obnoxious, boastful, character we-all-love-to-hate, Mrs. Elton! I have great appreciation for Ms. Birchall’s talent and ingenuity in writing these stories and I am very astonished by how my feelings of exasperation for Mrs. Elton have been transformed to feelings of understanding and admiration. My one complaint is that I wished each story was longer! I can’t believe I am saying this…but I want more of Mrs. Elton! I recommend these enlightening stories for fans of Jane Austen, Emma, and Mrs. Elton!

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  4 Responses to “The Compleat Mrs. Elton – Diana Birchall”


    I really loved to hate her! Does this mean one might really start loving Mrs Elton? This trilogy must be miraculous!

    Excellent review, Meredith. Thank you!


    LOL Maria! I would’t say I love her, but I definitely understand and sympathize with her more than I did before. She is still Mrs. Etlon in the end!


    I’ve been anxiously awaiting this review, and am glad you enjoyed the Mrs. Elton stories. I particularly liked the first two. Mrs. Elton in America wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, though it was very interesting. I wish it felt more like the same character from the first two stories embarking on an adventure, instead of the Mrs. Elton of Emma. Birchall’s depiction is very believable and sympathetic, but it feels like her identification with this character stems more from a dislike of Miss Woodhouse than any affection for Mrs. Elton.


    Mrs. Elton in America was definitely interesting but I always love being surround by the lovely people of Highbury and therfore liked the first two more. I would have loved for the first two stories to be longer though. I agree that Emma was not very favorably portrayed, especially in the third story.

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