Book: Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland
Earlier this year I read Miss Eland’s Summer of Sundays and loved it. So when I saw that she had another book called Scones and Sensibility, the Janeite in me was immediately intrigued and eagerly anticipated reading it. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but this book, while possessing good points, ultimately fell flat to this lover of both Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley and just about everything written by Miss Austen.
Polly Madassa is hardly your average soon-to-be middle schooler. First of all, she helps out the family business by delivering the confections created by her baker parents. Secondly, she has fallen passionately in love with the Anne of Green Gables stories as well as the recently read Pride and Prejudice. Taking the ladies of these stories as her heroines, Polly tries to speak and act like both Anne Shirley and Elizabeth Bennet, and is determined to add more romance to the world by finding true love for her older sister Clementine, her best friend’s single father, and a lonely middle-aged spinster. Of course, the course of true love does not run smoothly, whether it is your life or the lives you are trying to improve, so Polly’s matchmaking attempts do not always provide her desired results.
I felt like I should have loved this book. A protagonist who loves Pride and Prejudice as well as the red-haired girl from Prince Edward Island? Could that describe me any better? Yet love it I did not. This was chiefly because I did not love Polly herself. I am sad to say I found her to be annoying and not quite believable.
Polly is full of enthusiasm for all things P&P, and likes to see herself as Elizabeth, but she is actually more akin to Anne. She is Anne-like, but she is no Anne Shirley. Polly talks in a way that is in imitation of Anne. This was one of the most annoying things about her. Anne was overly romantic, true, but her dramatic way of expressing herself was organic—an inherent part of her. Not so with Polly. Polly comes up with names for places (à la Anne) and talks about her “bosom friend” and “dearest sister,” but it is all contrived and sounds it. What I can’t decide is if this was intentional on Miss Eland’s part. Did she want Polly to come off as a bad imitation of Anne, or is she trying to show how ridiculous it is to pretend to be someone you are not? If the latter, then she made her point a bit too subtly for the reader: if I (an adult) have to guess at the author’s intent and message, then the target audience will miss it certain sure.
The other annoying thing about Polly is her pig-headedness. This was a trait neither Anne nor Elizabeth possessed. True, Elizabeth let her personal feelings color her judgment, but she didn’t interfere with anyone else’s life when doing so. She also realized her mistake toward the middle of the book and spent the remainder of her story readjusting her opinions. Polly’s epiphany comes at the very end of the novel, and up to that point she plows through people and situations, only keeping to her agenda regardless of the feelings and opinions of others. I realize this is to make the dénouement more dramatic, but it only served to have me dislike the main character.
Not to mention that it also weakened Polly’s credibility. I know there are extremely selfish people in the world, and I know that there are people who are convinced that they alone know what is best for those they care about. But Polly takes things so far that she presents as unbelievable. Everyone tells her, both directly and indirectly, to butt out, but she blithely ignores them all. I just find it hard to believe that when so many people tell a person she is wrong, over and over again, that she is so dense that she just doesn’t get it. Polly may be hard-headed, but she is not stupid. She should have gotten the point much sooner than she did. Perhaps not in all her matchmaking schemes, but at least in some of them.
On a side note, the book itself suffers some credibility in having so young a girl enjoy and have that good an understanding of Miss Austen’s work. Most people first encounter Miss Austen in high school. Polly’s a few years from that. Also, the episodes with the police and the poisoned dinner just don’t ring true. Both seem quite unlikely to really happen.
Miss Eland is obviously a big fan of Miss Montgomery’s and Miss Austen’s work, as obviously am I. I think she wanted to pay homage to these phenomenal ladies who came before her. However, creating a modern-day Anne obsessed with Elizabeth and acting like Emma (Woodhouse, from Miss Austen’s Emma) who is barely in middle school just doesn’t work. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but these good intentions fall flat. Miss Austen and Miss Montgomery deserve better, and Miss Eland is capable of concocting a better tribute.