Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter is another Jane Austen "sequel," taking the name of a character from Austen's unpublished epistolary novella Lady Susan. It's written by a mother-daughter team (according to Laurel Ann at Austenprose), Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway. The ARC came to me from the local college bookstore; this novel will be published on Oct. 6, 2009.

The back cover blurb says that the co-authors have "taken letters from this novella and transformed them into a vivid, authentic, and more recognizably 'Austen' milieu." I think what this means is that the roguish character of Lady Susan, as delineated by Austen, shares almost nothing with the more typically virtuous character of Lady Vernon in this sequel. It's really kind of a neat trick to use some of the letters detailing Susan's (Lady Vernon's) wickedness in a story where the wickedness is all on the side of the gossips, each of whom know only a small part of the real story about what's happening to Lady Vernon. And in the same vein, this story shows that Lady Vernon is genuinely fond of her daughter, whereas the letters showed Susan to be a selfish woman and a bad mother. So if you're ready to enjoy the cleverness of Rubino and Rubino-Bradway and read an almost entirely new tale, you'll enjoy this. If you're already acquainted with the letters as Austen wrote them, you should be aware that this is an entirely different story, and one that is not at all consistent with her original intentions for the characters of Susan and Frederica.

I was willing to give the new story a chance, but the first part was written very mechanically in the process of establishing who had already married who and for what reasons. The attitudes of Austen's era are expressed with some difficulties by the modern authors, who have their female characters think that for a young girl to accept a book on Botany "would be to declare oneself the most tiresome sort of bluestocking, but to reject it might be taken by Sir James as an affront to his generosity."

The story improves around Chapter 25, when Lady Vernon, whom gossip has connected with various men ever since the premature death of her beloved husband, begins to hatch a plan to marry her daughter off to the man everyone suspects her of wanting for herself. Once the main character has an effect on the plot, rather than being tossed helplessly about, the pace picks up. Although people still say unkind (and in this version, untrue) things about Lady Vernon, the reader knows all her secrets and motivations. One of her secrets is explosive, as it eventually "brought the fulfillment of all of Lady Vernon's hopes and the end of Charles Vernon's expectations."

The good end happily and the bad, well, not altogether unhappily but in a manner befitting their habitual behavior. What else is a Jane Austen sequel for?


Karen said...

This actually sounds quite fun--Georgette Heyeresque more than Austenesque--but I suspect I should read Austen's _intended_ story first. What do you recommend?

(I love most Austen--barring Mansfield Park (Fanny Price is so TIRESOME) and Northanger Abbey.)

Jeanne said...

I did not read the unpublished Lady Susan first, although the link takes you to the google books edition, which I skimmed through.

I don't find Mansfield Park so very different from other Austen novels--and that's the one with "Mrs. Norris" in it, for whom Filch's cat must be named! Northanger Abbey is my favorite. Maybe you have to plow through enough 18th-century Gothic novels to really appreciate it.