A farcical, long-winded romp in which our heroine travels back in time to Jane Austen’s surprisingly raunchy England, where she may truly belong.
Actress and writer Elyot (The Memoirs of Helen of Troy, 2005) has played Austen on stage and uses the experience as the springboard for this bizarre homage to the English writer. Her heroine, “period geek” actress C.J. (Cassandra) Welles, has just auditioned for the part of her dreams, the role of Jane Austen in By a Lady, when she finds herself, still in costume, whisked back to early-19th-century Bath. But C.J. is penniless and soon arrested for stealing an apple. Released into the brutal care of Lady Wickham, she is quickly rescued again by Lady Dalrymple, who claims to recognize her as her niece. Cassandra, whose Georgian English seems faultless, joins the upper classes and falls for the impoverished but gentlemanly Earl of Darlington, a man who can not only claim Jane Austen as his cousin but also demonstrates skillful knowledge of the Kamasutra. Befriended by the writer and pleasured by the earl, Cassandra is a happy woman until Lady Dalrymple succumbs to a heart condition. Zipping back to the 21st century, Cassandra picks up some beta-blockers and soon her “aunt” is back in the pink. But Cassandra is pregnant and finds herself first jilted by the earl, then locked up in Bedlam, freed and subsequently killed in a riding incident. A dénouement in London supposedly explains aspects of the plot before wrapping up with a happy ending. Bending rules of sense as well as time, Elyot fools no one but appears to enjoy herself mightily, depicting Austen as a keen shopper and weaving tendrils of her characters and events into the lurching narrative.
Sprightly nonsense: True aficionados will despair, but fans of lighthearted mystery/romantic/historical fantasies may be amused.