A Sequel To Jane Austen's Sense And Sensibility
Prolific, innovative storyteller Aiken (Jane Fairfax, 1991, etc.) again pays tribute to Jane Austen in a cheerful spinoff of Sense and Sensibility. Here Aiken pulls onstage the child Eliza, a by-blow borne by another Eliza who was, in turn, the illegitimate offspring of a cousin and old love of Colonel Brandon. It was the stalwart colonel, remember, who eventually won the hand of Marianne Dashwood, one of the two sisters around whom the Austen novel revolves. As Austen reported, in his brief confession to sensible Elinor Dashwood, the colonel mentions his deceased cousin Eliza's girl and her situation: "I removed her and her child to the country and there she remains." Indeed she doesn't, in Aiken's tale, although her daughter stays in the country at an unhealthy baby farm haphazardly run by the boozing Mrs. Wellcome. Eliza III's childhood includes education of sorts from a shady clergyman, joy in trotting after Mr. Bill (Wordsworth) and Mr. Sam (Coleridge), and the pleasure of outwitting Mrs. Wellcome to rescue a tot from Gypsies. At 13, Eliza sets out to find her parents. Her search leads her to the Ferrars (Edward, now cranky and a prig; Elinor, nee Dashwood, now "haggard and anxious"), to school in Bath, and to lodging with a rough-hearted widow who is also at times a buccaneer shoplifter. Eliza escapes rape, rescues Elinor from death, finds haven with an impotent duke, and discovers her parents in Portugal, where she kills a man and makes new acquaintances. What happened to Colonel Brandon, Marianne, and the faithless Willoughby, Marianne's first love? Never fear: Aiken draws all the threads together in an imaginative resolution that feels true to the spirit of Austen's novel. An engaging, calamity-filled romance rich with Aiken's shrewd reading of Austen's people and an appreciative sense of fun.