Jane Austen revisited, in a Regency tale of manners and matrimony.
After a novel devoted to the doom-and-gloom of the Romantic poets (Passion, 2005), British writer Morgan lightens the mood in this ironic social comedy laced with romance. Although overstuffed with witty wordplay and exaggerated characters, it rattles along briskly enough in the wake of its heroine, feisty Caroline Fortune, the 20-year-old daughter of a wastrel military captain whose gambling and general fecklessness force her to take up work as a companion to domestic tyrant Mrs. Catling in Brighton. While in Mrs. Catling’s employ, Caroline is initially attracted to smooth Richard Leabrook, then repelled by his improper proposal that she become his lover. Soon after, Caroline’s father dies in Bath and Mrs. Catling refuses her leave to attend the funeral, so Caroline quits the job. Penniless in Bath, she is taken in by her long-lost aunt and uncle, the Langlands, and soon moves with them to Wythorpe, in the country. There, Caroline meets, and is closely befriended by, the Milner family, sparring playfully and flirtatiously with eccentric son Stephen and becoming close confidant to daughters Isabella and Fanny, until the revelation that innocent Isabella is engaged to be married to libertine Richard Leabrook. What is Caroline to do? Morgan follows a predictable path to resolution in a story that borrows freely from Austen but lacks that author’s originality, delicacy of touch and brevity of expression.
A story that, like its heroine, is entertaining and spirited, if a little too fond of the sound of its own voice.