LADYSMEAD by June Gillespie
Kirkus Star


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Towards the close of Manfield Park, as you may remember, Jane Austen consigned Mrs. Maria Rushton (beautiful, bored, supremely sulky) and her abrasive aunt Mrs. Norris to fictional purgatory--to ""an establishment . . . in another country, remote and private, where, shut up together with little society . . . it may be reasonably supposed that their tempers became their mutual punishment."" Gillespie, in this most elegant and enchanting literary spin-off (her first US appearance), follows Austen's twosome to just such dire straits. The ladies rent ""Ladysmead,"" a hitherto ill-kept house in the Lancashire countryside. The little society available there is dismal indeed. So Mrs. Rushton finds herself meddling in the lives of Rev. Thomas Loekley (an austerely abstracted widower) and his two remaining unmarried daughters: dutiful Sophia, destined to take over the household, contemplating ""her responsibilities with misgivings, and her own future with desolation""; and fragile, young Lucinda, who is soon overwhelmed by Mrs. R.'s high dazzle and rude tantrums, becoming her willing slave (to Sophia's consternation). There are Austen-esque twists of courtship, of course, amid occasional dinners involving the meager (generally charmless) gentry. Sophia is unresponsive to the regard of sturdy curate Charles Williams--who himself hesitates to offer Sophia yet another clerical home (especially one that features Mother Williams, a good soul but deaf as a haddock, booming out questions and answers in a seamless trumpet blast). Than ambitious, attractive Richard Dalby, the newly inheriting owner of Ladysmead, arrives; he succeeds in making Sophia laugh at his canny portraiture of the local circle; but Mrs. Rushton attempts to stage-manage, for her own amusement, a romance between Richard and Lucinda . . . till the scandal in her own past surfaces. And Mrs. R.'s subsequent rage brings forth an ingenious proposal, a dreadful rout of poor Lucinda, a rescue by Charles--and happiness all around. Unusually convincing echoes of the great Austen, in short: warm humanity in a tiny frame--and period romantic comedy that's a cut above the Regency frills and flounces.

Pub Date: Dec. 28th, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's