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Eliza's Daughter: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility Paperback – 1 Nov 2008
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"Ms. Aiken has written a delightful and humorous story, one that can stand on its own without the Austen reference." - Historical Novels Review
"[T]he story of Eliza and her ability to survive despite numerous disadvantages is one I would recommend." - AustenBlog
"I recommend Eliza's Daughter to fans of historical fiction (as well as to any who wonder what happened after Sense and Sensibility) as an unusual, enjoyable read." - Book Loons
About the Author
The late Joan Aiken was a prolific author of children's books and Jane Austen sequels and continuations. She is the author of Lady Catherine's Necklace, which follows Anne de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Fairfax, a sequel to Emma.
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Eliza's Daughter continues the story of a very minor character in Sense and Sensibility who receives scant mention in the original novel as the illegitimate child of Eliza Williams and her seducer John Willoughby. The infant, also named Eliza Williams is placed by her guardian Colonel Brandon in the care of a negligent foster mother in the village of Byblow Bottom, an infamous Regency era repository for the natural offspring of public persons who were reared away from their parents to avoid disclosure of their existence. Raised in this rural backwater Eliza learns to survive under difficult circumstance and scrape together a bit of education, all the while trying to unravel the mystery of her parentage. Clever and creative, she knows by age twelve that education is the key to her survival and seeks out Colonel Brandon's attorney's and asks for their assistance while he is abroad serving in the army. They send her on to the Rev. Edward Ferrars and his wife Elinor nee Dashwood at Delaford. The Ferrars are living in genteel poverty as a country vicar and his wife with one daughter away at school and Elinor's mother the once elegant Mrs. Dashwood now suffering from mental illness. Their acquaintance is strained and they decide to pack her off to school in Bath where their daughter Nell attends and Elinor's younger sister Margaret Dashwood is a teacher. She is not very welcome there either, but she endures and excels in music having a gifted voice which brings her some attention.
As the natural daughter of who knows whom, Eliza is definitely a social pariah and reminded of it with every connection and situation where she lives. The mystery of her parentage still lingers, but as the plot develops clues appear like bread crumbs along a trail bringing her closer to an answer by directing her to London and then on to Portugal. Ms. Aiken writes an engaging tale and knows how to keep our attention by a series of misadventures and recoveries by the heroine. We meet new characters as well who are interesting and authentic, but it is her treatment of Austen's original characters that is troubling and forms the largest objection from all of the previous reviewers.
When Austen's novel concluded we were left with the happy thought that both Marianne and Elinor were married, their mother Mrs. Dashwood and younger sister Margaret are in better financial circumstances and the adversarial characters such as Lucy Steele, John Willoughby, and Mrs. Ferrars were much the worse for their life choices. So, as we read Eliza's Daughter and discover that the happily-ever-after does not really exist beyond the last page of the original novel it is more than a bit unsettling. Colonel and Marianne Brandon are childless and have departed for India and show little if no interest in Eliza's well being. This seems odd, since the Colonel has in the past always shown great concern for Eliza's grandmother, mother and his friends. Elinor and Edward live a penurious and Spartan life eeking out an exsistence at Delaford. Edward is now a bitter man more concerned for his parishioners than his family and Elinor faintly the strong and wise woman that we knew from the past. Their only surviving child Nell is a pill, negligent of her familiar duties and callous to others feelings. Mrs. Dashwood was always a bit unfocused on reality, but now she is insane? Margaret Dashwood is a spinster working as a teacher then a companion? As one reviewer stated, "I found it to be so totally mean spirited toward all the characters we have come to know and love so dearly", and I have to agree. In defense of Ms. Aiken's choice of plot and character development, if everything was sunshine and syllabub, there would be nothing to write about, so in making Austen's good guys the bad guys, she makes her heroine Eliza more pitiable and plucky, but at what cost?
Reading the negative reviews in advance was really a gift leaving me with no expectation of liking this novel. In fact, I was strongly disposed to disapprobation myself, for what Janeite could condone such mistreatment of beloved characters? So I began with an entirely different objective in reading Eliza's Daughter, not as an Austen sequel but as a Dickensian tale full of memorable characters, social corruption, sinister doings and a twisting plot - Eliza Williams has a Copperfieldish adventure - and as such, it became quite amusing. However, it could have been an even more enjoyable if Eliza had been allowed to have a few more positive friendships to support her along her journey as Mr. Dickens supplied David Copperfield with his endearing characters such as Peggoty, Mr. Barkis and Wilkins Micawber. Choosing to make Austen's heroes and heroines the villains of this tale was a shocking and shallow choice. I may never forgive Ms. Aiken for striping away the tone and quality that Austen developed, but I will thank her for an inventive and engaging story that really had very little to do with what we experienced in Sense and Sensibility.
Laurel Ann, Austenprose
I particularly liked the way in which the story does not follow a predictable pattern but establishes the character of Eliza in her own, difficult and challenging, milieu.
The author's use of language is good and unlike so many of the Austen sequels she does not use modern idiom which so spoils the books of many authors.
In its own right it is a good and well written story and with the added interest of familiar characters from Sense and Sensibility, it is a most enjoyable read.
The characters for the most part are seen in a very different light to what we may expect and this helps to establish this book as a solid piece of fiction.
My only disappointment is that it is too short!
I recommend this book to those who share a love of Austen and who enjoy reading well written historical fiction.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
When we meet her, our heroine-to-be seems destined for the usual fate that 18th Century rich men bestowed on their mistresses' daughters, who were farmed out in some remote village until big enough to earn their keep as a servant or governess or some such. But fate and Aiken have other plans for Eliza's daughter. And I think you'll find her story indeed interesting, eventful, Austenesque and a worthy period page turner.
Aiken was a wonderful writer in her own right and, to my mind, far and away the best of the Austen imitators and well worth reading--I especially liked her "Jane Fairfax." But I do have some "buts" here. For one thing, Aiken lacked Austen's gift for wit and creating the memorable characters who unintentionally supply it; I really miss that here. For another, Eliza, our heroine-narrator, tells us up front that she's going to leave some things out of her story, then makes good on that promise by throwing us a curve at the end that I don't think we deserved. Also I think you'll not much like the ever-afters she gave the beloved S&S characters who reappear in this one. All of which is why I'm reluctantly giving this re-release of one of Aiken's earliest Austen sequels three stars instead of four.