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A Young Woman Longing for Adventure and an Artistic Life...
Because she's an illegitimate child, Eliza is raised in the rural backwater with very little supervision. An intelligent, creativ...
A Young Woman Longing for Adventure and an Artistic Life...
Because she's an illegitimate child, Eliza is raised in the rural backwater with very little supervision. An intelligent, creative, and free-spirited heroine, unfettered by the strictures of her time, she makes friends with poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge, finds her way to London, and eventually travels the world, all the while seeking to solve the mystery of her parentage. With fierce determination and irrepressible spirits, Eliza carves out a life full of adventure and artistic endeavor.
PRAISE FOR JOAN AIKEN
"Others may try, but nobody comes close to Aiken in writing sequels to Jane Austen."
"Aiken's story is rich with humor, and her language is compelling. Readers captivated with Elinor and Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility will thoroughly enjoy Aiken's crystal gazing, but so will those unacquainted with Austen."
"...innovative storyteller Aiken again pays tribute to Jane Austen in a cheerful spinoff of Sense and Sensibility."
I HAVE A FANCY TO TAKE PEN IN HAND AND TELL MY STORY, FOR now that I am arrived, so to speak, at a favourable hilltop, a safe situation above water level, I may look back...
I HAVE A FANCY TO TAKE PEN IN HAND AND TELL MY STORY, FOR now that I am arrived, so to speak, at a favourable hilltop, a safe situation above water level, I may look back on such mires, floods, tempests and raging tides as I have encountered with a tolerably tranquil eye; besides, my history should serve as a guide (or at least afford some diversion) to those who may be at present less favourably placed.
While, as to the dark that lies ahead, who can chart it?
In short – and without further preamble – I’ll begin.
I have no information as to the circumstances of my birth, or even in what county that event took place; indeed I doubt if there is any record of it.
My first memories are of the year 1797, when I must have been, I believe, about three or four years of age, and, from the circumstances of my life, already a shrewd and noticing child. As an infant I had been, I heard, somewhat frail and puny, and with the unlucky blemish that caused me to be scorned by some and feared by others. My foster-mother, Hannah Wellcome, having at that period several boys in her care greater in size than myself, and fearful that, among them, I might receive some fatal injury (thus depriving her of my foster-fee) daily dispatched me with a halfpenny, from the time that I could walk, to the vicarage and the decidedly questionable custody of the parson, Dr Moultrie. With the halfpenny I bought three cakes at the village baker’s for my dinner; and Dr Moultrie, to keep me from plaguing him with questions, for he was a slothful old party given to drowsing away many of the daylight hours in his chair, lost no time in teaching me to read, and turning me loose in his library. There, having run through such tales of Tom Hickathrift, Jack the Giant-Killer and Gold-Locks as remained from the days of his own children (long since grown and gone), I was obliged to munch on more solid fare, Goldsmith’s History of England, volumes of the Spectator, the plays of Shakespeare, and much poetry and theology, besides Berquin’s Ami des Enfants and some simple Italian tales (in consequence of which I acquired a readiness and taste for learning foreign tongues that has later stood me in good stead).
There was one volume that I read over and over, The Death of Arthur it was called, and I found the tales in it of knights and battles, Sir Beaumain, Sir Persaint, Merlin the enchanter and King Arthur himself, most haunting; they held sway over my mind for weeks together. But alas! one day, absorbed in the tale of the death of King Hermance, I dropped a great blob of jam from the tart I was eating on to the page of the book. When Dr Moultrie discovered this, he gave me a terrible beating, after which I could hardly crawl home, and he locked the book away; I never laid eyes on it again.
However, to his credit, it must be said that finding me an eager pupil Dr Moultrie was prepared to emerge from his torpor for an hour or two each day to instil in me the rudiments of Greek, Latin and Euclid, besides a thirst for wider knowledge.
But I run ahead of my tale.
Hannah Wellcome, my foster-mother, appeared good-natured and buxom: round red cheeks and untidy yellow ringlets escaping from her cap would predispose a stranger in her favour. I believe a certain native cunning had incited her to marry as she had done, thereby endowing herself with a propitious name and the status of a matron; Tom, her husband, kept in the background and was seldom seen; a narrow, dark, lantern-jawed ferret of a man, he scurried among the lanes on questionable pursuits of his own. But she, smiling and curtseying at the door of their thatched cottage, her ample bulk arrayed in clean apron, tucker and cap, might easily create an impression of kindly honesty, and had, at any one time, as many small clients as the house would hold.
The house, whitewashed and in its own garden, lay at the far end of a straggling hamlet sunk deep in a coombe. Our muddy street wound its way, like a crease through a green and crumpled counterpane, between steeply tilted meadows and dense patches of woodland, close to the border of Somerset and Devon. There were no more than twenty dwellings in all, besides the small ancient church presided over by Dr Moultrie. He had, as well, another village in his cure, perched high on the windy moor seven miles westwards. This was Over Othery. From long-established use and local custom, our hamlet, Nether Othery, was never thus referred to, but always, by the country folk round about, given the title of ‘Byblow Bottom’.
I write, now, of days long since passed away, when it was still the habit amongst all ladies of the gentle classes no matter how modest their degree, even the wives of attorneys, vicars, and well-to-do tradesmen, not to suckle their own infants, but always to put them out to wet-nurse. The bosoms of ladies, it seemed, were not for use, but strictly for show (and indeed, at the time I am recalling, bosoms were very much in evidence, bunched up over skimpy high-waisted dresses and concealed by little more than a twist of gauze and a scrap of cambric; what with that, and the fashion for wearing dampened petticoats and thin little kid slippers out of doors, very many young ladies must have gone to their ends untimely, thereby throwing even more business in the way of foster-mothers). Whatever the reason, it was held that the babies of the upper classes throve and grew faster when fed and tended by women of a lower order, and so the new-born infant would be directly dispatched, perhaps merely from one end of a village to the other, perhaps half across England to some baronial estate, to be reared in a cottage for two, three, or even four years, while its own mother, if so minded, need never lay eyes on it for that space of time. Of course I do not say this was the rule; many mothers, no doubt, visited their children very diligently, very constantly; but many others, I am equally sure, did not.
Aikens young heroine, the illegitimate daughter of Eliza Williams and John Willoughby, grows up in the 1790s in Nethery Othery, known locally as Byblow Bottom because of the aristocracys habit of sending their illegitimate children there for fosterage. Pretty, red-haired Eliza has a sixth finger on one hand, which is also much larger than the other. Elizas foster mother sends her daily to the vicarage into the decidedly questionable custody of Dr. Moultrie, where she at least acquires a good classical education. As a small child, Eliza also meets - and spends a great deal of time roaming the countryside with - two famed poets.
Elizas best friend is older Hoby and she cares for - and courageously rescues - a frail younger child they call Triz, leading to her association with the childs mother, Lady Hariot Vexford. Lady Hariot eventually is forced to take Triz to Spain, but arranges for Eliza to attend Mrs. Haslams school in Bath. There, despite learning societys hypocrisies, concealments, rancours and enmities, she thrives until the malice of the Bath Beaux ruins her reputation, and sends her on her travels again. Along the way, Eliza begins to learn about her parents and reconnects with (a now disapproving) Hoby.
Eliza meets each twist and turn with courage and loyalty to those she loves - traits that take her on a perilous journey to Spain when Lady Hariot calls on her for aid. And - an aspect of the story I liked best as Joan Aiken avoids a trite ending - she makes her own life, and vows to defend her own daughter from societys jealousies, ambitions and rancours. I recommend Elizas Daughter to fans of historical fiction (as well as to any who wonder what happened after Sense and Sensibility) as an unusual, enjoyable read.
Of all Jane Austen’s novels, Sense and Sensibility has a back-story most ripe for exploration: from Colonel Brandon’s first love, to that girl’s trials living with and being abused by the elder Brandon and her fall into prostitution, to Eliza Williams’s seduction and abandonment by Willoughby. Frankly, it’s all a little confusing, which might explain why for the first 30 or so pages of Eliza’s Daughter, I wasn’t sure which tragic female Aiken was writing about. Was the Eliza of the title Colonel Brandon’s first love or his niece and ward or the offspring of Willoughby’s treachery? Was Aiken going to show Willoughby’s seduction and the fallout from that? The answers, I discovered, were no, no and kind of.
Eliza Williams is the illegitimate daughter of Colonel Brandon’s niece and ward, Eliza Williams (another reason for the confusion; seriously, why didn’t Aiken give the child a different name?) and Willoughby. The novel opens with the young Eliza romping and playing in Byblow Bottom, a small hamlet on the border of Somerset and Devon, whose primary industry was wet-nursing the children, legitimate and illegitimate, of the upper classes. She grows up there neglected by indifference not due to the fact that she is illegitimate, but because she isn’t an illegitimate daughter of means. She does not know who her parents are, and it is this lack of knowledge that drives her for the entire book.
Joan Aiken must have hated Sense and Sensibility. Her interpretation of the source characters is so different from this reader’s that it was like reading original characters entirely. None of the original characters have the happily ever after you assume occurs at the end of Sense and Sensibility. Edward is embittered by poverty, resentful of being beholden to Colonel Brandon (and of Brandon’s relative wealth), and so frugal that he angers when a bottle of wine is opened to help revive his sick wife. Elinor has lost most of the inner fortitude that characterized her in Sense and Sensibility, strength that would be necessary to live with this obstinate version of Edward. Marianne has only a small part in the novel, but when she does appear, she is selfish, cold, and insensible of other people’s feelings. Even poor Margaret, who has only a small part in the original, is described as: “a dark, intense-looking lady of, I suppose, twenty-seven years; her features were too lumpy and irregular for her ever to have been considered handsome…there was something whimsical, freakish, over-emotional about her which made me slightly mistrust her; I thought she looked unreliable.” In fact, the only original character that comes across with any sympathy at all is Mrs. Dashwood, and she is sympathetic only because she is senile.
Of the Aiken sequels that I’ve read, this was the most interesting because it delved into an aspect of Regency life – illegitimacy – that Austen only alludes to. Like any good tragic heroine, Eliza’s life is not easy, but her intelligence, common sense and resiliency see her through. However, this novel would have been much more enjoyable if it had been an original story instead of piggybacking on Sense and Sensibility. For all the similarities the original characters have to Austen’s creations it might as well be an original. One aspect of the ending was somewhat startling from its unexpectedness, but despite these quibbles, the story of Eliza and her ability to survive despite numerous disadvantages is one I would recommend.
Originally published in 1984, this Sense and Sensibility spin-off is the story of the illegitimate daughter of Eliza Williams and the caddish John Willoughby. Young Eliza, reared in a rural backwater reserved for the bastard children of the upper class, manages to overcome her circumstances and travel the world to solve the mystery of her parentage. This darkly compelling read is more Dickensian than Austenian in tone.
This Jane Austen sequel is based on Sense and Sensibility and follows Willoughby’s illegitimate daughter by his jilted lover, Eliza. It is told in the first person narrated by the daughter, also named Eliza, and begins in 1797 with her earliest childhood memories. Many of the characters of Austen’s original story appear. Elinor and Edward are much changed and live in a state of near poverty. Eliza is Brandon’s ward and despised by a spoiled and indulged Marianne. Even the daring tomboy, Margaret Dashwood, has grown to be a conventional old maid. The only character who seems unchanged is the cheerful, ever-generous John Middleton.
Ms. Aiken has written a delightful and humorous story, one that can stand on its own without the Austen reference. Undoubtedly, England had its share of fatherless children left in foster care by indifferent parents; few, however, had the good fortune of Eliza and others that we meet. The only disappointment is the coy summary at the end, which comes too soon.
Length: 7.75 in
Width: 5.75 in
Weight: 14.00 oz
Page Count: 352 pages