We were very pleased when a novel inspired by Jane Austen’s fourth daughter in Pride and Prejudice crossed our path. What Kitty Did Next is a continuation, as such, of one of the five Bennet sisters after the close of the classic novel, whose heroine Elizabeth receives most of the praise from her father and a marriage to Mr. Darcy of Pembeley in the end. Her younger sister Catherine on the other hand, or Kitty as she is called by her family, only earns put-downs and threats from her father after her involvement in her younger sister Lydia’s infamous elopement with Mr. Wickham. Accused of being silly and ignorant, what could Kitty do to regain her family’s trust, raise her self-esteem and make herself marriageable? From the title of the book, my expectations were high. How would Kablean turn the floundering duckling of Longbourn into a swan?
Much of the anticipation for the reader is generated by Kitty’s past behavior in Pride and Prejudice. For those who have not read the original, Kablean gives us ample background and character backstory.
Kitty, meanwhile, was just Kitty. A docile child, she had trailed after her adored eldest sisters but they, like many older siblings, had not delighted in her presence and had sent her off to play with the younger ones. Only sickness and prolonged periods of enforced rest had brought Jane, and occasionally Elizabeth, to her bedside, and when she had fully recovered her health Lydia had so far inserted herself as her mother’s favourite that it had seemed obvious that she should follow in her younger sister’s wake and share all the delights and comforts bestowed upon her. Neither commanding nor being the centre of attention, Kitty had become more adept at observing than doing and, until the events of the previous year, had not questioned this order of things. Chapter 6
Our sympathies run deep for Kitty. With three of her sisters married, she is stuck at the family home with sister Mary (no fun) her prattling mother (harpy) and a negligent father who has placed her on a very short leash in reaction to the bad conduct of a younger sister who is now out of harms way living in Newcastle. With no balls to attend or officers to flirt with life is a bore until sister Jane invites her to dine at Netherfield Park. After meeting Sir Edward Quincy, a very old gentleman (of at least forty-five) she wonders if his decided attentions to her could become her fate? A wealthy widow is a very eligible prospect that her family would approve of. Yet, what does she have to offer him beyond youth? Her sister Jane sees her dilemma and invites her to join herself and her husband Charles at their London townhouse on Brook street.
How thin is the line between happiness and despair! Yesterday, all had been bleak and monotonous; today, every bright prospect was open to her. Chapter 9
So, off to London Kitty goes – a town of diversions and prospects aplenty. Or one would hope. There, she meets Mr. Darcy’s younger sister Miss Georgiana who encourages Kitty to renew her love of music, is taught by Mr. Henry Adams a dishy young music master, is introduced to Sir Quincy’s eligible nephews Mr. Frederick Fanshawe and Mr. William Fanshawe, who are his heirs, attends music soirees, art galleries and museums, shops for frocks, and generally does all the things that fashionable young ladies do while in Town. Life is good for Kitty, yet after reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women she craves more and begins a diary of her time in London.
Usually, at this point in a novel, there is a crisis or a challenging event for the heroine. In Pride and Prejudice it occurs about a third of the way in the narrative after the tumultuous failed first proposal by Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth resulting in anger, anxiety and exasperation for both parties. His “be not alarmed, madame.” letter to Elizabeth is an epiphany for her. Before that moment she never knew herself and is touched and humbled by his response. This important character arc does not happen in What Kitty Did Next for hundreds of pages, which leaves readers wondering where the storyline is going. There is activity. Kitty is improving herself, slowly, and we do learn more about the Fanshawes and sense that something is amiss there. Coupled with the author’s choice to use pages of telling the story and not showing, I found myself growing as impatient and restless as the heroine. When the action finally moves to Pemberley and Lydia Wickham crashes the summer ball, things finally come to a point of true crisis for our heroine. Her reputation is tarnished and she is sent home to Longbourn in disgrace.
What she did next, I will leave for the reader to discover. The first half of the novel was very gently paced. Be patient. Like our heroine Miss Kitty Bennet, debut novelist Carrie Kablean was learning and improving with every chapter. The final third of the book was pure vindication. Kitty became accomplished, worthy of our attention and praise, and so did the author.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
What Kitty Did Next, by Carrie Kablean
RedDoor Publishing (2018)
Paperback (416) pages