From the desk of Regency Romantic:
After being introduced to Jane Austen’s Lady Susan via A Soiree with Lady Susan, Austenprose’s rollicking cyber group read, replete with wagging tongues and fluttering fans, I delighted in discovering this ‘most accomplished Coquette in England’. So different from other Austen heroines, I welcomed her all the more for her flagrant flaws and mercenary machinations. Regretfully, as Jane Austen never got the chance to revise this novella, the limitations of the epistolary form did leave me with a desire for more.
Enter Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway’s novel Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, which certainly fulfills this desire… and more! This clever re-imagining by a mother and daughter team turns my previous notion about this heroine on its head. It intriguingly opens with an Austen inspired witticism:
A woman with neither property nor fortune must ward off this affliction by cultivating the beauty, brilliance, and accomplishment that will blind a promising suitor to the want of a dowry. When she is securely married… she must never sink to complacency, but always keep sharp, for it may be her unfortunate lot to survive her spouse and she will be thrown back upon her wits once more.
Thus, the stage is set. Antedating where Austen’s story begins, the novel unfolds with a credible backstory that explains why Lady Susan’s reputation as an accomplished coquette springs from malicious gossip gone awry. Born Susan Martin, who from the cradle has been matched to her young, wealthy, and titled cousin Sir James Martin, she chooses, instead, to marry the much older and recently knighted Sir Frederick Vernon. Becoming Lady Vernon, she inadvertently makes an enemy of Mr. Charles Vernon, her husband’s younger brother whose suit she categorically rejected. Hell hath no fury like a man scorned! He slovenly casts aspersions on Lady Vernon’s character that, like all gossip, assumes a life of its own. When Sir Frederick dies with the understanding that Charles would provide for his wife and daughter as he had stipulated, the embittered Charles reneges on his verbal promises. Driven out of their home by Charles and his insipid and gullible wife, Catherine De Courcy, Lady Vernon and her daughter, Frederica, rely on the generosity of friends who place them in compromising situations that escalate the rumors. Lady Vernon is forced to endure the advances of the married Mr. Manwaring. Frederica is expelled from school for her kind-hearted gesture to save a friend from a ruinous elopement. Untenable, they return to Charles’ home and confront him with his responsibility, which he continues to evade.
When Reginald De Courcy, Catherine’s brother, curiously arrives to meet the infamous Lady Vernon, the winds of persecution start to shift. Lady Vernon maintains the protective façade of her coquetry, but underneath, her uncanny understanding of human nature and social manipulations allow her to find a way out of their financially dire situation. Using the “most effective method of persuading both Reginald and Catherine to do anything, which was to urge them in the opposite direction”, Frederica is sent off to the forbidding estate of the De Courcy’s. Will Lady Vernon’s gamble pay-off or just put shy Frederica in a more precarious situation? Compounded with the return of the rebuffed Sir James Martin, a frivolous man who delights in flouting society’s expectations and making mischief, will Lady Vernon and Frederica’s pursuit for matrimonial bliss be thwarted forever?
Although I loved Lady Susan as a villain, I loved Lady Vernon more as a heroine. Frederica, who was barely given a voice in Austen’s original oeuvre, deservedly receives her full heroine due in this re-telling. It departs materially from Austen’s plot at certain points, but its prose and humor are so reminiscent of Austen that it is meaty enough to satisfy. Both Lady Vernon and Frederica, echoing the trials of sister tandems Elinor-Marianne and Lizzie-Jane (albeit here as mother-daughter), are imbued with similar wit, strength, and resiliency that we have come to love in Austen’s beloved heroines. Lady Vernon’s unerring wit outwitting a fickle society obsessed with gossip keeps this novel fresh for a modern audience whose inquiring minds want to know. Peppered with allusion to and appearance of several characters from Austen’s other canons truly make this novel a delicious read. So, read it not just once, for its story; not just twice, for its spin of the original work; but perhaps thrice, for all the other witty winks to Austen. After all, there is no such thing as having too much Austen in the daily diet.
5 out of 5 Stars
Lady Vernon and her Daughter, by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
Crown Publishing, New York (2009)
Hardcover (328) pages
Cover image courtesy of Crown Publishing © 2009; text Regency Romantic © 2010, Austenprose.com
I had the privilege of seeing these two ladies (the authors not the subjects of the novel!!) last night at the Morgan Library where a panel discussion on Austen was held Their commentary showed a very good understanding of Austen & quite entertaining too which they had to be to hold their own against the authors of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and a Pride and Prejudice comic!! One member of the audience spoke up to praise a blog post on the ladies site…Jane Austen reviewing Twilight the movie…I surfed in there today and it is one of the funniest things I have ever read. BTW…the Morgans Austen exhibit is not large but a must-see collection of letters books and illustrations including a copy of Lady Susan!!
Miriam S, I am green with envy! I would love to personally see the original manuscript of Lady Susan (oh, to see Jane’s handwriting up close!) and pick the brains of this mother-daughter writing team. Their prose certainly indicated to me that they were Austen enthusiasts. And that Austen review of Twilight is hilarious! =D
Thanks for linking to me. I thought they did an excellent job.
My list of books to read is getting rather long,,I am loving all that you recommend,,you have a very awesome blog,,and for that I have tagged you for awawrd,,
Thank you for the wonderful review…it certainly whets my appetite.
I’m looking forward to a great read!
Thanks for dropping by, Lyne! Would love to know what you think of this novel after your read.
I just finished Lady Vernon and he Daughter last week and have been working on my review. I agree it was a wonderful work…I could not put it down…it was almost as if I had been gifted with another Austen novel! I loved what they chose to do with Lady Vernon’s character and the entire plot! Kudos! I have not liked an Austen inspired work yet quite as much as I liked this one!
Ditto, stiletto! There were times I totally forgot I was not reading an Austen novel. Their spin of the original story is quite… original! I couldn’t put it down either. Yes, I’ve read a few Austen inspired works, but this is only the second one I truly enjoyed.
While I found this book amusing, I did not enjoy it to the extent that most readers seem to have. I found the discrepancies between Austen’s characterizations and those of Rubino and Rubino-Bradway irreconcilable. Lady Susan is much more appealing to me as a villain than in this watered down, victimized portrayal. She’s also Lady Susan and NOT Lady Vernon for very good reasons, her elevated status giving her the leeway to be the coquette she is meant to be. I would have much preferred a stricter adherence to Austen’s text.
Definitely no such thing as too much Austen! :) I’m sorry I couldn’t participate in the Soiree with Lady Susan and still want to read it. I’d be much better able to appreciate this one then, I’m sure. Sounds like a great novel!
I am so glad to see that you got around to reviewing my favorite Austen-ite prose! I cannot agree that elevated status is something that gives the character “leeway” to be a coquette – Mary Crawford, Lydia Bennet and Isabella Thorpe are all very much the coquette. But we can all agree to disagree – I think the book was a very well written and authentic expansion on an Austen work and very credible too. I especially liked how the letters were used – but I won’t give too much away.
I am VERY jealous of Miriam who got to the Morgan. I would love to be able to get up there to see the exhibit.
Hi Barbara L! Laurel Ann was kind enough to invite me to share my enthusiasm about this novel, hence this review. =)
I love how you call it an ‘authentic expansion’… so very apt! When Lady Vernon writes: “There is an exquisite pleasure in making a person acknowledge his prejudices”, I almost had to laugh, since I myself was confronted with my prejudices of Lady Susan and Frederica from the original work. That’s why their treatment of both heroines was all the more surprising… and delightfully credible! I kept going back to the original source just to see how craftily they were spinning it. That was just an added level of wit that truly enhanced my enjoyment of this novel.
Yeah RomanceRomantic! I was taken by that phrase “authentic expansion” too – it makes me wonder what the first draft of “Sense and Sensibility” looked like because I think that it was also a shorter work and all written in letters and then Jane Austen went back to it later and turned it into the book we all know today! The OP says that the Morgan has a copy of “Lady Susan” – are there any original copies of the first version of S+S I wonder? Loved your review – so well expressed and it did capture all of the charm of the book – it was a GREAT addition to Austen lovers libraries.
Thanks for dropping by, Evelyn!
That is a very good question and I did ask the same question to those who’ve been to the Morgan Library exhibit. They say only Lady Susan is the only original manuscript on display.
Whether the original draft of Elinor and Marianne still survives, I actually haven’t heard or read that. But I will be very happy to be corrected, of course!
Chiming in late on this but in total agreement with all who fell in love with this book! It set the bar very high for all Austen books to follow. I always thought Lady Susan was one dimensional in Austens work and maybe she was never interested enough in the work to go back and bring out more shades and hues in the character but if she did I think it would have come off looking a lot like the Lady Vernon in this novel.
Thanks for chiming in, Lou! =) After reading this novel, the same thought crossed my mind. If Jane Austen had reworked her Lady Susan, would she have gone the route of creating another heroine “only she would like” (ala Emma) or would she have gone the route that Jane Rubino and her daughter took? As Barbara L aforementioned, theirs is an authentic expansion.