Many readers may think a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility the ‘lazy way’ to a debut novel. Just hang everything on the framework of the classic original since Jane Austen did all the work. Easy? Not! Can you imagine the adjustment difficulties in making the two-century quantum-leap in technology, societal mores, and the fleshing-out of contemporary characters from the original to author A.P. Maddox’s Northland Cottage? Let’s find out of it worked…
Having visited both locales myself, I was thrilled the author chose North Carolina for the setting of Northland Cottage because I consider it nearly as romantic a location as Sense and Sensibility’s South Devon, England.
I’d almost forgotten how complex the cast and plot is for Sense and Sensibility but I’ll make a “go” at first introducing the characters in Northland Cottage, then their Sense and Sensibility counterparts in parentheses, followed by a brief plot synopsis. (Take a deep breath and plunge ahead)
The Hathcocks (Dashwoods) are an old-moneyed traditional southern family whose wealth came from agriculture, textiles and furniture. Following the death of their father, the Hathcock ladies’ beloved Hamilton Estate (Norland Park) is inherited by Brother Frank (John Dashwood) and his wife Dottie (Fanny Dashwood) who brashly move in and take over. Dottie makes life miserable for Mrs. Hathcock (Mrs. Dashwood) and daughters Caroline (Elinor), Ashelynn (Marianne), and Maggie (Margaret), who look for a means of escape. Before they move out, Caroline is introduced to Dottie’s brother Conner Burroughs (Edward Ferrars) and the mutual attraction is instantaneous. The Hathcock ladies are invited to live in a vacant cottage on their cousin Lloyd Honeycutt’s (Sir John Middleton) Northland Estate near Winston-Salem. Kindly and generous, Lloyd and his wife Ilene (Lady Middleton) love society and dote upon Sarah and her daughters. The ladies are introduced to Lloyd’s busybody matchmaking mother-in-law Mrs. Johnson (Mrs. Jennings) and a wealthy close friend, Afghanistan war hero Captain Harrison Lowder (Colonel Brandon). Despite being much older than Ashelynn, he is immediately smitten by her. But before he can make a romantic move, Ashelynn injures herself while hiking and is gallantly rescued by handsome young Will Houston. (John Willoughby) Ashelynn tells her sisters about Will’s advances:
“He kissed me,” Ashelynn sighed with a dreamy smile…”Aw,” Maggie sighed, enraptured. “I hope my first kiss will be that wonderful. How about your first kiss Caroline? Was yours that wonderful?” Both sisters looked at Caroline, expecting to be thrilled with another amazing first kiss story…”When or if it ever happens, I’ll let you know.”
Ashelynn is head-over-heels in love, but before they can plan an engagement, Will mysteriously escapes to the city of Charlotte with no further explanation. Lydia (Lucy Steele), Nancy Anne (Anne) and their parents visit Lloyd at Northland and Caroline is shocked to learn that Lydia is secretly engaged to Conner! No wonder his behavior towards Caroline is so ambivalent. Scheming Lydia encourages Randall’s (Robert Ferrars) advances at a Halloween masquerade:
“Well, you’re a Pirate,” Lydia giggled. “Why should I trust anything you say?” “Don’t trust me,” Randall warned with a devious gin. “My only purpose here tonight must be to steal someone else’s treasure.”
Harrison tries unsuccessfully to keep a family secret from Ashelynn. He has a young ward named Kathryn (Eliza) who has been taken advantage of by Will and is expecting. Caroline and Ashelynn are invited to attend college in Charlotte and live with Mrs. Johnson. Will avoids Ashelynn at all costs and Conner seems miserable. Harrison continues to be a loyal and helpful friend to the Hathcock ladies, but especially to Ashelynn, whose love he fears he will lose to Justin Holliday. For those of you who have not read Sense and Sensibility, I’ll stop here, for fear of spoiling the original masterpiece because Northland Cottage is that accurately rendered.
A.P. Maddox’s bio reveals she has written for children and young adults and cherishes traditional family values. The book is thus squeaky clean and returns us to a time not long ago when young people fell in love and actually wanted to (gasp) get married! The author’s writing style is wholesome and seems aimed squarely at the young adult market. That shouldn’t put you off one bit because I think Jane Austen herself would heartily approve. The author’s North Carolina is lush and scenic. Her updated characters are instantly recognizable. Finally, after you have enjoyed this timeless romance, you can pass it down to your daughter or even granddaughter with complete confidence in its appropriateness.
4 out of 5 Stars
Cover image courtesy of Brighton Publishing, LLC © 2012, text Jeffrey Ward © 2012, Austenprose.com