From the desk of Lisa Galek:
Margaret Dashwood is only rarely mentioned in Sense and Sensibility. She starts the story as a girl of thirteen who loses her father and her home and then sits back to watch her two older sisters fall in love and get married. But, what kind of adventures did Margaret have after Jane Austen’s classic was done? In Margaret Dashwood’s Diary, Anna Elliott explores the life and loves of the youngest Dashwood sister.
As the title indicates, this novel takes the form of a diary and we begin with a brand new entry. See, Margaret has just burned her old journal after breaking off an engagement to a very eligible and rich young bachelor. She means to start fresh and has gone to stay with her sister, Marianne Brandon, at Delaford House for a change of scenery.
Colonel Brandon is away hunting down some dangerous smugglers that are operating in the neighborhood, but Margaret still runs into all kinds of old favorites. Elinor and Edward pop up every now and then. Mrs. Jennings is still poking her nose into everyone’s business. And even Mr. and Mrs. Palmer are in town to add to the laughs. But, when John Willoughby and his wife rent a house in the neighborhood things start to get a bit awkward for everyone.
Margaret is not only worried that her sister might be tempted by her first love, but her life is further complicated by the appearance of Jamie Cooper, a young man who also happens to be a gypsy that Margaret knows from her childhood at Norland Park. Jamie might have information about the local smuggling ring, but as Margaret gets closer to him she realizes that she might be falling in love with the one man she could never have.
The Margaret Dashwood presented here is a very charming character. She’s based mostly on the 1995 movie version of Sense and Sensibility. This Margaret is spunky and bright, but also understands her place in the world. Her voice as the narrator was light and yet very compelling. She begins by breaking off an engagement and it’s delightful to watch her develop as a young woman who not only falls in love but digs deep into some pretty dangerous mysteries.
We are dealing with a mystery here and a pretty good one. From the opening pages of the novel, the author starts to drop clues that will eventually be unraveled. It’s actually rather tightly plotted and there aren’t many details that get left hanging. Even a runaway horse ties in nicely in the end. The story sets up several characters as possible leaders of the smuggling ring, but it left me guessing until the end as to who to true criminal mastermind was.
The one side plot that wasn’t exactly right was Margaret’s broken engagement. It’s the starting point for the novel, but, later, her ex-fiancé appears for the sole reason of acting like a jerk. He never ties into the wider story, so I wouldn’t have minded leaving him in the background altogether. It would have been nice to allow the broken engagement to be a growth opportunity for Margaret’s character rather than adding another villain she has to outwit.
Otherwise, the author does a nice job of using old characters like the Palmers and Mrs. Jennings as well as introducing us to new characters like Margaret’s handsome love interest, Jamie. Mrs. Willoughby isn’t new, but her personality is (and she’s just as horrid as you might imagine). The author even brings in some little-seen characters from the original novel to add a few twists and turns to the story. I really liked her take on Eliza (Colonel Brandon’s ward and the mother of Willoughby’s illegitimate child) and how her story was expanded and wrapped up.
The diary format also works perfectly as a story-telling device. Margaret’s voice is well done and you could imagine a Regency-era young woman writing as she does. The entries also felt realistic and were even sometimes abruptly cut off, not for dramatic, but for comic effect:
He helped Marianne into the curricle seat, got up beside her, and then drove off. Glancing at Elinor, I saw that she looked as stunned as I felt.
She was the first to break the silence. “But that was—”
“I know,” I said. “That was John—”
I suppose that was a narrative break worthy of any chapter ending in a gothic tale of horror. But I did not actually stop writing there for the sake of heightened drama; Marianne came into the room to remind me that dinner would be served soon, and I ought to be going up to dress.
Overall, the novel was a fun and interesting read. The old characters are true to Austen, the new characters are well-drawn and fit in seamlessly, and the mystery was pretty darn good. It’s no easy feat to take a minor Austen character and make her shine in the spotlight, but this novel has definitely pulled it off.
4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Margaret Dashwood’s Diary: Sense and Sensibility Mysteries Book One, by Anna Elliott
Wilton Press (2014)
Digital eBook (244) pages
Cover image courtesy of Wilton Press © 2014; text Lisa Galek © 2014, Austenprose.com
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