Lady Catherine’s Necklace
By Joan Aiken
Thorndike Press, 2000
This variation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice, is set a few years after the events of Austen’s original. Lady Catherine and her daughter, Anne, are residing quietly at Rosings Park when a freak April snowstorm strands the elegant Ralph Delaval and his sister Priscilla in the neighborhood.
Lady Catherine allows these elegant unfortunates to stay at Rosings, despite Anne’s misgivings. The mystery deepens when Lady Catherine goes on a journey, one of her prize necklaces is declared to be a fake, and Lady Catherine herself is apparently kidnapped.
As a long-time reader of Jane Austen fan fiction, I’m used to authors taking liberties with the original storylines, but Aiken’s book begins with at least one impossibility, which nearly caused me to stop reading the book entirely.
Based on all of the events that were alluded to have happened since Pride and Prejudice ended and Aiken’s book began — Mr. Bingley has bought his own home, Mr. Bennett has passed away, Charlotte’s first child is several years old — Lady Catherine’s daughter Anne, who was a pale sickly creature of age to be out in company in Austen’s original, should have been in her early twenties (at least) at the start of this story. And yet there she was, a blooming girl of 17, out digging in the garden and chatting up painters.
Since Aiken’s story is presumably set several years after the end of Pride and Prejudice, that means Lady Catherine was furious with Mr. Darcy for not marrying a 12 year old girl.
Perhaps she was. But I have to say, I devoutly hope not.
Maria Lucas seemed quite a bit livelier in Aiken’s version too, but compared to the puzzle of Anne’s miracle cure and extreme youthfulness, this was easy for me to reconcile. Maria would have spent several years in society by this point. She probably would have attained a bit of polish.
As I read, I quickly realized that I had to make a choice — either stop reading altogether or stop looking for faithfulness to Pride and Prejudice and enjoy Aiken’s narrative as an only tangentially related tale loosely set in more or less the same world.
I had read other Austen variations by Joan Aiken before and enjoyed them, so I chose to continue reading this one. And in the end, I was repaid with a fun little Regency story set in a world and populated by characters that were just familiar enough to be comfortable companions for a stormy afternoon.
Who would enjoy this book
Jane Austen fans who don’t require their Pride & Prejudice fan fiction to be all that faithful to the original. Better yet, folks who haven’t necessarily read Jane Austen’s novels at all, and are just looking for a light-hearted and somewhat silly Regency novel with which to pass a lazy afternoon.
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