Monday, October 26, 2009

Lady Vernon & Her Daughter

As noted a few posts ago, the new book Lady Vernon and Her Daughter by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway and Jane Rubino was recently brought to my attention and I (typically) rushed right out to procure a copy. I have now finished reading it and was surprised to enjoy it as much as I did. My trepidation stemmed from the description of the book as a "completion" of Lady Susan on Amazon. I could understand if the book was marketed as an expansion, in the same way that Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice are expanded versions of Elinor & Marianne and First Impressions, but to suggest that Austen left Lady Susan incomplete rubs roughly against the grain. Upon reading the story's first chapter I found myself even more infuriated by this description, for it became clear that the characters were entirely altered from their original form: Lady Susan (Lady Vernon here, her titled having derived from a knighted husband - not sure I buy the authoresses' explanation for this) is sympathetic, Miss Vernon bookish, Sir James is a witty cousin, and Mr. Vernon a villain. But as I read on and it became clear that this wasn't a completion or an expansion of the original I began to enjoy myself. While this book is certainly inspired by Lady Susan and follows a similar plot line it is an entirely different story, with completely different thematic and moral implications than Austen's original. It is a regency romance, resembling Georgette Hayer's style more than Austen's (i.e. clearly defined romantic hero, easily recognizable villain, elaborate plot twists), and as such it is successful. I would have been happier had the authoresses created a story strictly adhering to Austen's original but, nonetheless, once I stopped tracking the discrepancies between the two, the tale is good fun. Better for those with a penchant for regency romance than the strict Austen adherents.


  1. Hmmm, I don't think that's correct - I thought the only way someone would have their last name after their title was if they were a peer or higher. I thought knights and baronets (and younger sons and daughters) had their first names. At least, that's what I understand from Lord Peter Wimsey! :-) Don't know if I'll tackle Lady Vernon and her Daughter anytime soon, but thanks for such a sympathetic and thoughtful review!

    On another note, did you get a chance to see Emma? I can't remember if you're following it, or waiting for February. If you are, I can PM you if you like.

  2. You're absolutely right. It's one of the biggest changes to the original premise. There is a handy authors' note at the back of the book that addresses this decision. The ladies argue that "there is no suggestion, other than the 'Lady Susan,' that the protagonist is the daughter of high rank. Had that been the case, she would certainly have commanded more deference." I don't buy this because Jane Austen would NEVER have called a character by an incorrect title. Her attention to such detail is amply demonstrated in her critiques of the literary efforts of her relatives. While Austen never explains Lady Susan's familial background, clearly she is the daughter of an Earl, Marquis, or maybe even a Duke. It is certain her husband had no title. And in regard to deference, I think the other actors in the story demonstrate a remarkable amount of patience, for the era, towards a poor widow of questionable repute and her dowerless daughter.

    I am watching Emma but have yet to see the last episode. I'll let you know what I think once I do.

  3. I was able to meet these charming authors at their talk at the Center for Fiction - there they made a very convincing argument for the name change - their reasoning was that they wanted the heroine of this book to be from the same social class as all other of Jane Austen's heroines - that is the gentry but not of high rank - and when I look upon Elizabeth, Emma, Elinor and Marianne, Catherine, Anne and even Fanny (who is rather lowborn but raised as the "daughter" of the Bertrams) I see the point - they also mentioned other incidents of name changes in Austen - I do forget just what they are, sorry about that - but their reasoning in the Q+A was very sound. The word "completion" would have surprised me too - Lady Susan is a complete work - but the two ladies used the word "reconstruction", I believe.

  4. I agree - anyone who questions an actual native of a culture, let alone one with the brilliance and observational accuracy of Jane Austen, really just Doesn't Get It.

    And I hope you enjoy Emma!

  5. The thought occurred to me, while reading the novel, that they were trying to place Lady Susan snuggly into the gentry - it is a better explanation than the one they provide in the Authors' Note and I wish they had included it. I have the Kindle edition of this book so no back cover; I focused on the word "completion" because it is all over the Amazon reviews. "Reconstruction" is far more appropriate but it still implies a closer relationship to the original text than I think exists (makes me think of archeology or art restoration). How about calling it a "reimagining" or simply claiming it to be "inspired by" Lady Susan? I think either would more accurately describe the project.

    I would love to have heard more details about how the authors conceived and executed this book. It must have been a fascinating discussion.