I have a hard time reading for extended stretches in front of a computer so, while I downloaded and started reading Donwell Abbey two weeks ago, I only finished it yesterday. Had I held it in my hands, I would have read it straight through, rendering it easier to keep track of the multitude of descendants Katherine Moore creates for the residents of Highbury. As it was, I had a difficult time keeping track of all the Knightlys and Wentworths. That's right, Wentworths. Mr. Knightly and Emma have had two children: George, who married Anna Weston and died in the Crimean War, and Jane, who married Charles Croft Wentworth of Kellynch Hall (how a gentleman with that name came to succeeded Sir Walter is never explained). Anna Knightly now lives at Donwell with her daughter Emily, the heroine of the story, and her mother-in-law. Mr. Knightly has, sadly, passed away before our tale begins.
This is a throughly Victorian book: the imagery, right down to the cottages in need of improvement, reminiscent of George Elliot's Middlemarch. We encounter Highbury at a time of great change: Mr. Philip Elton, son of the late rector, is extending a railroad line to the town. The story is constructed around familiar themes of progress, industrialization, and social upheaval. With the middle class ascending into power, the families at Donwell and Hartfield (another houseful of Knightlys) have to reevaluate their traditional place in society. Even Emma, who holds quite firmly to her traditional, hierarchical values, comes to respect those who are worthy of their advancement.
Donwell Abbey is an amusing book but it feels unfinished. For example, the middle of is broken up by an epistolary segment, making for awkward transitions. Still, I really liked imagining Emma in the role of the indomitable matriarch (the personalities Ms. Moore creates for her grandchildren and their cousins are rather fascinating, inspired by the characters of their forefathers). Unfortunately, the authoress is deceased so there will be no cleaner drafts of this story. As it is, it's free: how can I complain?