There is only one complaint I have about this book and that regards Another Lady's development of Mrs. Parker, as I believe it exceeds the bounds of her promise, but every other character (and she only introduces two not named by Austen, Sidney Parker's friends Henry Brudenall and Reginald Catton) perfectly conform to the identities originally designated to them. Charlotte Heywood comes alive, every jot the practical young heroine, and Sidney Parker, the hero Austen left so very undeveloped, is utterly charming, quite in the manner of Mr. Tilney, with a bit of Frank Churchill mixed in. Another Lady's ability to weave all the loose ends into a complex, highly amusing, and thoroughly satisfying novel astounds me. Take this piece of dialogue:
"Oh sensible, prudent Miss Heywood, how very correct in you to rebuke me," said he, very much amused. "You are already so well acquainted with my family that I had forgotten how short a while we have known each other. I should, of course, have waited at least a month before trying to compare our opinions on all my relations."Now is that not quintessential Austen? Another Lady fulfills my utmost fantasies, allowing me to suspend reality and pretend for a moment that here, indeed, is another complete Austen novel. Yes, as Laurel Ann so rightly pointed out, the end does get rather silly, but even the slightly ludicrous scenario our heroine finds herself in holds me completely captive (and highly amused). Note the following passage, in which Another Lady gives voices to the Miss Beauforts, who Austen tells us "were very accomplished and very ignorant, their time being divided between such pursuits as might attract admiration, and those labours and expedients of dexterous ingenuity by which they could dress in a style much beyond what they ought to have afforded." These ladies, having ignored Miss Heywood previously, seek her out in hopes she will introduce them to the new gentlemen in town:
"I very much doubt that a month would bring any great change in my outlook," replied Charlotte, quite firmly. "Very few of us lack superficial faults and we must rely on each other's kindness to overlook them."
"But people take such trouble with their faults and go to such lengths to make them fascinating to others that it is really very unkind to overlook them," protested Sidney. "They would much rather be laughed at on their own merits than politely ignored as members of a community."
"We have been longing this age -- oh, quite aching, I assure you, dear Miss Heywood -- for some chance of furthering our acquaintance with you. We have been making the most delightful schemes for days past. But there! We both have the greatest horror of being thought forward or pushing! It is amazingly difficult for us to get to know anybody at all."Their blatant shallowness and insincerity seems so authentically Austen, very much in the style of what one would imagine of the Miss Steeles, had they greater affluence.
"Sanditon is a most charming place, we find -- perhaps a little thin of company. But more people are beginning to arrive now, I dare say. The hotel seems to be filling up at all events ..."
"Oh! I am dotingly fond of Sanditon already in spite of it being a little secluded," interrupted Miss Beaufort, feeling her sister was being a shade premature. "My particular friend, Miss Nicholls, a dear creature and most truly modish, tells me there is far more going on in Ramsgate. There one sees new faces every day -- but here the stranger is quite a rarity."
"Lord yes, I always say these small, retired places are infinitely to be preferred to the bustling, popular resorts," agreed Miss Letitia. "When one comes from a largish inland town, one longs only for solitude in a seaside retreat. I must declare the view from our balcony quite delights us. Not a soul to be seen on the beach for hours at a time."
"Oh yes, we both rave about the peace -- about the generally deserted air of Sanditon. Within a few days one knows virtually every face in the district -- "
"Exactly. So I really could not help exclaiming to Lydia the other morning when I saw -- nothing beyond the merest glimpse really, you know -- two, no less than two, complete strangers."
"Ah! now you mention it, Letitia, I do remember them. They seem to be putting up at the hotel -- some connection with the Parkers I did overhear -- most genteel-looking young men, both of them so excessively well-dressed."
"The sort of people, one would imagine, more likely to be found patronising Brighton rather than Sanditon."
Another Lady is more than your average Austen fan fiction writer - she has meticulously studied Austen's style and thought deeply about her appeal. At the end of Sanditon she writes "An Apology from the Collaborator" in which she states:
Ever increasing numbers, seeking to escape the shoddy values and cheap garishness of our age, are turning to Jane Austen's novels to catch glimpses of life in what appear to be far more leisured times.No, this isn't Miss Austen's hand at work, finishing the story that torments her devotees with its potential, but I think it's as good as we're likely to get. I have also read Juliet Shapiro's completion, which was interesting but not nearly as satisfying. Laurel Ann wrapped up By the Seaside with Sanditon by listing some of the fan fiction available for this book, and in response I have ordered two more completions: The Brothers (which was Austen's original title for the work) by Jane Austen and (yet) Another Lady, Helen Baker, and Jane Austen's Charlotte by Julia Barrett, author of Presumption, the first Austen sequel I ever read. Of course, I will share my thoughts on these versions as I read them, but today it was oh so pleasant to spend time with this dear friend: a beloved book that sits on my shelf next to Austen's six novels, as close as anything has ever come to reviving her long lost voice. Can I possibly rave more?
Like Mr Woodhouse, we enjoy the company of these old friends best; and though we prefer their actual company to second-hand discussions and speculations about them, anything concerning them will always hold a fascination for us.