Rebecca Ann Collins ‘ latest book- “Expectations of Happiness “will be released for sale by Sourcebooks /Landmark in October 2011.
A companion volume to Jane Austen’s first novel- “Sense and Sensibility”- published in 1811, the title is taken from the original volume- “ that sanguine expectation of happiness that is happiness itself”. Two hundred years later, the author re-visits the Dashwood sisters – Elinor , Marianne and Margaret as they live out their lives against the background of the southern counties of England.
Elinor is happily and contentedly married to Edward Ferrars- at the parsonage at Delaford, while Marianne is not quite so convincingly settled into her role as Lady of the Manor. This is the situation that Jane Austen leaves us at the end of “Sense and Sensibility” and it imposes a certain discipline upon a writer undertaking a continuation of the story, especially if one wishes to retain the credibility of Austen’s characters.
I have always believed that anyone who claims to be devising a sequel to a well established classic, must be true to the basic concept of the original author and is not entitled to distort characters to suit some bizarre plotline or for mercenary reasons- such as turning Mr Darcy into a vampire because these strange “critters” have suddenly, unaccountably, gained popularity with a new generation of readers.
Nor do I believe that one is entitled to use Austen’s beloved characters, in whom she invested so much love and skill, as players in some Regency porn-lit genre, which is closer in content and style to the books that were stocked by dodgy booksellers for the titillation of readers of dubious taste, than to Austen’s witty, refreshing romances, where the incipient passion is best played out in the mind and imagination of the reader. Which is why readers looking for weird characters and explicit sex scenes are warned- they will be disappointed in “Expectations of Happiness”.
However, if, like me, you have wondered how these three young women coped with the challenges of life in rural England during the second decade of the nineteenth century, and are prepared to pick up the threads and clues from the original novel and weave the fabric of their continuing lives, I hope you will enjoy the journey I have undertaken in this book.
I have long believed that “Sense and Sensibility” – of all Jane Austen’s novels, leaves open the option for a sequel. While the author tidies up the strands of the story in the final pages of the book, she leaves sufficient room for certain developments, which may be quite credibly used to continue the lives of the sisters without distorting the original concept of their characters. While Elinor and Edward are depicted as having a “marriage of true minds” in which their happiness seems assured , Marianne, left miserable after an unhappy love affair with Willoughby, is conveniently married off to Colonel Brandon, who is twice her age and devoted to her- but for whom she has shown no particular affinity at all.
I was struck also by the language that Austen uses to describe the Brandon’s marriage. Marianne, we are told, “found herself at nineteen, entering on new duties, in a new home, making new attachments, patroness of a village etc etc “– while Colonel Brandon “was as happy as those who loved him felt he deserved to be – consoled by the regard and company of his wife for all past afflictions….”
Plausible, but not a very exciting or inspiring portrait of marital bliss!
The prospect is not improved when we become aware that Willoughby still roams the countryside, unhappily married to his rich wife, complaining of his harsh treatment by his aunt, regretting his loss of Marianne and hating Colonel Brandon-for having won her. You will agree that here is a situation ripe for trouble and replete with possibilities for a sequel.
And then, there is Margaret- thirteen years old in the original novel- precocious, bright, with a zest for life and learning that suggests a range of opportunities for a young girl on the threshold of womanhood. I took particular pleasure in giving Margaret the chance to discover and follow her own “expectations of happiness” , by drawing the story of this family forward into the next decade of the nineteenth century and observing the rich texture and warmth of their relationships with each other, as well as the contribution they made as women and members of a small community.
Unlike “The Pemberley Chronicles”, in “Expectations of Happiness” we are not supported by the traditional social structures of Pemberley which provide a framework for the series, nor are we actively drawn into the vast social and political changes of the era in the way that some of the main characters in the series are. Instead, the story of the Dashwood sisters is that of a family of modest means , living quietly in the country, coping nevertheless, with the varying circumstances and challenges thatlife throws at them, as they seek to find love and fulfil their individual expectations of happiness. While it would be wrong to spoil your pleasure with too much detail, I found it fascinating and rewarding to explore the challenges that each of these women faced in her quest and hope my readers will do so too.
For those readers who may not be familiar with the work of Rebecca Ann Collins – some information…….
- Rebecca Ann Collins is the author of the acclaimed Pemberley Chronicles Series – published originally in Australia and later re- published by Sourcebooks/Landmark , USA.
In reviews and readers’ letters and emails, it is the qualities of authenticity and credibility in the author’s treatment of the plots and characters and her capacity to keep faith with the values of Jane Austen that find most favour .
- The author’s website- can be accessed via the following link- www.rebeccaanncollins.com and provides plenty of information about the books and the author, reviews, readers’ comments etc about the Pemberley novels and the author’s answers to some frequently asked questions.
- A survey of readers comments over the last ten years has produced some interesting information regarding the characters in the Pemberley Chronicles Series- those characters readers loved most from Jane Austen’s original cast were- Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, Jane and Mr Bingley , Charlotte Lucas and Mr Bennet – all of whom were kept very close to the Austen originals in their progress through the series.
- Of the new characters, created by Rebecca Ann Collins – it was quite remarkable that readers liked best those characters who most reflected the values and standards that Jane Austen herself upheld in her own work- so we had warm praise for Cassandra Darcy ( in “Mr Darcy’s Daughter”) Jonathan Bingley ( son of Jane and Bingley in “Netherfield Park Revisited”) Caroline Gardiner ( daughter of Mr and Mrs Gardiner in “My Cousin Caroline” ) and Becky Collins ( daughter of Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins in “A Woman of Influence “).
While each of these characters developed in their own way as the series progressed, their basic values-demonstrated in the way they lived their lives, were those that Austen herself admired. This appears to show that most readers, when they read a sequel to one of Austen’s novels, look for an endorsement of those intrinsic qualities that they recognise and value in her work. It is a principle that has informed and influenced all my work in this field.
Your comments on any of these notes and when you have had time to read “Expectations of Happiness” will be much appreciated. You can address them to the author on Meredith’s blog or send them to me via the Comment facility on the author’s website atwww.rebeccaanncollins.com
Rebecca Ann Collins