Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Janespotting: The Third Sister by Julia Barrett

I continued my journey through the "sequels" to Austen's Sense and Sensibility with this 1996 novel by the author of the P&P sequel Presumption, which I enjoyed tolerably well. As you can probably tell from the title, The Third Sister looks at what happens to Margaret Dashwood, the younger sister of Elinor and Marianne, once they have found their happy endings. Margaret is described by Austen in S&S as "a good-humored well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance, without having much of her sense, she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life." Barrett supposes, however, that Margaret has learned from observing her sisters' experiences, and at the age of 17 is a thoughtful girl who chafes somewhat at the limited company she finds with Sir John Middleton and his very silly family.

She is somewhat surprised, then, when she a visit by two of Mrs. Jennings' girlhood friends brings some companions very much to her liking. Lady Clara is older, but provides excellent conversation and company; the Comtesse du Plessy is hard-to-please, but her son William du Plessy is handsome and friendly—but maybe a bit too friendly for Margaret's skittish sensibilities. And soon another suitor appears on the horizon: George Osborne, a polite young man of good standing. In fact, as a relation of the Ferrars family, he may just be in line to receive a fortune from the fickle Mrs. Ferrars, who had favored youngest son Robert over Elinor's Edward, but is now concerned that Robert's profligate ways will ruin the family.

Of course, we have to leave Devonshire to really get the story going, and Lady Clara invites Margaret to Brighton, where they can take in the sea air and enjoy much society. Margaret takes the opportunity to seek out Eliza Williams, Colonel Brandon's fallen ward, who seems very happy nonetheless with her well-behaved son. At various parties and assemblies, Margaret enjoys the attentions of du Plessy, and believes she may be falling for him, but his evident affection makes her nervous. When he suddenly leaves Brighton with no reason, she suspects the worse. George Osborne takes the opportunity to court her with tactful and delicate attentions; when he proposes, she accepts him, believing it will be a good match and she will grow to feel affection for him.

In a plot twist stolen right from Persuasion, it is Eliza Williams's friend who reveals the horrible truth about George Osborne: he is a swindler who takes people's money for "investment" but pockets most of it himself. (Very modern, isn't it!) And in a move stolen straight from Mr. Darcy, it is du Plessy who pursues the villain and sets things right for her family, regaining the church funds poor Edward and Elinor scraped to together for investment. Margaret, having learned to listen to her heart as well as her head, is able to accept her true match, du Plessy, whom she had overlooked through too much caution. Sigh! A happy ending!

One of the best parts of this sequel is that we get direct glimpses into the lives of many of the characters from S&S, not just Margaret. We see Elinor and Edward, not well off but making the most of what they have and earning the respect of the entire district. We see Marianne and a transformed Colonel Brandon, happy together and improving the district with music and good works. We revisit the silly Middleton household, and see Lucy Steele Ferrars and her foppish husband Robert reaping the results of their extravagance and vanity. Plus, we get a new romance to top it off. This was a fairly enjoyable, if quickly forgettable, take on Austen's characters; a quick read if you're in the mood.

No comments:

Post a Comment