Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Janespotting: Aunt Celia by Jane Gillespie

Jane Gillespie is one of those authors who has dipped into almost all of Austen's works as inspiration for her own, including a fun if forgettable take on Mansfield Park, a look at the naughtiest characters from Northanger Abbey, and a sweet, witty take on one of the neglected characters from Sense and Sensibility. So how would she approach our lovely Emma and her shenanigans?

Again, Gillespie eschews he main character and follows one of the more overlooked characters from the original, Mr. Weston, father of Frank Churchill and husband of "poor Miss Taylor," Emma's former governess. This novel opens almost two decades after Emma, with the widowed Mr. Weston and his nearly-adult daughter, Celia, anticipating a visit from Frank and Jane Churchill and their large family. Celia wonders if she still will be friends with the Churchills' eldest daughter Stella, who is two years younger and livelier than her "Aunt" Celia.

Besides these visitors, who are staying at the larger Donwell Abbey, the Westons are hosting the widow Mrs. Petteril. Mr. Weston, a kind soul, thinks Celia needs female company after her mother's death. Celia would be just as happy to spend her time cheering her father, because Mrs. Petteril is not a very sympathetic lady. In fact, the impoverished widow is scheming to have her wastrel son Henry marry Celia, and then marry Mr. Weston herself.

While Celia manages to escape these machinations—mostly—she does not find comfort with her relations, either. Her Uncle Frank is rather severe (family life has made him responsible and boring), and her Aunt Jane is occupied with her younger children. The Churchill boys are a bit rambunctious, and barely under the control of their tutor, James Aske, who hopes to devote some of his time to poetry. Stella is a bit of a flirt and a flibbertigibbet, and enjoys teasing James about his ambitions; she is egged on by Henry, who has his own plans to find a rich wife. Celia is sympathetic to James, and is further intrigued when his brother, Captain Aske, shows up to drag his younger brother back home to their parents Lord and Lady Langleigh. Nobility? Oh my!

Captain Aske is a rather humorous, straightforward type. There is no urgent reason for him to bring James home, except that he has promised to do it and is impatient to finish the job. A chance meeting with Stella in the village leads him to enlist her help by passing a message to James. The message goes astray and causes a misunderstanding; in her panic Stella lies and says Celia was the intended target of improper intentions. She runs away and is taken in by Henry, who runs away with her. She is not discovered as missing until Celia has managed to be falsely accused of involvement with three different men and cleared her name. The serious Captain Aske takes the blame and goes in pursuit; Celia discovers James is intrigued by her as well; and Stella is returned home, abashed, unblemished, and ready to settle down.

Scheming villains, innocent maidens wrongly accused, and happy endings with wealthy and handsome young men ... we can check off many of the elements that make a good Austenish read. This one had the added benefit of a very appealing heroine; Celia is considerate and patient (without being a doormat), so seeing her triumph over the plans of selfish people to make herself and her family happy was a pleasure to read. So another thumbs up for a Gillespie "sequel": fun if not earthshaking.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Photo of the Week--8/15/10

You may be wondering, What's up with all the waterfalls? Well, there were so many different kinds I saw in Iceland, I thought it would be interesting to compare them. Or perhaps the waterfall is a metaphor for my longing for escape from my current, labor-intensive project. Or for the state of my brain, which feels like a droplet of water lost and unable to swim as it flows over the tall cliff of work-to-be-done to be beaten upon the rocks of quickly-arriving-deadlines. Or maybe it's just pretty. Pretty water! Water so sparkly pretty!

Yeah, it's a metaphor for my sad brain. :p