I’m yet another Linda who would like to comment on the S&S sequel "Eliza's Daughter". I was hugely disappointed in it mainly because I found it to be so totally mean spirited toward all the characters we have come to know and love so dearly. I wonder why ANYONE would have bothered to write something like this!
You get the whole tone of the book in the very beginning when we're told that Edward resents Colonel Brandon for making him “dependent” on him. Eliza meanwhile suspects Elinor is secretly jealous of Marianne, as Marianne has “so much” while Elinor has "so little," although Elinor assures her this is not the case. We’re also told that Marianne never loved the Colonel and has never gotten over her bitterness at being "forced to marry him" (like she could really have had the man she wanted anyway?) and "refused to have his children" which I guess translates into no sex.
Then the poor Colonel dies on a military campaign and Marianne decides to join a cloister in Italy after having refused to allow the Colonel to ever see either Eliza I (Willoughby's erstwhile girlfriend) or Eliza II (Willoughby's daughter) or even have them come to Delaford, although it was Brandon's home and he was their guardian. Brandon is so kind hearted I can't realistically see him refusing them because of her nastiness. Marianne ends up lounging around Italy with a bad leg, so full of acrimony toward everyone that even the convent doesn’t want her. That’s about the only amusing thing in the whole book! In other words, don't even bother. I had been so looking forward to it. The whole thing is just so mean, mean, mean. How did it even get published? All the S&S sequels in our Fan Fiction are vastly superior to this nonsense
Brandon puts the child, who's name is also Eliza, into the care of a nurse woman in the country, who also takes care of all the bastard children of everyone, it seems. The girl has six fingers on one hand, which seems to save her from some terrible fate with gypsies at one point, and which doesn't seem to matter at all in other points of the story. Brandon evidently provides for her, but meagerly, and she is told her mother is dead.
She eventually decides the leave the village she lives in, travels to the lawyers who handle Brandon's affairs, who send her to Edward and Elinor Ferrars (the Brandon's being with his regiment in some far off place where it seems no letters can reach them). Somehow the money Brandon allotted for Eliza's upbringing has dwindled and the lawyers cannot do anything more for her. Elinor and Edward fit her up for the school their daughter attends in Bath, where Eliza goes to live with an old woman they know. She does well at the school, although the Ferrars' snobby daughter Nell snubs her. When Elinor falls ill after a devastating flood in Delaford, Eliza goes to her rescue (Edward, it seems is completely helpless and doesn't even seem to love Elinor anymore).
Eventually she goes back to the old woman in Bath, but an incident with an upperclass young man ends up causing the ruin of both Eliza and the old woman, the old woman dies, and Eliza and the maid go to London to make a new life. Here she is discovered as an amazing singing talent (while singing on the street to earn enough money for boarding. They live above a seamstress' big workroom, and it is rumored that it becomes a whorehouse after dark and that girls who don't comply end up buried in the cellar), and goes to live with a rich Duke, who it seems had kept Eliza's mother as a mistress for many years. Yes, that's right, Eliza the First hadn't actually died, but had been living with this Duke (who was estranged from his wife) for many years as his wife, and had only recently died.
Eliza the Second, it seems, is an exact replica of her mother, right down to her amazing singing voice, and the Duke pays to have her trained in music. She lives with him (in friendship, and in remembrance of her dead mother), until she hears from some long lost friends who had moved to Portugal.
Eliza now feels she has to go there to help them, and so undertakes a long and dangerous journey, which includes her killing one of her guides (in self-defense, of course). Finally she finds her friends, and she also finds Willoughby and Marianne - the Colonel having died in action. Willoughby has been trying to find his beloved Marianne. He is now penniless. Marianne is hiding out at a Catholic convent.
Eliza hears of the Duke's death and that she has inherited most of his money. Eventually, it is learned that Marianne inherits Brandon's fortune, but Eliza inherits the Delaford estate and eventually goes there to live.
I was not impressed with this book at all. It is so totally unbelievable that even suspension of disbelief is not possible. Elinor acts pretty much in character, but somehow Edward becomes this mean-spirited, hard-hearted stick-in-the-mud. Mrs. Dashwood has gone crazy, Marianne is miserable at Delaford, the Colonel rejoins his regiment, and they spend their married years abroad. The Colonel never returns to England, doesn't seem to care whether Eliza is provided for or not, and on and on and on. It was very disappointing, another one of those cases where a sequel goes astray because it just tries to do too much. I cannot recommend this book, except as an example of what NOT to do when writing a sequel to any great novel, especially Jane Austen.
While I read this book, I kept wondering if there was any one character that might escape unscathed by this author's need to avenge Eliza. Finally, one was introduced: Margaret Dashwood ends up a teacher. But, so what? We all know how much Jane Fairfax of Emma thought of that profession. Later on in the book, Margaret does break free from her teaching duties, and seems to end up as some kind of companion---still, she is not to be envied.
Elinor does manage to overcome some of her dreary life by writing; she eventually has five novels published, though this must be done secretly in order to avoid upsetting the Ferrars family. Of course, you get the sense she might not ever have done this had it not been for the encouragement of Eliza.
As to the more positive aspects of this book, Ms. Aiken does weave an interesting tale---at first. Her plot, and the details
she describes are absorbing. Were it not that our beloved characters are thrown about and abused by her, this story
would be enjoyable. Sad, because although perhaps
the group at Barton were not perfect, they were only acting as those of their time and mindset could act at the time of Eliza's birth. Certainly she deserved better. But the only way the author seems to seek redemption for Eliza is by allowing woeful fates to befall the Ferrars, the Brandons and Willoughby. Even Mrs. Dashwood is given a dose of mental illness.
So, Eliza emerges to reign as the rich mistress of Delaford----unencumbered by all those judgamental gentry types, and ready to tell her story: she thinks she might write a book about what has happened to her!. But, by this time, you've become pretty bored with Eliza. She's had it all a bit too easy----she's been given interesting adventures, easily acquired wealth, and allowed to witness the sentencing and punishment of all those who seemed to keep her from those things. Not to mention she is pregnant and unwed. But, it does not appear she will much be held accountable for it, as she most certainly would in the early 1800s. So she becomes a wealthy single mom with an interesting career.
Sounds like the plot of a pretentious sitcom. No wonder I didn't like this book!
I'm sure everyone has their reasons for reading Jane's novels. My favorite thing about Austen novels is that they are realistic and yet uplifting. Jane is not naive and yet she is good at leaving just the right things to our imagination. Also, Jane writes with a great deal of elegance even when referencing rather vulgar characters. Perhaps unfairly, I was expecting Austen elegance and instead found Eliza's Daughter to be a rather vulgar book in general.
Which brings me to an interesting point, I might have liked this novel more if it did not reference Jane's characters. After all, I do like Dickens. If I had not sat down with the expectation of an Austenesqe novel, I do not think I would have been disappointed.
The truth is, I really didn't care what happened to Eliza's daughter - I wanted to hear about how Marianne and the Colonel finally were able to find happiness together and how Margaret grew up to be a little more interesting than she was in Jane's book. Instead, they all turn out to be nasty, resentful and bitter people which is a fate that I would like to see reserved for the less deserving of the original novel. Also, what happened to the good hearted and funny if not sensible characters like Mrs. Jennings' daughter, Charlotte and her quirky husband? Did Lucy Steele and her groom get theirs?
So, in summary, If you go into this book with a more Dickens psyche,
you just might like it. However if you are expecting our beloved Jane's
flare and to get a satisfying view of your favorite
Sense and Sensibility
characters - don't bother. That being said, I salute Ms. Aiken for
giving it a shot!