"Marianne" by Jenny Hambly
(Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, famously wrote letters to each other whenever they were apart. These blog posts imagine what such letters would have looked like if the sisters had shared reviews of books they were reading. The twist? These are books published in our time, inspired by the works of Jane Austen herself.)
I am sorry to tell you that my return home has been delayed. Mr Gardener has been invited to Lord Wimple’s estate to shoot grouse, and he cannot refuse. Or, I should rather say, he can refuse very well, but he has waited so long for this particular invitation that he would not risk losing the opportunity for fear it should not be repeated for some time.
Mrs Gardener is out of sorts, as her trip to London — which promises much shopping and catching up with old acquaintances — must necessarily wait. And so must my own journey, since I rely on the Gardeners to bring me home en route to London. Needless to say, though I have enjoyed my stay here immensely, I grow restless to see you and our dear parents again. Now that the packing has stalled, and my hostess has become a little irritable, my desire to be among my own family has increased tenfold.
There is, however, some small blessing in this delay. I recently misplaced the handkerchief Mama embroidered for me, and I hope to have time enough now to find it. It is my favourite, as you will know, and I would not like to leave it behind. I am sure it will turn up eventually, but if I have then left already that would put the Gardeners to the trouble of posting it to me, and I should not like to cause them any inconvenience. They have been very good to me and have shown me every consideration — recent delays notwithstanding.
In fact, they have permitted me to take several of their books home with me so that you may read them. There is no hurry to return the items, as their library is well supplied, and they will not miss the handful of volumes which I will borrow.
My current favourite is a novel by Ms Jenny Hambly, entitled “Marianne.” I absolutely adore the heroine. Marianne is a plain-speaking young lady — perhaps too plain-speaking by acceptable standards. But then you know how much I appreciate a straight arrow. She lands up in the most shocking scrapes, which would mortify any man of good breeding, and rightly so.
Only, Lord Cranbourne is not typical. A man of intelligence and self-awareness, he is intrigued by Marianne. Both characters tackle their own flaws and are willing to allow for imperfections in the other. This results in less outright conflict than such novels typically display. However, the organic development of their individual characters and subsequent romance has a special charm all its own.
You know, I would go so far as to say there is a familiar feel to it. I recognise something of my own book — Pride and Prejudice — within these pages. The initial stiffness between Marianne and Lord Cranbourne reminds me of the first stage of acquaintance between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy. And the author, Ms Hambly, has a delightful sense of humour that I can relate to. It is the first time in so long that I found myself laughing aloud at a clever turn of phrase.
Ms Hambly also succeeded in drawing me in to the lives of her minor characters. I am pleased to learn that she has written a series in which these characters’ stories are expanded upon. Now that I think on it, I shall ask Mrs Gardner whether she has the complete set, in which case I shall include them all in the small collection we may borrow.
Well, dear sister, this will likely be one of the last letters to reach you before I do. I hope to be on my way to you by week’s end. What a reunion that shall be! I can scarcely wait.
Until then, I remain
your devoted sister,