cover image Eliza's Daughter

Eliza's Daughter

Joan Aiken. St. Martin's Press, $20.95 (316pp) ISBN 978-0-312-10972-1

Others may try, but nobody comes close to Aiken ( Jane Fairfax ) in writing sequels to Jane Austen. Here she follows characters met in and suggested by Sense and Sensibility , spinning an absorbing tale rich in characterization and diverse settings. Raised with other ``by-blows'' (illegitimate children) by a disreputable foster mother, and uncertain of her parentage, Liz Williams regularly receives money and admonitions from a Colonel Brandon, who never visits her. (Brandon, of course, married Marianne Dashwood in the Austen novel.) Determined to discover the mystery of her parentage, Liz takes shelter with the Ferrars (nee Elinor Dashwood), who send her to school in Bath, where, through no fault of her own, she loses her reputation and her position and is forced to flee to London to make her way in the world. This she does--with a vengeance-- meanwhile discovering sobering truths about her parents and herself. Spirited Liz is an 18th-century feminist of the first order. Whether consorting with poets or fighting off brigands in Portugal, she holds her own with bravado and good cheer. Aiken's sense of time and place is impeccable, and her wit is employed to good effect. Her vision of the later lives of Marianne and Elinor embraces Austen's irony; while they did not achieve the happiness we would have wished for them, here they find fulfillment in unexpected ways. (June)