cover image The Youngest Miss Ward

The Youngest Miss Ward

Joan Aiken, Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-19375-1

Jane Austen herself might be pleased with Aiken's sequel to Mansfield Park, focusing on the life of a newly created younger sister to the three Ward women. Lacking beauty or a dowry, and therefore without social prospects, Hatty Ward is forced to work as an unpaid governess for difficult charges amid depressing surroundings. As the durable Hatty moves from one unhappy living arrangement to the next, Aiken effectively portrays England in the late 18th century, when social class strictly dictated the norms of behavior and an independent, clever young lady was often scorned by her elders. As in her previous Austen sequels (Jane Fairfax, etc.), Aiken captures the language, customs and style of an era when young women's lives were at the mercy of their parents, older siblings and highly connected relatives. Hatty is an admirable heroine, resolutely facing the challenges thrown her way, finding solace in poetry and the accomplishments of her arduous work. References to the distant French Revolution and to the indentured servant route to America bring period authenticity to the story. Intelligent, warmhearted Hatty and the hardships she must endure before she can find true happiness will please Aiken's loyal readers and satisfy Austen fans. (Dec.)