cover image The Third Sister: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

The Third Sister: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

Julia Barrett. Dutton Books, $22.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-55611-496-0

""He has an innate propriety and simplicity of taste, which in general direct him perfectly right,'' remarks Elinor Dashwood of her suitor, Edward Ferrars, in Sense and Sensibility. Would that the same could be said of this work, an ambitious but maladroit ""continuation'' of Austen's masterpiece by Barrett (the joint pseudonym of Julia Braun Kessler and Gabrielle Donnelley), who previously brought us Presumption, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. While Barrett mimics her model's vocabulary and cadence competently and re-creates characters and setting with generally scrupulous attention to detail, she invariably misses the mark in terms of tone and characterization. The expert combination of satire and suds that makes Austen so irresistible is here replaced by a plot that whiffs of a Harlequin period romance, and the heroine, 17-year-old Margaret Dashwood, younger sister of Elinor and Marianne, is simpering and self-absorbed. Opening three years after the close of Sense and Sensibility, the narrative finds Margaret living with her mother at Barton cottage and serving as a part-time nanny to her neighbor Lady Middleton's bratty children. This tedious existence is enlivened by the appearance of one William de Plessy, a dashing half-French army lieutenant. Margaret has been so emotionally scarred by her older sister's traumatic courtships that she flees du Plessy's attentions into the unscrupulous arms of George Osborne, a distant relative who turns out to be both a cad and a con man. The poorly paced plot may be enhanced on the movie screen, but Austen devotees will demand more on the printed page. Film rights to Viacom. (Aug.)