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Rebecca Ann Collins

The Pemberley Chronicles Series

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Reviews - Expectations of Happiness

Janeites Galore! But are they all worth reading?

 

I am not an enthusiastic reader of Jane Austen sequels-I find they are either too predictable or too bizarre to be taken seriously. I am seriously displeased with the sexplicit chick lits and bored to tears with the eternal quest for new twists and turns to Austen’s classic romances.

 

However, I have made some exceptions- Joan Aiken is an experienced English writer ( sadly deceased last year)  whose sequels have been well worth reading. She has done some useful research  into the author and her era and her style conforms to the nineteenth century mode, making it easy for the reader to move from the original to the continuation.

 

I have also read the work of Rebecca Ann Collins- who is, I believe, an expatriate English woman living in Australia. Her detailed knowledge of the historical and social background of the period is quite remarkable and she puts it to good use in her stories.  I have been delighted with her very credible Chronicles from Pemberley in which she extends the lives and families of Jane and Bingley and Elizabeth and Darcy and this Christmas, I read “Expectations of Happiness” - her companion volume to Sense and Sensibility- which is superbly written.

I found the narrative and dialogue so right in vocabulary, expression, idiom, and inflection,  I could not help but be drawn right in as if I  were listening to a real conversation,  some two hundred years ago in a small village  in the south of England There is none of the contrived language or the syntactical oddities one encounters in many so called “Regency Romances”, that fill our bookshops. There is, also, a pleasing and appropriate decorum of style throughout the novel..

 

I think one has to say that the main difference between the work of writers like Mrs Aiken and Ms Collins and many of the American Austen sequellers must be in their use of the English Language. I’m afraid there is no comparison.

 

With apologies to our American friends, one must agree with George Bernard Shaw- that we are two great nations divided by ( our use of ) a single language.  

 

- Jennifer Jackson / UK

 

 

 

 

Dear Ms Collins,

 

I am a teacher of English Literature in New Zealand and an avid reader of nineteenth century classics.

I have recently read your new novel- “Expectations of Happiness”, kindly sent me by a friend from Melbourne Australia, who is also a teacher of English Literature.

 

I write to tell you how much I enjoyed it, not just as a companion volume to “Sense and Sensibility”-not one of my favourite Austen novels- but as a fascinating exploration of the lives and characters of three young women in nineteenth century England. The dire situation in which they find themselves following the death of their father and the egregiously speedy takeover of their home by a greedy relative are well documented by Jane Austen in the original novel, but, in “Expectations of Happiness “ you reveal so much more of the pain and chagrin they continue to endure and their struggle to overcome these personal and social obstacles to happiness

 

I was touched by the efforts of the eldest daughter Elinor to stand in loco parentis for her younger sisters, when their mother prefers to ignore the perils that await them, while trying to respect their status as grown young women, who should be well aware of the consequences of their actions. The delicacy with which she deals with the situations which arise, always conscious of the danger of losing their trust and doing more harm than good, is so sensitively portrayed, it brought me to tears.

 

I confess I have not a great deal of sympathy for or empathy with Marianne, who appears determined not to learn from experience and therefore condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.  She has a capacity to irritate the reader which Austen may not have recognised, but which you have used cleverly, to underscore the character traits that make her vulnerable to the wiles of Willoughby returning seven years later and could well lead to her destruction..

 

Her inability to see the value in the character of her devoted husband, while complaining of boredom, as she lives a life of luxury in his manor house, at Delaford, clinging to some hope of romantic love, is evidence of her immaturity  that puts one in mind of that other romantic young woman- Manon Lescaut.

 

Mercifully, she is spared that fate But, that it is a chance accident and the intervention of kindly friends ( the Percivals)  rather than genuine character development that save her from disgrace seems quite appropriate

Margaret Dashwood, on the other hand, is without doubt my favourite and a triumph of characterisation. My congratulations on your success with this young girl, who is a non- person in the Austen novel, dismissed by the author as not being as beautiful or as intelligent as her sisters, but who, in your hands, develops into an exhilarating young woman with a mind of her own, who injects a degree of warmth and a sense of excitement into the story from her very first appearance.

 

I simply loved Margaret and wished I was young enough to take a leaf out of her book and live life as she did. Her delight in learning, together with an almost sensual enjoyment of food, pretty clothes and Nature, her passionate loyalty to those she loves – like her sister Elinor and Mr Daniel Brooke, whom she meets on her travels in Europe, make her a most endearing creature, of the sort one would be fortunate to meet once in a lifetime. And yet, she is no angel on a pedestal, simply an ordinary young woman, with some extraordinary qualities, that would add a lustre to any story.

 

I have said little about the story, which is well plotted and beautifully told; this is because I have been captivated by your characters  and after all. without them, the story however intriguing, would count for little. To those who like a good, readable tale of life as it was lived some two hundred years ago, and for whose harmony and civility, we all occasionally yearn, I would unreservedly recommend this charming novel.

Once again congratulations Ms Collins; I hope now to read your earlier work – the Series of Pemberley Chronicles, which my friend assures me I must acquire.

 

Warm regards and many thanks for a most rewarding read.

Alison  Roberts.

 

 

 

 

Juliette Selby reviews “Expectations of Happiness”   by Rebecca Ann Collins

 

I will say right at the outset, I am not an Austen addict. I enjoyed “Pride and Prejudice “and “Persuasion”, but was bored rigid by “Mansfield Park” in which the two main characters were incredibly pure at heart and yet kept falling gormlessly for the wicked wiles of the two most obvious “baddies” in sight.

I had never tried “Sense and Sensibility” until Emma Thompson won an Oscar for her script of the movie, which I admit I loved.

 

Thereafter, I have read a few prequels and sequels – almost all uniformly focussed on the love affair of Darcy and Elizabeth. Of these just two authors caught my attention- the late Joan Aiken and Rebecca Ann Collins. Both wrote sequels that were well researched and plotted as well as being enjoyable to read.  Since then I have abjured all sequels, especially those replete with vampires, werewolves and zombies, as being too silly to be taken seriously.

 

On receiving a copy of “Expectations of Happiness” I was persuaded by the recollection of the author’s previous work ( Mr Darcy’s Daughter and A Woman of Influence) and the quite delightful  opening paragraphs of this novel- to dig in and read this latest companion volume to Miss Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” And, I am very glad I did. It has proved to be a most interesting and entertaining read in which Rebecca Ann Collins picks up the story of the four Dashwood women, some seven years after the end of “Sense and Sensibility” and observes how far they have each come in their quest for happiness.

 

The eldest Elinor is contentedly married to Edward Ferrars and is predictably happy as a wife and mother, who keeps a keen eye on her two younger sisters. Marianne, is married to Colonel Brandon, but predictably she has not found the same fulfilment in her marriage and is bored with her role as the lady of the manor. Mrs Dashwood is her usual rather irresponsible self-all talk and no action until she is suddenly called upon to assist her cousin Sir John Middleton run his establishment following a family tragedy at Barton Park.

 

And then, there is Margaret, who barely rated a mention in the Austen novel. She emerges as an intelligent and educated young woman with a sense of excitement and a desire to write and travel. Miss Collins really excels in her treatment of Margaret’s character and the telling of her story.

 

Using all these familiar characters and a few new ones she weaves a fascinating tale of four women as they cope with the personal dilemmas and social challenges that life brings  in early nineteenth century England, where support for women was neglible to non-existent.

 

I will not spoil readers’ pleasure by revealing details of the plot, which is meticulously put together with elements of love and romance, betrayal and sorrow all neatly balanced as they are in Austen’s own novels. But, I urge readers to enjoy not just the storylines but the delightful narrative style  and the loving development of individual characters, their manners and idiosyncratic behaviours as well as all those deft little touches of humour that fill out the picture of life as was lived in a small English community 200 years ago.

 

This novel has both the tension and the fun that Austen uniquely injected into her depiction of ordinary life. Ms Collins leaves us with a well plotted, delightfully written sequel to Austen’s first novel, and a bunch of unforgettable characters who come alive in the pages of her book.

 

Well done Ms Collins.

Juliette Selby./November 2011

 

 

 

 

Reader’s Review by Suzanne Clarke, New Zealand.

 

Let me say at the outset, I really loved this book and before I say what is so good about it, let me say what it is not.

 

It is not another trashy puerile piece of Austen pastiche – part pulp fiction- part porn, with unlikely hyped up sex scenes and contrived “Regency-style” dialogue, which seems to pass for Jane Austen “fan fiction” (Ugh! ) today. In fact it couldn’t be further from that type of meretricious rubbish than Jane Austen’s own work, to which Ms Collins owes her inspiration.

 

What is good about “Expectations of Happiness” is its unpretentious, authentic, honesty which is reflected in the accuracy of its historical background, the credibility of its plot and characters and the dialogue that sounds so right to the ear.

 

Nothing in this book grates; everything has been carefully researched and used with sensitivity, as the story is told of the continuing lives and complex relationships of the three Dashwood sisters – Elinor, Marianne and Margaret. Settled in the southern counties of Devon and Dorset, they are living rather quiet lives when events and characters from the past intrude upon them, throwing everything into disarray.

 

What follows is a series of events that result in a cautionary tale and a charming romance, both of which are credibly plotted and wittily told. A further delightful twist in the tale at the end of the novel reveals the author’s Austenesque sense of humour.

 

In addition to the cast from Sense and Sensibility, believably recreated, Ms Collins adds some interesting new characters that blend in so well, it is difficult to distinguish them from the originals. Rebecca Ann Collins is a great storyteller- there is no doubt of that. This book will delight her many fans without in any way outraging the Austen purists who hate sequels.

 

Suzanne Clarke. New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

Jane Austen’s first novel, “Sense and Sensibility” was published in 1811. It is an astonishing fact that two hundred years later, in the twenty first century, this classic still attracts so many admiring readers.

 

Rebecca Ann Collins, following her successful Pemberley Chronicles series of sequels to “Pride and Prejudice”, has written a companion volume to “Sense and Sensibility”. Assuming this is a single volume and not the start of a series, she has produced a particularly interesting and satisfying piece of work, in which she takes the main characters – the Dashwood sisters and their mother into the second decade of the nineteenth century.

 

Remarkably well documented, the novel has a degree of authenticity and balance more reminiscent of eighteenth century poetry than nineteenth century novels. The narrative carefully balances the essential exposition of the opening chapters in which the author sets up the characters in their new context  with the denouement in the final chapters, which brings the reader full circle as the story concludes with a clever twist that Austen herself would have enjoyed.  

 

As in the original novel, there is a strong dependence upon the characters and their personal responsibility for their actions, as well as the values and codes of conduct which closely reflect those of Miss Austen. Well written, with plenty of touches of dry humour and satirical comment, Ms Collins’ readers should enjoy this new tale of romance and betrayal.

 

Book News- October 2011.

 

 

 

Taking her title from a line in the book and many of her characters from the original story of Sense and Sensibility, Rebecca Ann Collins moves from the gracious groves of Pemberley in Derbyshire to the modest environs of a country parsonage and a couple of small rural towns and villages in the southern English counties of Devon and Dorset, to revisit the Dashwood sisters.

 

It is 1819 – almost a decade after the publication of the original novel, and we are  about to discover if the young women- Elinor, Marianne and Margaret – have  achieved the “expectations of happiness”- they and their author envisaged for their lives. Following a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion in the final chapters of “Sense and Sensibility” in which Elinor had married the man she loved, but Marianne seemed to have been “settled” into a marriage with a man she is unlikely to have chosen if all things had been equal, some uncertainty remains. And, of course, Margaret- being only thirteen at the time- had all the rest of her life before her.

 

Rebecca Ann Collins correctly claims that the story demands a continuation and she sets out to provide us with a possible conclusion. Having read “Expectations of Happiness”  I find her conclusion both  plausible and diverting, while staying well within the spirit of Jane Austen’s world view.

 

When the story begins, Elinor and Edward Ferrars and their two sons are happily ensconced at the parsonage at Delaford- a living on the estate of Marianne’s husband - Colonel Brandon. While Edward is engaged in parochial and wider social activities – like supporting Wilberforce’s campaign for the abolition of slavery, Elinor has made some loyal friends in the neighbourhood, in whom she can confide her concerns- mainly about her sister Marianne.

 

Marianne- the intensely passionate and artistic sister, whose life was almost ruined by a reckless, whirlwind affair with Willoughby of Somerset county in the original novel- has not really fitted into the conventional role

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of lady of Delaford manor, that Austen envisaged for her. She is restless and bored and with no children to occupy her time, Elinor worries that she is at some risk, although their mother – the rather dippy Mrs Dashwood refuses to see that there is any problem.

 

Meanwhile young Margaret- now twenty years old, has not only gained an education, she has moved away from her mother’s house at Barton Cottage to teach at a ladies’ seminary in Oxford, where her intelligence and enthusiasm are well appreciated. She shares a cottage with a sophisticated woman friend- Claire Jones, who becomes a close friend and confidante.

 

Apart from the plot, which emerges organically through the chapters of the book, what is most striking is the evolution of the relationships between the sisters and again with their mother- Mrs Dashwood and the satisfying way in which Ms Collins shows us how they turn both to and away from one another at various times – conveying sensitively the very real stresses and strains in family relationships.

 

I am reluctant to reveal too much of the plot and create spoilers that will reduce readers’ pleasure in this charming, yet true to life tale of intrigue and romance. Suffice it to say that Elinor’s worries about her sister are proved right when Willoughby turns up in the neighbourhood while Colonel Brandon is away on business in Ireland and Marianne appears willing to risk her marriage for the ephemeral pleasures of his company.

Meanwhile, Margaret while travelling in France with Claire Jones, meets and falls in love with a man after her own heart, but discovers  that the path of true love is never particularly smooth. She finds herself in a situation beyond her control- that calls for restraint and patience and we are shown how she copes with her own deepening emotions as well as the judgment of others in a surprisingly mature manner.

 

Ms Collins uses several of the original characters in “Sense and Sensibility”- and develops them using the various clues left by Austen herself to weave this complex and fascinating tale, adding a few interesting new characters as required, and drawing on some of the minor players from Austen’s cast to spice up the story with humour and add some extra relish to the feast.

 

Characters like Sir John Middleton, Mrs Jennings, the ever-droll Mr Palmer and his silly wife Charlotte make a welcome return contributing actively to move the plot along, while others-  less likeable  such as Lucy Steele, John and Fanny  Dashwood and Mrs Ferrars are useful to highlight the  good , the bad and the ugly.  

 

All this is done so well that we hardly notice the difference between the original characters and the newmembers of the cast. Nothing is jarring, nothing is fudged; everyone acts in character, everything fits within the ambience of the social and literary values of the period, and matters requiring resolution are resolved with transparent integrity.

 

Ms Collins is to be congratulated on her skill and capacity to move  her readers  seamlessly  from  a great classic novel to a charming companion volume- honest and unpretentious, but every bit as challenging to write and completely satisfying to read. She did it superbly with the Pemberley series; with “Expectations of Happiness” she has done it again. It is the kind of book one puts down with a deep sense of satisfaction, despite a feeling of regret that it is ended.

 

Margaret Wallace / Newcastle.

September 2011.

Reviewed by Dr Lakshmi de Silva

 

Expectations of Happiness is an auspicious title and fulfills its promise.

 

Deep enjoyment of Austen’s novels in my teens, and passionate engagement in studying and projecting their rich wit, acute understanding and humaneness to University students for over twenty years led me to a long and happy sojourn with Rebecca Collins Pemberley Series. Here was something profoundly satisfying. The writer did not attempt to mimic Austen’s style, instead she retained her spirit and compelling ability to involve the reader deeply in the dilemmas and disasters faced by the characters. Much as I enjoyed them, however – and I yield to none in my liking for the Darcys – Expectations of Happiness is Rebecca Collins' triumph. It has sprung with a wonderful vitality and spontaneity from the rather hum-drum conclusion of Sense and Sensibility. There is a skilful structuring and sureness of touch that contributes to a champagne effervescence which reduces nothing of the depth in delineation of character and events.

 

The delightful opening establishes the readers, whether familiar with or  entirely ignorant of Sense and Sensibility with the situation and personalities of the Middletons and their connections at Barton Park, and the Dashwoods at Barton Cottage. All but one of the salient facts of the original novel are conveyed with swiftness, ease and economy that is beyond praise, yet seemingly effortless.

 

However, the deliciously comic overtones of Sir John Middleton’s celebration of his mother –in-law’s birthday ends in a startling manner, and we are catapulted into a world of new circumstances complicated by the intrusion of past dreams and disappointments. As events turn out, Elinor, the eldest of Mrs Dashwood’s daughters must again resume her tense vigilance over Marianne’s addiction to indulging in overheated emotions, impetuousness and imprudence. To quote Collins’ Introduction “The prospect is not improved when one realizes (and here we have miss Austen’s word for it) that Willoughby still roams countryside, unhappily wed, regretting his loss of Marianne and hating Colonel Brandon”.

 

Happily, Elinor is no longer isolated by her responsibilities but has the wise and warm support offered by Edward, the husband she almost lost, and  fortuitously regained due to Lucy Steele’s devotion to self-interest. She must also face the puzzle of her indulgent and feckless mother’s self-willed assumption of a heady new role at Barton Park, played with surprising effectiveness: while still retaining her unwillingness to show any sense of responsibility regarding Marianne’s fate.

 

One of the virtues of the book,  besides the warm play of humour and satiric comment is the illumination of the dangers brought on by the moral confusion “Marianne who tends to view her life as though she were a character in a novel had grown so self-absorbed”..”her tastes and inclinations had remained much the same as … when she was seventeen … her reading though extensive, had not become more discriminating.” The effect of Glastonbury Tor, rising above the fabled Avalon Marshes, on her feelings and imagination is superb: equally excellent is the depiction of the chance encounter with Willoughby

 

“As she stood there, a voice behind her said ‘If you climb the Tor and stand on its summit, you can overlook three counties’ and Marianne froze, unable to move,,because she knew that voice, she knew it well, it was, it had to be the voice of Mr Willoughby” Not much has changed in Marianne.

 

A refreshing and vigorous note is struck by the presence of the third sister, Margaret with her mind and senses alert and receptive, with an appetite for life and literature that renders her very appealing. Her poignant love story, as she discovers that the scholar Daniel Brooke, who satisfies her desire to learn more about the places she is visiting, is more to her than a teacher, as Abelard was to Heloise, is wonderfully attractive in its delicacy of feeling and the promise of sensuous richness implied in the fullness of her response to all she sees and feels around her.. She has humour, toughness and tenderness – a new character with a personality that goes beyond her necessity as an indispensible figure in the theme, just as she outgrows the framework of her period. As Daniel Brookes tells her

 

“I had not met anyone with so much energy and such a genuine desire to learn, much less a charming intelligent young lady …. There are no ladies at Oxford, you know”.

 

We are not surprised that “Despite the fact that Daniel had assured her his income would be quite sufficient for them to live in comfort, Margaret had determined that she would not permit her study and practice of teaching to be wasted by disuse.”

 

Margaret, a fine balance of boldness and prudence discovers herself, freedom and fulfillment. in a time of  great social change.

 

Here we recognize a valuable feature of Collins’ approach to her characters- the ability to mirror the movement of time, bridging the gap between that of Jane Austen when the only schooling a girl received might be from a governess and time moved slowly – in times of anxiety agonizingly slowly – before the advent of “the new electric telegraph”.

 

In what is a new genre in the writing of “sequels” Collins brings the passage of time in authentic historical and social terms into the personal lives of the characters, who must face the challenges while they enjoy the excitement of a dynamic new era.

 

The incursions of the voluble Mrs. Jennings and her daughter, Mrs. Palmer, profuse in irresponsible gossip and laughter show us how deftly Collins utilizes her familiarity with Austen’s characterization.  However it is Collins who has made Mrs. Dashwood into the artless, yet imposing and richly entertaining character she has now become, enabling her contribution to a particularly satisfying twist at the end of the novel.

 

I am grateful for an academic familiarity with Austen’s masterpieces because I can savour this apotheosis of Mrs. Dashwood as a wonderfully natural growth. Collins’ inventions, Miss Peabody with her rapt enjoyment of the theatre and luxurious resorts so new to her, and the vacuous Perceval girls in pursuit of pleasure display her own skills. The Austen devotees can revel in the portrayal of the plans and reactions of a Fanny Dashwood and Lucy Steele so true to their styles of thought and speech in Sense and Sensibility and rejoice at the “droll” Mr. Palmer elevated to his full stature.

 

It is all too easy for the reader swept on by the interest in the story,  to overlook the skills so unobtrusively exploited. However, Expectations of Happiness is not only finely structured and beautifully written – it is also a treat, to be treasured and returned to at leisure with the expectation of discovering delights missed in the first headlong rush of reading.

 

The style has clarity and distinction: In Jane Austen’s work, the ethical and elegant are related; Ms Collins inherits the trait.

 

LdeS/ /October 2012