Rebecca Ann Collins
The Pemberley Chronicles Series
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Review - My Cousin Caroline
Reviewed by Mary-Anne Jones ( teacher of English Literature and Austen enthusiast ) Melbourne, Australia.
I have to admit that I come to this task from an unusual standpoint; I was, and still am for the most part, not a fan of sequels, particularly those written with little or no connection to the original work and values of Jane Austen.
When a student of mine first brought in a copy of “Mr Darcy’s Daughter” in 2001, I was frankly sceptical about the value of such a book, thinking it was just another run of the mill “sequel”; but having been persuaded to try it, I must confess that I could not put it down and read it through to the end at 2 am in the morning.
Since then, I have read the entire series and am a complete convert to the work of Rebecca Ann Collins, chiefly because of the closeness of her work to the true spirit of Jane Austen and the authentic flavour of the novels.
“My Cousin Caroline”, book six in this popular series , is no exception. Indeed, it is an excellent example of the way Ms Collins skilfully blends people, locations and themes from “Pride and Prejudice” with her own cast of characters and a range of issues that were part of the historical context of Georgian and Victorian England.
Like Jane Austen, Ms Collins tells a love story in which a young man and woman meet, fall in love and must overcome a variety of “obstacles” before they may marry and find happiness together. Intrigue and Romance are the stuff of Regency literature of the era and indeed, the main difference between Austen and Collins may be found in the way Ms Collins draws our attention to social and cultural matters as she involves them in the day to day lives of her characters, while Austen concentrated on drawing her superb pen portraits set in a small town context, which mostly ignored the big social issues of the day.
In “My Cousin Caroline”, which runs across the time span of the first five novels, the author recounts the romance of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Caroline Gardiner, who meet at the wedding of Darcy and Elizabeth. He is a rising politician and she a lovely, talented young girl with a serious streak in her character that fits in exactly with his keen social conscience. The development of their love story runs parallel with the rise of the Reformist movement in England, which campaigned for public education for children,, better working conditions for women and an end to slavery. Carefully researched material adds an authentic historical flavour to the narrative and gives some weight to the lives of the characters, who do much more than fall in love
and fall into bed!
As the tale is told, the families of the Bingleys, Darcys and Gardiners come together and we see our favourite characters from “Pride and Prejudice” play their new roles; Darcy to counsel, Elizabeth to love and comfort, while Mr Bennet and Mr Collins return in a hilarious episode to keep us all entertained. I liked very much the way the lives of all these people are woven together into a colourful tapestry of life in 19th century England.
There is romance and humour as we travel through life with Caroline, her Colonel and their children, particularly Isabella, for whom the path of true love is certainly a troubled and difficult one. Caroline’s warm hearted, compassionate response to her daughter’s troubles demonstrates her maturity as the author explores her development with affection and sensitivity.
The characters are entirely credible and consistent and their stories are told in an unpretentious, yet authentic narrative style which never gets in the way, while the dialogue and letters are lively and always in character, all making for a very happy reading experience.
To say that I enjoyed this novel would be true, but it would also be an understatement. I loved it.
A Review by Averil Rose, ( UK )
Each time I pick up a new title in the popular Pemberley Series, I am surprised and not just by the continuing saga of the Pemberley families, or this author’s ability to capture and hold my interest. I am surprised by the depth of her understanding of the values and morés of the period and her capacity for creating an authentic 19th century ambience against which the characters play out their roles. It is certainly true of her latest contribution- My Cousin Caroline.
It tells the story of Caroline Gardiner- a young cousin of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, who develops from a rather pert young miss into a woman whose capacity for both love and hard work is sorely tested, but never found wanting.
Her life with Colonel Fitwilliam is both a love story and a social document, which spans the time line of all five of her previous books.
Like Jane Austen, Ms Collins eschews melodramatic plots and grotesque characters in favour of believable story lines and consistent men and women. Like Austen she uses her characters to explore ( and sometimes explode! ) the accepted mythology on marriage, the role of women or the superiority of a particular social class.
Ms Collins creates strong, interesting women whose lives present a very different picture of Victorian women than conventional 19th century fiction. Like Elizabeth Bennet or Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility), Caroline loses none of her femininity by asserting her right to have deep feelings, hold independent views and participate fully in society . Her passionate convictions and emotions are expressed with warmth and sincerity and her integrity is never in doubt.
Her story , interwoven with those of Lizzie and Mr Darcy and the rest of the Gardiners and Bingleys makes fascinating reading. Using lively dialogue and narrative spiced with humour, this is a welcome companion volume to the rest of the Pemberley series.
Extract from Review – Book News 2003
It is not often that one sees a writer’s development over a series of books in a particular genre and can trace within that series a growing sense of confidence and skill. In the Pemberley Series of novels, Rebecca Ann Collins reveals exactly that. She has developed from being a simple chronicler of the lives of some of Jane Austen’s characters, into a storyteller in her own right. Her ability to tell a story was never in doubt, but increasingly she has revealed a capacity to create new characters and draw them into the magic circle of Pemberley. The integrity of character and period that marked her first books, has continued through the series
The evocation of an atmosphere, which is not just “historical colour” but conveys a genuine sense of belonging to the period, is a mark of a writer who knows and loves her chosen environment well.
In My Cousin Caroline, Ms Collins returns to Pride and Prejudice to “borrow “ two minor characters- Colonel Fitzwilliam and the Gardiners’ eldest daughter- Caroline and uses them to weave a fascinating story about a woman, her love and her family. Caroline is a very Austenian young woman- with solid middle class up-bringing and a mind of her own. This emancipates her from the tedious run of Victorian ladies who populate many 19th century novels and invests her with freshness and credibility.
Like Jane Austen- who is her inspiration, Ms Collins has a preference for the authentic above the bizarre in both plot and character. Inventive, without resorting to manipulation, My Cousin Caroline is creatively used to throw new light on some of the characters and events of the previous novels.
Despite its setting and some of its characters, My Cousin Caroline is much more than another sequel to Pride and Prejudice.