Lady Vernon and Her Daughter by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway is an adaptation and expansion of a novella, Lady Susan, by Jane Austen. I enjoyed the book very much, and I thought Rubino and Rubino-Bradway did an excellent job of adaptation.
Just like a true Austen novel, Lady Vernon and Her Daughter starts slowly but gradually becomes more interesting and lively. I thought some of the phrases a bit unlike Austen’s voice, but the first quarter of Lady Susan is provided at the back of the book, and some of the very phrases I had found annoying were there, written in the original.
I thought the adaptation very clever, because the original is written in epistolary form, so it consists entirely of letters. The authors take those letters, provide a history, and weave the letters into a continuous narrative.
Spoiler Alert: Spoilers Follow
The original makes Lady Vernon (Lady Susan) out as not a very nice person, and in fact quite flirtatious with married men, and manipulative. The genius of the adaptation is that it takes this flirtatious, manipulative person, explains her actions, provides her motives, and shows how many of her actions were misperceived by those around her.
In the end, the cruel brother-in-law is foiled, and he actually loses his inheritance (gained through manipulation of his brother) when Lady Vernon is delivered of her late husband’s baby, his son and heir. I thought that was a nice touch, but I couldn’t help but wonder if that was in the original. I somewhat doubt it, but as only the first quarter of the novella is at the end of the book, I have no way of knowing. I rather want to see the original, but I’m not sure I’d actually read it, as the sample was a little clunky, especially due to the epistolary format.
Overall, an excellent book, especially compared to the material the authors had to work with. Four out of five stars.
One final note: in reading the comments of reviewers on the back of the book, I notice that C. Allyn Pierson, author of And This Our Life: Chronicles of the Darcy Family, writes, in part, “I believe that Jane Austen would be the first to congratulate the authors on their achievement.” I’m not so sure about that. Lady Susan was the turning point where Austen became an adult author, and I think she might have been upset at having her work messed with. But then again, maybe she would be pleased that someone was able to turn it into a novel.
Of course, the beauty of adapting Jane Austen’s work and rewriting it for a modern audience is that all the work is out of copyright, Jane Austen is dead, so she can’t complain, and she’s popular and readable. Overall, an ideal candidate. I sometimes wonder how much reasoning like that is behind the Austen adaptations we see, instead of a desire to emulate Austen. But I’m as guilty as anyone of seeking the books out, reading them, and enjoying them, so I probably shouldn’t complain.