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Joan Aiken; Jane Austen
|Description:||317 pages ; 22 cm|
Harriet Ward, known as Hatty by her sisters Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris, does not at the age of twelve seem destined for a career of infamy. However, treated with utter contempt by her elder sisters, she is banished by her father to an uncle's establishment in Portsmouth where she must do her best to fit in with troublesome male cousins and their sickly sisters. But she has not seen the last of her frightful family. Indeed, events contrive to bring back into her life the haughty Lady Ursula, a friend of her father's and a main source of her grief at home. But why should this forbidding woman be travelling so far to attend the funeral of a distant cousin? Rumours run riot and, in an unexpected twist of fortune, Hatty soon finds herself in competition with Lady Ursula for the attentions of a certain Lord. Two more startling turns of the wheel leave Hatty in a position where she will never again be mentioned by the Mansfield Park set.
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.