Lady Catherine’s Necklace

Written by Joan Aiken
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

In this ‘Jane Austen Entertainment’, Joan Aiken turns her attention to the goings-on at Rosings Park, home of the indomitable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mr Ralph Delaval and his sister, Priscilla, have been stranded by a carriage accident and at once make themselves agreeable to Lady Catherine, who invites them to stay. Other visitors arrive: Lady Catherine’s brother, Lord Luke, and her nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam. The colonel is about to become formally betrothed to Lady Catherine’s daughter, Anne.

Poor Anne, bullied and downtrodden, longs for a life of her own choosing, which does not include marriage to her cousin. She regards the arrival of the Delavals with suspicion. What are they after? Meanwhile, Maria Lucas has arrived in Hunsdon Parsonage to help her sister Charlotte with her latest confinement. The previous summer, Maria and the colonel fell in love, a love she now learns is in vain. Old secrets and scandals are about to be brought to light.

What I enjoyed about Lady Catherine’s Necklace is that nothing is quite as it seems. The emotional journeys Anne and Maria, and even Lady Catherine, must make are poignant and unexpected; there is both tragedy and redemption in store. Happy endings are not necessarily those that end in marriage.

Lady Catherine’s Necklace is not really a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. Joan Aiken takes a couple of minor characters from that book, Maria and Anne, and brings them to life in a distinct, fully-imagined world. She gives both girls a depth of character and real emotional problems to solve, and we love them for themselves. There’s a respectful nod towards Jane Austen’s language in that it has its Johnsonian moments, and I enjoyed the wit and irony, but it’s in no way a pastiche. Lady Catherine’s Necklace can stand alone.