Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eliza's Daughter by Joan Aiken

Eliza's Daughter

Eliza's Daughter
by Joan Aiken

Trade Paperback: 343 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
First Released: 1984

Source: Netgalley, review copy from publisher

Back Cover Blurb:
A Young Woman Longing for Adventure and an Artistic life...

Because she's an illegitimate child, Eliza is raised in the rural backwater with very little supervision. An intelligent, creative, and free-spirited heroine, unfettered by the strictures of her time, she makes friends with poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge, finds her way to London, and eventually travels the world, all the while seeking to solve the mystery of her parentage. With fierce determination and irrepressible spirits, Eliza carves out a life full of adventure and artistic endeavor.

This book was not at all what I expected. First, the events in this book occur after the end of Sense and Sensibility. The Eliza of this book is the daughter of Little Eliza and Willoughby. The future painted in this book for the Sense and Sensibility heroines is possible, but I really didn't feel it was probable considering how S&S left the characters.

The author gives the heroes and heroines of S&S rather dismal futures and makes them into petty, weak, spiteful, jealous people. Not to mention that several of these characters where given physical characteristics (like a deformity) not mentioned in S&S.

So I ignored that this book was supposed to be a sequel to S&S. In that case, the writing is good, though the pacing was slow for the first 30 pages. The author obviously thoroughly researched the time period, and the vivid details immersed me into the characters' world.

The characters were all interesting and varied. Eliza, our heroine, seemed determined to rush head-long into ruin by continually making poor decisions. Though she makes a show of staying respectable, she seems to feel like she's fated to end up like her mother (pregnant, unmarried, and abandoned). This really isn't a romance book.

There are no explicit sex scenes, but some readers might not be interested in reading this book because Eliza does end up pregnant, unwed, unattached, and satisfied with that state of things. Overall, I'd rate this as a good book.

Excerpt: Chapter One
I have a fancy to take pen in hand and tell my story, for now that I am arrived, so to speak, at a favourable hilltop, a safe situation above water level, I may look back on such mires, floods, tempests and raging tides as I have encountered with a tolerably tranquil eye; besides, my history should serve as a guide (or at least afford some diversion) to those who may be at present less favourably placed.

While, as to the dark that lies ahead, who can chart it?

In short–and without further preamble–I’ll begin.

I have no information as to the circumstances of my birth, or even in what county that event took place; indeed I doubt if there is any record of it.

My first memories are of the year 1797, when I must have been, I believe, about three or four years of age, and, from the circumstances of my life, already a shrewd and noticing child. As an infant I had been, I heard, somewhat frail and puny, and with the unlucky blemish that caused me to be scorned by some and feared by others. My foster-mother, Hannah Wellcome, having at that period several boys in her care greater in size than myself, and fearful that, among them, I might receive some fatal injury (thus depriving her of my foster-fee) daily dispatched me with a halfpenny, from the time that I could walk, to the vicarage and the decidedly questionable custody of the parson, Dr Moultrie. With the halfpenny I bought three cakes at the village baker’s for my dinner; and Dr Moultrie, to keep me from plaguing him with questions, for he was a slothful old party given to drowsing away many of the daylight hours in his chair, lost no time in teaching me to read, and turning me loose in his library. There, having run through such tales of Tom Hickathrift, Jack the Giant-Killer and Gold-Locks as remained from the days of his own children (long since grown and gone), I was obliged to munch on more solid fare, Goldsmith’s History of England, volumes of the Spectator, the plays of Shakespeare, and much poetry and theology, besides Berquin’s Ami des Enfants and some simple Italian tales (in consequence of which I acquired a readiness and taste for learning foreign tongues that has later stood me in good stead).

There was one volume that I read over and over, The Death of Arthur it was called, and I found the tales in it of knights and battles, Sir Beaumain, Sir Persaint, Merlin the enchanter and King Arthur himself, most haunting; they held sway over my mind for weeks together. But alas! one day, absorbed in the tale of the death of King Hermance, I dropped a great blob of jam from the tart I was eating on to the page of the book. When Dr Moultrie discovered this, he gave me a terrible beating, after which I could hardly crawl home, and he locked the book away; I never laid eyes on it again.

However, to his credit, it must be said that finding me an eager pupil Dr Moultrie was prepared to emerge from his torpor for an hour or two each day to instil in me the rudiments of Greek, Latin and Euclid, besides a thirst for wider knowledge.

But I run ahead of my tale.

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