That he had wanted to impress on her the depth of his love for her, to ask her to believe that he still loved her, that he had dared even to suggest that his affections were deeper and stronger than Colonel Brandon’s could have been — in all these claims, Marianne wanted to believe him. Not because she had spent the intervening years longing for his return, for she had long accepted that he was gone out of her life forever, but because she still wanted to believe that he really had been the romantic young cavalier she had fallen in love with when she was seventeen. It had been the strongest, most passionate experience of her young life; nothing, certainly not her subsequent marriage, had surpassed the exquisite excitement of that first love, and Marianne wished to treasure it.
(from Expectations of Happiness, page 163 in the ARC; finished version may be different)
I haven’t read Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility since 1995, and though I hope to re-read it by the end of the year in honor of the 200th anniversary of its publication, it was a pleasure being reunited with the novel’s characters through “a companion volume” by Rebecca Ann Collins. When Expectations of Happiness opens, Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars are happily married and living in the parson’s house at Delaford, while her younger sister, Marianne, is living with her husband, Colonel Brandon, in Delaford Manor. Their youngest sister, Margaret, is now 21, teaching at a ladies’ seminary in Oxfordshire, and living with her close friend, Claire Jones.
With Colonel Brandon away on business in Ireland, Marianne spends her days bored and moping, and Elinor worries that she is unhappy in her marriage. Marianne always was a romantic, and Elinor is concerned that the feelings she developed for Colonel Brandon after she was jilted by Mr. Willoughby may have worn off. Elinor is alarmed when she learns that the scoundrel Willoughby is living in a nearby county, and when Marianne is invited on a holiday with the Perceval family, Elinor fears Marianne’s and Willoughby’s paths will cross — and who knows what will happen, with Marianne feeling so low, having already forgiven him for the wrongs he committed, and still longing for a romantic hero?
Knowing how close Marianne is to their mother, Elinor hopes to convince Mrs. Dashwood that Marianne’s reputation and marriage may be in danger. But Mrs. Dashwood has, much to Elinor’s surprise, proven herself capable of managing a large estate and has taken up residence at Barton Park to help her cousin, Sir John Middleton — who had been kind enough to provide a home for her and her daughters after Mr. Dashwood’s death — recover from the sudden death of his wife, Lady Middleton. Mrs. Dashwood is so preoccupied with her new role that she pushes Elinor’s concerns aside, and Elinor — who feels she cannot even confide in Edward — feels an obligation to protect Marianne but doesn’t know how.
At the same time that she continues the stories of Elinor and Marianne, who were the focus of Austen’s novel, Collins also creates a story for Margaret — a young women without a fortune but much intelligence who enjoys history and travel and hopes to become a writer. Having been so focused on her studies, Margaret hasn’t had time for love, but a trip to the south of France with Claire leads her to Daniel Brooke, an Oxford historian, who proves to be her intellectual equal, but nothing is easy when it comes to matters of the heart.
Expectations of Happiness breathes new life into Austen’s beloved characters, and while Edward and Colonel Brandon sit on the sidelines, the Dashwood sisters, as expected, do just fine in the spotlight. Collins stays true to Austen’s characters, with Elinor once again embodying all that is sensible, Marianne getting caught up in her emotions and romantic ideals, and all the secondary characters playing their same roles. Additionally, she transforms Margaret into one of the strong heroines Austen fans have long appreciated, and she even creates a host of interesting and original characters, with a list at the end of the book so readers can distinguish between Austen’s characters and those introduced by Collins. Moreover, fans of Collins’ Pemberley Chronicles Series will be happy to see Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, and her husband make an appearance.
I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility, but it has never been my favorite Austen novel. Until reading Expectations of Happiness, I never really thought about all the possibilities for variations of the novel, but Collins certainly helped me to see the characters’ potential. Her writing has an Austen feel to it, which enabled me to lose myself in the story, and what I enjoyed the most was watching Marianne’s character evolve. Of the three Dashwood sisters, I think Marianne had the most to learn about life and love. Having been so madly in love with Willoughby, it’s doubtful that Colonel Brandon’s affection changed everything for her overnight. I’d always been skeptical of their happily ever after, since she was so young and on the rebound, and I think Collins does a good job portraying Marianne’s confusion when she comes face-to-face with Willoughby after nearly seven years. Knowing Marianne, it was easy to see how she could forget everything she knew about him and get lost in the moment and the what-ifs.
Expectations of Happiness is a commendable sequel to Sense and Sensibility, one that I think Austen herself would have enjoyed. I definitely recommend it for fans of Austen variations, especially those who think Pride and Prejudice shouldn’t get all the attention.
Disclosure: I received Expectations of Happiness from Sourcebooks for review.
© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.