It was perverse that her strained voice pleased him so, but it wasn’t his fault that she was bothered by his actions. There had been more than enough opportunity for her to make amends for the past. If jealousy was at play, he could only see it as justice being meted out on his behalf.
(from “Shadows in a Brilliant Life”)
“Shadows in a Brilliant Life” is an unusual re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Persuasion in which Susan Kaye turns the hero into the villain. In this short story, Captain Frederick Wentworth has no qualms about taking advantage of the flirtatious and exuberant Louisa Musgrove, especially since her parents allow her to see him without a chaperone. Before the pair can slip off to a vacant cottage, Anne Elliot — the woman who changed her mind about marrying him 8 years ago — confronts him about the drastic change in his personality and begs him to leave Louisa alone.
Frederick agrees to do so, but only if Anne goes in Louisa’s place. So, while Frederick entertains the prospect of finally having the woman he has wanted for so long, Anne must come to terms with the fact that he is no longer the gentleman with whom she fell in love.
Kaye’s Anne Elliot is true to Austen’s portrayal of her as a strong, moral woman whose weakness is that she is always making sacrifices for other people. But her Captain Wentworth is sinister, a sexual predator, more like Wickham in Pride and Prejudice than the author of a romantic letter that makes many Austen fans swoon. The idea of transforming the hero into a villain is an interesting one, and Kaye did a great job making him sleazy and repulsive. But for once, I was glad to be reading a short story because I couldn’t bear this version of Captain Wentworth, one of my favorite Austen heroes.
“Shadows in a Brilliant Life” gets points for originality and fearlessness. Kaye certainly takes Captain Wentworth down a dark path and heaps more pain on poor Anne. She shows how betrayal and heartbreak can change people, angering them to the point where they become unrecognizable to those who love them. Ultimately, Kaye forces readers to question whether true love really can weather all storms, or if some people can be too far gone in their need for revenge to see the error of their ways.
Disclosure: “Shadows in a Brilliant Life” is from my personal library.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.