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The Novel

Reviews and information pertaining to various sequels and literary allusions to Emma.

Emma Sequels & Allusions: A Visit to Highbury, 1993, & Later Days at Highbury, 1996

Joan Austen-Leigh, great-great-grandniece of the novelist, is clever enough to stay out of the private moments of the happily married George and Emma Knightley, while giving us most pleasant glimpses into the life of Highbury, in her Visit to Highbury and Later Days at Highbury. The form of the epistolary novel became popular in the 18th century [think Lady Susan]. Joan Austen-Leigh by returning to it gives herself a natural, unforced reason for speaking in the tones of an earlier era, and her ear for the style is quite good. The majority of the correspondence is between Mrs. Goddard, at whose establishment Harriet Smith was a parlour boarder, and the schoolmistress' sister in London, Mrs. Pinkney. The life of the village is brought before us, some new young people are introduced and happily married off, dear Miss Bates' welfare is solicitously considered, and we are even treated to some most characteristic and entertaining correspondence between Mrs Augusta Elton and her beloved sister Selina. It has been wisely said, "No one writes Jane Austen as well as Jane Austen." But these two volumes can serve as pleasant interludes before turning - once more with feeling! - to reading Austen again.

- Review thanks to Mary M. Stolzenbach.

Jump to: A Visit to Highbury or Later Days at Highbury

A Visit to Highbury - Another View of Emma - 1993

By Joan Austen-Leigh
St. Martin's Press - New York/London, 182 pages, updated 1995, Previously released as Mrs. Goddard
ISBN 0-312-11860-0
Buy A Visit to Highbury
Buy Mrs. Goddard, Mistress of a School

Review by Linda Waldemar:

As described by the subtitle, this is not a sequel. It tells the story of Emma through the eyes of Mrs. Goddard who runs the school where Harriet Smith is a parlor boarder. The author is Jane Austen's great-great-grandniece, the great-granddaughter of her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, who wrote the celebrated Memoir of his aunt.

This is a book is a pleasant read. Joan Austen-Leigh does a pretty good job of writing in the style of her famous ancestor. The story is told through a series of letters from Mrs. Goddard to her sister, Charlotte Pinkney, who lives in London.

This book is a retelling of the story of Emma. She is very faithful to the book and adds little additional perspective on the characters as Jane Austen wrote them.

Mrs. Goddard's sister lives in London and is bored with her new husband therefore begs for news and gossip. Mrs. G obliges by writing to her of all the happenings in Highbury. Most of the time, this is believable, but there are a few places that one must stretch the imagination to believe that Mrs. Goddard is privy to some incident, e.g. that Mr. Elton made an offer to Emma. Mrs. Pinkney uses the same apothecary as Mrs. John Knightly, so she gets gossip from him as well. Mr. Pinkney goes to Bath to improve his gout. While there, the Pinkneys become acquainted with Augusta Hawkins and Mr. Elton.

The author does add a couple of more characters and another love story. Charlotte Pinkney befriends a young lady from the school next door to her dwelling, who falls in love with a sailor.

While in Bath, the Admiral, an old acquaintance of Mr. Pinkney's, talks about a novel that he has read and enjoyed. When asked the name of the author, he says that it is signed, "By A Lady". Mr. P finally tells his new wife that he is not very sociable because his fiancee, Fanny, died one week before their planned wedding (similar to Captain Benwick's experience in Persuasion). Another line she borrows from JA is when she repeats to her young friend, Charlotte Lucas' opinion. The girl wants to know if she should write to the sailor, although they are not engaged. Mrs. Pinkney says yes, so that they can get to know one another better. "Of course," I said smiling, "you might argue that it is better not to know too much about the person with whom you are to spend your life."

After Mr. and Mrs. Pinkney get over their misunderstanding and become companions, Mrs. lets Mr. read all her letters from her sister. Mr. P then figures out that Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill are engaged; before it is revealed to the inhabitants of Highbury.

The story ends with the Pinkneys and their young friend finally travelling to Highbury to meet all the subjects that have been discussed in the letters.

Review by Cindy Bernhard:

For what it's worth, I did finally finish reading A Visit To Highbury, by Joan Austen-Leigh. My take? Boring. Maybe I've just been feeling like I've "done" P&P, Emma, S&S to death, but this just wasn't particularly interesting to me. I was quite thankful that it was a really quick read (and that I'd spent a whopping $2.95 on the book!) The added storyline of Mrs. Goddard's sis' development within her marriage and her young friend was really the only mildly interesting thing, but there it was even less of a shock how things would turn out. Ho hum. Yes, Austen-Leigh used JA-style language, but it seemed like that was because she used the EXACT SAME WORDS. She said she tried to do that - not add words to the mouths of Austen's original characters, but I've already read that stuff! And much of it more than once or twice. ;-) Anywho, would I recommend it? Not really. Pretty much a waste of time. Maybe the Later Days would be more interesting as it would be actually dealing with original material? Maybe?

Later Days at Highbury - 1996

By Joan Austen-Leigh
St. Martin's Press - UK, Hardcover
ISBN 0-312-14642-6
Buy Later Days at Highbury

Review by Tom:

New Characters (i.e., besides those from the original story of Emma):

This is a delightful story about life in Highbury and London at a time about 2 years after Emma and George Knightley's marriage. We catch a few glimpses of Emma, Harriet, and Jane together with their spouses and children. However, Later Days is mostly about new people and their separate concerns.

With the many diverse characters, I expected much mystery, adventure, and romance. However, this potential cannot be fully realized because the story is distilled into letters that are exchanged between the Mrs. Goddard, Mrs. Pinkney, and a few of the other ladies. Except for a few lines by Augusta Elton, that wonderfully outspoken wretch, most of these letters are properly conservative and unfortunately relatively lifeless. Also, unlike Jane Austen's original stories, Later Days does not present the inner thoughts of the characters, and therefore does not show them developing as they live their experiences.

Having said that, I confess that I truly liked the book. By reading the it twice, I was able to take the general story written in the letters and imagine all sorts of details. This was fairly easy because several of the main plot elements are similar to what appears in other Jane Austen novels (i.e., P&P, S&S Persuasion, and Mansfield Park).

Caution: This paragraph contains plot spoilers.

For example, after suffering an accident, one of the young ladies emulates Louisa Musgrove and becomes attached to the man who visits during her recovery. Another of the unattached ladies decides to run away from school because she misses her home. Her plan, similar to Lydia Bennet's elopement, hinges upon enlisting the school's footman as her guardian and travel companion. And, like Fanny Price's brother, a naval officer receives unexpected help in getting his case presented to the Admiralty.

End of plot spoilers.

Available at $18.00 (US), this is a book that I recommend to any fairly intense Jane Austen fan. Just the chance to see Augusta Elton in action again is worth the price. Also, even though I do not personally care for novels told in letter form, I think that the new characters and story lines in Later Days do make it better than most of the other published sequels. Enjoy!

Review by Linda Waldemar:

This book is a sequel to A Visit To Highbury, which is a parallel to Emma. Again we have the exchange of gossipy letters between Mrs. Goddard, mistress of the school in Highbury, and her sister, Charlotte Pinkney, who lives in London. But this time, she includes letters from other characters, as well. Charlotte Marlowe (Mrs. Pinkney's friend from A Visit To Highbury) who married the sailor, and her father, Captain Gordon; Mrs Elton and her sister, Mrs. Suckling, of Maple Grove.

Mr. Woodhouse has died and the George Knightleys, who now have a young son named Henry, remove to Donwell Abbey. Isabella Knightly inherits Hartfield. Soon afterward, Mrs Bates also dies.  Miss Bates, who no longer has any means of support, goes to live at Enscombe with the Frank Churchills.

Since John Knightley needs to remain in London for the sake of this business, Hartfield is let to an eligible, rich young man and his mother. The Eltons have received a "better" situation in town, so a new vicar is named; another eligible young man.

There are other new characters; lively, pretty twins who are Mrs. G's current parlour boarders and a niece of Mr Pinkney who is sent from the West Indies to school in London.

Much of the book is about Capt Marlowe's attempts to get his pension from the Admiralty; worry about Miss Bates, she does not write to her old friends in Highbury; and the romantic adventures of the twins and Mr. Pinkney's niece.

I found this book to be a very pleasant read. The writing style is quite good and the characters are interesting. Since there is so little written about the main characters of Emma, they do not have to suffer comparisons with Jane Austen's originals.

I recommend both A Visit To Highbury and Later Days At Highbury.