Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bonus Review: A Most Scandalous Proposal

 A Most Scandalous Proposal
By Ashlyn Macnamara
Publisher: Ballantine
Release Date: February 26, 2013

Summary from publisher:

After watching her beloved sister, Sophia, pine over the ton’s golden boy for years, Miss Julia St. Claire has foresworn love and put herself firmly on the shelf. Unfortunately, her social-climbing mother and debt-ridden father have other ideas, and jump at the chance to marry Julia off to the newly named Earl of Clivesden . . . the man of Sophia’s dreams.

Since resigning his cavalry commission, Benedict Revelstoke has spent his time in London avoiding the marriage mart. But when he discovers that the Earl of Clivesden has his sights set on Julia, Benedict tries to protect his childhood best friend from the man’s advances—only to discover that more than friendship is driving his desire to defend her. He surprises them both with the force of his feelings, but when Julia refuses him, and her father announces her betrothal, Benedict fears he’s lost her forever—until Julia approaches him with a shocking scheme that will ruin her for all respectable society and lead them into an exquisite world of forbidden pleasures.

My Response:

Ashlyn Macnamara has acknowledged the influence of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility on her debut novel. However, it is an overstatement to view A Most Scandalous Proposal as a more sensual adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. There are marked differences in characters and plots, but the parallels are strong enough for Austen’s influence to be discernible.

Two Sisters

Sense—Julia St. Claire

Like Austen’s Elinor Dashwood, Julia, the younger of the two St. Claire sisters, is the practical sister. Although she sometimes grows impatient with her sister’s excessively romantic reactions, she loves her sister and does all she can to aid her and to comfort her when things go awry. Julia’s own responses are more measured and restrained than her sister’s. Both young women have turned down several proposals, but their reasons for doing so are different. Julia wants a “civilized, sensible union” without the excesses of romantic love. But Julia also fears losing herself if she is overwhelmed by love. Another characteristic that Julia shares with Elinor is that she increases her suffering by keeping the things that trouble her to herself . She is also like Austen’s Elinor in that her feelings remain private with none of the emotional displays to which her sister is prone.

Sensibility—Sophia St. Claire

Sophia, like Austen’s Marianne Dashwood, moves from intense emotional highs to deep emotional lows. She has been in love with William Ludlowe, who becomes Earl of Clivesden, from the moment he “rescues” her during her first season (shades of Willoughby and Marianne). For five years, she has been elated when he noticed her and devastated when he ignored her. He is the reason she has turned down other eligible gentlemen. Austen has Elinor describe Marianne as moving from conjecture to belief, from wish to hope to expectation with no pause to consider the grounds for such movement. The same thing could be said of Sophia. So tender are Sophia’s sensibilities that she swoons when she’s confronted with a difficult moment—twice in one evening. She is incapable of hiding her feelings. Julia wonders how Ludlowe remains unaware of Sophia’s love for him:

How could he miss Sophia’s obvious affection for him? She took no pains to hide it. She might as well lay her beating heart in his lap. . . .

The Worthy Hero—Benedict Revelstoke

Benedict is a childhood friend of Julia’s and has long been in love with her. Their relationship owes nothing to that of Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility. A hero who duplicated Edward too closely would likely have 21st-century romance readers agreeing with Marianne that the character lacked the proper “fire” to be a hero. Unlike Edward, Benedict is handsome, independent, and well-spoken, and he possesses more than sufficient fire to satisfy contemporary tastes. But he does share with Edward youth, gravitas, and “solid worth.” 

The Older Hero—Rufus Frederick Shelburne, Earl of Highgate

Highgate may be the character in A Most Scandalous Proposal who owes the most to Sense and Sensibility. Like Colonel Brandon, he is older. In fact, at forty, he’s a few years older than Colonel Brandon, who was thirty-five. Also, like Austen’s character, Highgate is a man of honor, substance, and decisiveness. He has a history with the villain involving a woman they both loved. Colonel Brandon shared Marianne’s passion for music, but Highgate and Sophia bond over books, Jane Austen’s books, to be precise. Highgate is fully cognizant of the flaws in Ludlowe’s character and reveals them at the right moment, another detail he shares with Colonel Brandon. He falls in love with Sophia, but is willing to stand aside if it is in her best interest. I rarely envision an actor as a character when I read, but I could see Alan Rickman as Highgate, Colonel Brandon with a PG rating.

The Villain of the Piece-- William Ludlowe, Earl of Clivesden

Like Austen’s Willoughby, Ludlowe/Clivesden is superficially a maiden’s perfect hero. He is handsome, charming, and titled. Few know that he is also a bully, a womanizer, and a card shark who is debauched at the core. Macnamara makes her villain a more deeply flawed character than Austen’s Willoughby. After all, Willoughby eventually acknowledges that he has true feelings for Marianne and he ends a better man for having loved her. Ludlowe/Clivesden willfully humiliates Sophia, and he courts her sister, refusing to accept Julia’s rejection and even using her father to force Julia into becoming betrothed to him. There is no redemption for him at story’s end.

To reiterate, A Most Scandalous Proposal is not truly a “retelling” of Sense and Sensibility, but it does owe a significant debt to Austen’s first novel. Macnamara’s characters may well evoke the shadows of Austen’s in the eyes of readers familiar with Sense and Sensibility.

I have reservations about some of the Austen-inspired work that has filled bookstores in recent years. This is my favorite kind of Austen derivative, a novel that borrows from Austen, without mutilation, to create a story that is clearly the author’s own. I enjoyed this book. Fans of Sense and Sensibility may find a particular pleasure in it, but I don’t think it’s necessary to know the Austen novel that inspired it to find this book a good read.

Are you a Jane Austen fan? If so, what’s your favorite Austen-inspired novel?


Nancy Northcott said...

Janga, I'm one of the few romance readers who has not read Austen. Shocking, I know. In general, I prefer books that, while influenced by earlier works, use original characters.

Janga said...

Nancy, I think influence is always there, don't you? Sometimes it may be obvious and other times so faint as to be undetectable, but it's there.

You've never read Austen? I am shocked. :)