“When would I learn to speak with a tactful tongue?” Althea narrates. “I kept forgetting how ridiculously sensitive and illogical men were. He assumed his fortune would buy a beauty; I assumed that my beauty would procure me a rich husband. It seemed much the same thing to me, but evidently what was permissible in a man was not in a woman.” (p12)
Althea’s beauty is only matched by her inability to keep her thoughts to herself, which makes for an unforgettable narrator and a captivating tale. Ensconced in a crumbling castle perched on the edge of a cliff in the village of Lesser Hoo, Althea’s estate depends on her ability to look pretty and keep her mouth shut. But wealthy men are in short supply in a rural village, and she must compete with her stepsisters --- neither beautiful nor intelligent, but with access to greater fortunes --- for all available suitors. When the handsome, charming, and titled Lord Boring comes to town, the sisters are all scrambling to engage his affection. Althea is convinced she can repair her family’s fortunes with his money, but their compatibility also seems to suggest that the two could form the rarest alliance: a love match. So why does everyone seem to be interfering with Althea’s plans for the future? From the arrival of another wealthy young heiress to the intrusion of Lord Boring’s irritating cousin, Mr. Fredricks, all is not what it seems in the village of Lesser Hoo. Like the Austen heroines on which she is modeled, Althea has a lot to learn about romance, riches, and real estate.
I doubt Jane Austen knew at the time in which she penned her books that she was writing works that would far outlive her short life. Neither could she have guessed that it would kick start a genre of fiction that remains with us to this very day. Keeping the Castle stays true to Austen’s conventions, while offering a fresh take on Regency romance, along with gentle satire on the genre. One could even say that it is a primer for readers to understand the challenges heroines face within Austen’s novels.
It is often difficult for contemporary readers to engage with Jane Austen. The language in her books is old-fashioned, but more difficult for modern readers are plots that seem to revolve almost exclusively around marriage. Teachers are often faced with students who ask why these stories matter, or why the heroines of the novels don’t get jobs. Contemporary scholarship often revolves around examination of women’s lives in the period outside the margins of the books. And while criticism is often launched at Austen for the privileged world in which her characters live (the hardships of the gentry rather than the peasants in the field), her books offer a glimpse into another world and explore the preoccupations of women in another time.
Polly Shulman, author of Enthusiasm --- a 21st century homage to Jane Austen about a girl whose best friend is obsessed with Jane Austen --- blurbed Keeping the Castle by comparing it to Dodie Smith's classic I Capture the Castle. I think the comparison is apt. Another story about siblings trying to save a crumbling family property, this book has a very similar appeal to Keeping the Castle.Though I Capture the Castle is set in mid-20th century Britain, rather than the beginning of the 19th century, it is also a coming-of-age novel about the way in which family finances can impact a young woman's life. (I Capture the Castle also made a guest appearance on the finale for HBO's hit Girls, being read by Ray, the sarcastic barista, which will no likely bring renewed interest to this classic title.) I think all three books would be appropriate for an intergenerational book club, appealing to adults as much as youth readers.Fans of Kindl's book will be pleased to know it's the first of a planned trilogy with the sequel Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know already in the works.
What is your favorite Jane Austen novel? What is your favorite Jane Austen homage? At what age do you think readers should first encounter these works?
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