I love reading rewrites of Jane Austen novels. The best of them manage to capture the spirit and time of Austen’s works while bringing something new and fresh to the story. These works are very much like a variation on a well-known theme.

Today I finished reading Jane Fairfax: The Secret Story of the Second Heroine in Jane Austen’s Emma by Joan Aiken. The novel retells some of the events of Emma from the point of view of Jane Fairfax, the young woman who competes with Austen’s heroine for the affections of Frank Churchill.

In Austen’s novel, the reserved and somewhat cold Jane is little more than a foil for Emma. When Emma briefly flirts with Churchill, Jane is the woman who becomes the subject of Emma’s unkind speculations.

In Aiken’s novel, Jane is the orphaned daughter of a military men who is taken in by Colonel Campbell in return for her father’s good deed of saving his life. While Colonel Campbell does his best for Jane, she is nevertheless destined to become a governess and earn her keep, unless she can manage to find a husband for herself before the Campbell’s daughter and Jane’s best friend, Rachel, finds one. Jane and Rachel grow up together; when they fall in love with the same man, Jane must choose between making herself unhappy by giving up the man she loves or making her friend unhappy by marrying him.

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