Frederick Wentworth, Captain is a two-volume novel by Susan Kaye that relates the events of Jane Austen’s Persuasion from Captain Wentworth’s point of view. The first volume, None but You, came out from Wytherngate Press in 2007; volume two, For You Alone, was published in 2008.

Persuasion has been my favorite Austen novel for about 20 years now. I first read it as an undergraduate. I enrolled in a summer class that surveyed the second half of Brit Lit. All we read was novels Austen, Dickens, Hardy, and Waugh. Up to that point, I had never read any of Austen’s books. I immediately fell in love.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why I felt this way, but I immediately felt that I was like Anne Elliot waiting for my man to come back to me. (I was also a big fan of Somewhere in Time, so maybe I just liked the come-back-to-me theme.) I was still a closeted gay boy back then, who was scared to face his sexual desires. Maybe that made me feel like a woman who was watching life pass her by. Whatever the case, I loved the novel and it’s been my favorite ever since.

So, I was looking forward to reading this novel from Wentworth’s point of view. As I’ve written about before, I love Austen rewrites, but most of those seem to focus on Pride and Prejudice and Mr. Darcy. He’s great, but he’s no Wentworth. If we’re all honest about it, we’d admit that Darcy’s falling in love with Elizabeth makes no sense — Austen doesn’t really explain his conversion and personality transplant very well. But Wentworth’s love for Anne is all there for us to follow. We understand his recognition that they belong together, even though the original story is from Anne’s point of view.

What I’m getting at is that Austen gives someone like Susan Kaye a little more to work with than she does the re-writers of Pride and Prejudice. Kaye has inherited strong, believable characters and a plot that is romantic and realistic. Her task, then, is to take these elements and make something new out of them. She more than succeeds. Frederick Wentworth, Captain is arguably one of the best adaptations of any of Austen’s novels to date.

The first thing that Kaye gets right is that she’s faithful to Austen’s characters and plot. Her Wentworth and Anne are recognizable as Austen’s creations. And all the important events of Austen’s novel happen here too, just from Wentworth’s point of view.

The second thing she does right is to write a novel that takes us beyond Austen’s plot. We begin before Wentworth’s return to Somerset. We see him as a naval captain, and we see what his life has been like without Anne. Kaye also fills in what Wentworth does after Lousia’s fall by following him to his brother’s house, where he meets Edward’s new wife. This meeting makes him realize what he wants in a marriage and precipitates the final chapters of the novel.

I also like that Kaye has captured the spirit of Austen’s novel. It feels like the novel Austen could have written if she had written the story from Wentworth’s point of view. She gets the mores and mannerisms right, the ways Austen’s characters act and move and dress. It all works really well.

But there is one major problem with these two volumes: they desperately need a copy editor. The typesetting of these books is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. The editing is frustratingly bad. Spelling, punctuation, missing words — you name it, it’s here. I almost got out my red pen while reading the second volume to start marking all of the errors. This is a real shame, because Kaye’s books deserve better. The story is great, and I loved what she does with these characters, but the typesetting is just really bad.

A lesser problem involves a sudden shift in perspective. Near the end of the book, we suddenly shift to Anne’s point of view, which I didn’t like at all. We’ve seen everything with Wentworth’s eyes to this point; I don’t know why we needed to switch to Anne’s perspective. It just seems a little too lazy and slavishly devoted to Austen’s original. I would have liked it better if we had stayed with Wentworth to the end.

But despite these problems, I love these books. Kaye “gets” Austen. With a better editor and one slight rewrite of the section that switches to Anne’s point of view, the two volumes that make up Frederick Wentworth, Captain would have been perfect. Even with these imperfections, I highly recommend Kaye’s rewriting of Persuasion. It’s up there with Pamela Aidan, whose Darcy novels were also published by Wytherngate Press, so I know they can do a good job when they want to. Aidan’s trilogy was republished by Simon & Schuster; I hope Kaye gets the same opportunity. She deserves it.

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