The Spirit of Jane
Austen lives on in the work of Australian novelist Helen Halstead,
whose first book, A Private Performance, was written as a sequel
to Pride and Prejudice.
Initially self-published, Halstead so nicely imitated the style
and content of Austen that Random House quickly took her up.
In this her second novel, Halstead has made clear her intention
to pursue the Regency genre and set herself up as an antipodean
The genre is not an easy one to conquer. Apart from being meticulous
as far as historical detail is concerned, the writer needs to
write in a mannerly way without annoying a modern audience.
Austens characters may take half an hour to say pass
the butter please, but within all the by-your-leaves and
exquisite manners there lies a delicious and deadly wit.
Halsteads mannered dialogue, which also contains plenty
of barbs, is aided by firmly defined characters. Laura is 30,
intelligent, attractive and independent. Lauras sister
Elspeth is a rich widow whose whimpering ways disguise her cupidity.
The sisters clash to great effect. Laura meets her Mr. Darcy
at the seaside resort of Lyme Regis, the setting of another
literary retro novel, The French Lieutenants Woman. When
Lauras beau mysteriously disappears, without Elspeth,
as Lauras sister, getting to meet him, she connives in
the view that Laura has imagined the whole episode. Thats
sisters for you.
Dianne Dempsey, The
Age, Saturday, 18/11/2006.
from The Victoriana Society
of South Australia
at the Adelaide launch of The Imaginary Gentleman
In 1806, Laura, at
30, meets Mr. Templeton who then vanishes, and no-one in the seaside
town of Lyme admits to his existence.
Her brother and sister
fear she has a mental illness and, to save her from disgrace,
plot a convenient marriage for her.
Similar nuptial plans
by a local family add complications, but Laura is determined to
find her imaginary gentleman.
A lively mystery romance
told with elegant charm.