Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
A story of self-love with Jane Austen flare
Eleanor Wilton’s second novel from The Derbyshire Chronicles, titled Agnes Merriweather, is a delightful Regency period historical novel that Jane Austen fans are going to love.
Austen used her writing to respond to the world in which she lived. She took her heroines out of the exaggerated, damsel-in-distress scenarios of popular fiction, and gave them their real-life concerns of her time: marriage, manners, society, and more.
Wilton does the same. Her heroine, Agnes Merriweather, may stroll through the scenes of Regency period fiction, but, like Austen, Wilton focuses on the desires and struggles of women in her society: dealing with love, independence, and the search for a calling in life. Agnes’s modern ideals fold seamlessly into Wilton’s story and make this classic fiction seem fresh.
With the passing of her wealthy aunt, Agnes Merriweather’s way of life abruptly turns into a meager and quiet one. She has gone to live with her brother in Kympton, where very little seems to engage her. Her brother Edgar is perfectly content living with just enough to satisfy the bare necessities, but Agnes has a difficult time making the adjustment. Whereas their late father left Edgar with enough to survive and live independently, Agnes suffers from the anxiety of not having the same luxury. Sure, she’d love to find a man to marry since he could take care of her, but she realizes she must take control and find a real purpose in order to be truly fulfilled in this life.
As a young woman who only recently found her calling, the character of Agnes Merriweather instantly appealed to my own longings and desires in life. I saw myself in her, as I’m sure many future readers of this novel will as well.
Agnes is beautifully flawed. She speaks her mind to those she admires with the greatest sincerity and truthfulness, but as an impassioned person she does not realize the effect it might have on others much wiser and patient than she. She is stubborn and anxious, but full of heart and a willingness to – eventually – learn when she has misjudged or misstep. This is a rarity of Regency fiction, where the character may feel exaggeratedly obstinate in the beginning of the novel, and then bend abruptly and extremely to the will of another at the end.
Here, Wilton develops a modern love story with Jane Austen-like realism and innovation. She fosters entertaining dialogue as Austen did, revealing in the subtlest of ways a character’s mood and countenance. We arrive at the thoughts of each of Wilton’s characters without any speculation as to who they are in the story, especially in relation to Agnes.
Edgar, her brother, is one who especially stands out in this regard. Wilton’s choice of his words strikes me as wise without pretension, even Buddhist, funnily enough, to some degree: “I was bitter at first, but it has been many years since father’s misfortunes befell us. I saw quickly that I must let the bitterness go, or I should become the master of my own misfortunes as well. If you hold it still, let it go too.”
The real root of Agnes’s troubles, by my account, is her lack of purpose, and it is exciting that Wilton decides to stick to Austen’s signature happy ending in more facets of Agnes’s life than just one. Similarly, the author never falls into the overblown love story or unfit sex scenes that many modern Regency seem to gravitate toward. Agnes Merriweather pays homage to the didactic love story just as sweetly and sincerely as Austen herself.
Genre: Literary / Historical / Romance
Print Length: 306 pages
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