These comments from prepublication readers have thrilled me. For details on the plot, inspiration, and sources for Margaret’s story, read more about the book here.
When Margaret Dashwood is introduced, seemingly as an afterthought in the last sentence of Sense and Sensibility's opening chapter, Austen tells us, "She did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life." Margaret stays at home to look after her mother, enabling everyone else's story but her own. Now, in this beautifully wrought and compelling novel, Wendy Zomparelli rescues Margaret from the margins and gives the youngest sister her own narrative, her own sense, her own sensibility. Those who know Austen will be captivated by Margaret Dashwood's adventuresome afterlife; those who don't will be enthralled by this wondrous novel in its own right. A Life of Her Own offers up all the pleasures of 19th-century fiction in elegant, eloquent prose. We live and love with Margaret and are transported: literally, to Italy and beyond; spiritually, to an access of the heart.
Margaret Dashwood has waited two centuries to make her full literary debut, and it is her good fortune that Wendy Zomparelli is the author to breathe life into this minor Jane Austen character from Sense and Sensibility. In Zomparelli’s capable hands, Margaret – the plain but pleasant youngest Dashwood sister of whom little was expected – springs to life as a plucky 19th century gentlewoman with uncommon curiosity and unbounded ambitions. Zomparelli channels Austen’s cadences and dialog without flaw yet, with the benefit of hindsight, can wink at society’s conventions. She fills in the blanks of Margaret’s character so colorfully and fully that, despite the novel’s satisfying ending, you are sad to see it end. No prior reading of the Austen oeuvre is required to enjoy this excursion into the economic strictures of Georgian England and a frenetic Grand Tour of Italy. A Life of Her Own will appeal to both Janeites and the uninitiated – and especially to anyone who, like Margaret, has ever been underestimated. Zomparelli infuses her writing with subtle wit and delightful historical morsels. The result stands on its own as a memorable portrait of a winsome protagonist as she navigates a world stacked against a woman of independent spirit.
More drawn to nature than needlework, young Margaret Dashwood stymies the expectations of her more domesticated sisters in early nineteenth-century England. In A Life of Her Own, Margaret leaps into the foreground from a mention in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility as a three-dimensional character well ahead of her time. With a passion for seeing the ruins of Pompeii, with maps and compass, books, pen, paper and indefatigable curiosity, Margaret sets out on a journey that brings her joy, danger, great wisdom . . . and love.
In A Life of Her Own, Wendy Zomparelli has created a book worthy of the Austen canon – elegant, imaginative, and rich with lingering insight. Margaret Dashwood comes to life as a curious, intelligent, and adventurous observer of the world around her – and we accompany her with delight as she dreams of a life beyond domesticity and drawing rooms. She studies geology, discovers fossils, travels through France and survives unexpected danger in the mountains around Pompeii. How wonderful to encounter a woman of “resourcefulness, strength, and courage” in a story that truly lifts the spirits!
A Life of Her Own is enormously satisfactory for an Austen reader such as I. But I can safely say that this novel would delight all sorts of readers. Margaret Dashwood, the protagonist of the story, is a feisty young woman with no hopes of fitting into how women were educated, or how they imagined their futures and lives. The novel leads us through her various journeys to find and be who she is. We see her growth, follow her thinking through what she ought to do, feel her weighing options, succeeding, and failing. Wendy Zomparelli has us cheering along with Margaret or grieving and raging with her. The novel’s language and world-building are superb – we learn so much about the 1820s, everything from science, religion, politics, households, work, how people lived their everyday lives, their hopes and dreams and constraints. And Ms. Zomparelli gets the language of that time spot on. You really get a sense that you are reading a novel not just written about the nineteenth century but actually written for that period – yet easily accessible to readers today. For me, the language, the grammar, the images, the rooms, the smells, the streets had to be just right – and they are. Even more than this, A Life of Her Own is chockablock with multiple mysteries, lots of mayhem, tons of family, and intellectual and political intrigue. I had to read it slowly at first – I treated it like a delicious chocolate bar, eating just a piece a day. But I finally succumbed and had to take to my sofa, give everything up and fall into it until I finished. You won’t put it down.
The first thing I remember writing was the front page of my own newspaper, which featured a celebrity interview with the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker. I was 6 years old. I didn’t know it then, but journalism was to become my career.
I majored in English at Cornell University. In my senior year I became a junior editor for Cornell’s literary magazine, Epoch, working alongside such writers as...