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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Sanditon Summer: Rebecca Baldwin

A Sanditon Quadrille, Rebecca Baldwin’s Regency romance, isn’t really a continuation of Jane Austen’s Sanditon; truth be told, it’s barely even an homage. But this is summertime -- Sanditon Summer on my blog -- and A Sanditon Quadrille is nothing if not a beach book.

“Rebecca Baldwin” is a pseudonym of Helen Chappell (b. 1947), an American writer who has penned dozens of books in several genres – domestic novels, romances, mysteries, ghost stories, non-fiction – including some under her own name and some as “Caroline Brooks.” “She reads tarot cards, Raymond Chandler, Eudora Welty, and, of course, Jane Austen,” declares the author’s note appended to A Sanditon Quadrille.

The book is a workmanlike example of the Regency romance, this time set in Austen’s fictional Sanditon, “as much in tribute to the power of that lady’s genius of observation as for the irresistible lure of a Regency resort as the natural setting for romantic tangling and untangling,” Chappell/Baldwin informs us.

Although two Austen characters -- Lady Denham and her niece, Esther Denham – contribute brief cameo appearances, they play no role in the plot, which in turn owes nothing to Austen’s original. The story centers on the romantic dilemma of a pair of cousins: spirited, athletic Miranda, who, against her father’s wishes, is engaged to dreamy, bookish Charles; and timid, bookish Emily, who, against her own wishes, is engaged to arrogant, athletic Lord Marle.

All four end up in Sanditon, where – in between drinking tea, attending balls, donning a series of meticulously described outfits, and coping with drama in the form of a riding accident and a close encounter with soldiers enforcing the anti-smuggling laws – the couples unravel and recombine in ways that will come as a surprise to no one over the age of ten.

But no matter: though its characters are cliched and its plot predictable, A Sanditon Quadrille is swift and entertaining. Chappell/Baldwin writes clear, painless prose; as long as you’re not expecting Jane Austen, you can curl up on your beach towel with A Sanditon Quadrille and pass a peaceful afternoon in the sun.

Rebecca Baldwin. A Sanditon Quadrille. New York: Fawcett Coventry Books, 1981.

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