I wonder if Austen managed to plow through all four volumes and 700 pages. I confess to skimming and skipping the last half, when the author was gearing up to introduce a whole new raft of characters and more subplots and backstories. Austen scholar Deirdre LeFaye counted ‘a total of nearly twenty flashbacks in all,’ and I don’t know if that includes the long narrative summary which commences the novel. However, even though I didn’t manage to read Lady Maclairn cover to cover, this forgotten novel deserves another look for a number of reasons: the attitude displayed in the book toward the slave trade, the Big Family Secret storyline, the naturalistic portrayal of insanity, and the harsh portrait of a clergyman.
It appears that Lady Maclairn did not receive a review when first published. So here goes:
Mrs. Dawson, a wealthy widow, never forgave her son-in-law for taking her daughter away to Jamaica, where she died far from home after giving birth to little Rachel Cowley, our heroine. Mrs. Dawson’s will leaves her fortune to Rachel, but Rachel will only inherit if the father returns her to England to be raised by Mrs. Dawson's respectable friends, the Hardcastles. It is just as well for Rachel, because she is growing spoiled in Jamaica where she can lord it over the enslaved people. Her character improves in England where she grows up with gentle little Lucy Hardcastle and her older brother Horace. Rachel looks up to him and she grows into ‘’the habit of yielding up her will to Horace.’’
‘’The tribute of Horace’s admiration was directed to the cultivating the taste and forming the judgment of'' our heroine....’’