Synopses & Reviews
A tale of time travel, true love, and Jane Austen.
New York actress C.J. Welles, a die-hard Jane Austen fan, is on the verge of landing her dream role: portraying her idol in a Broadway play. But during her final audition, she is mysteriously transported to Bath, England, in the year 1801. And Georgian England, with its rigid and unforgiving social structure and limited hygienic facilities, is not quite the picturesque costume drama C.J. had always imagined.
Just as she wishes she could click her heels together and return to Manhattan, C.J. meets the delightfully eccentric Lady Dalrymple, a widowed countess who takes C.J. into her home, introducing her as a poor relation to Georgian society including the dashing Earl of Darlington and his cousin, Jane Austen!
When a crisis develops, C.J. in a race against time becomes torn between two centuries. An attempt to return to her own era might mean forfeiting her blossoming romance with the irresistible Darlington and her growing friendship with Jane Austen, but it's a risk she must take. And in the midst of this remarkable series of events, C.J. discovers something even more startling a secret from her own past that may explain how she wound up in Bath in the first place.
"Offering a picturesque dose of time travel, romance and the atmosphere of 19th-century England, Elyot follows actress C.J. Welles as she is mysteriously transported between present-day Manhattan and Bath of 1801. After an unfortunate stint as 'lady's companion' to the abusive Lady Eloisa Wickham, C.J.'s luck arrives in the form of Lady Dalrymple, a progressive thinker who opens her home and her purse to C.J., believing she is her long-lost niece. Despite the pleasures of her adventures in history, which include steamy romance with the dashing Lord Darlington and friendship with Lady Dalrymple's cousin Jane Austen, C.J. must search for the way back to Greenwich Village, where she's auditioning for the role of Jane Austen in a modern-day play. Although she has to struggle to get a grasp on the customs and expectations of the day, C.J. is swiftly and somewhat unbelievably accepted as a British woman of the times. Occasionally, Elyot (pseudonymous author of The Memoirs of Helen of Troy and published elsewhere as Leslie Carroll) indulges in verbosity that thickens and slows the story, but there are plenty of upper-crust scandals and snobbery to keep anglophiles engaged." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Bending rules of sense as well as time, Elyot fools no one but appears to enjoy herself mightily, depicting Austen as a keen shopper....True aficionados will despair, but fans of lighthearted mystery/romantic/historical fantasies may be amused." Kirkus Reviews
"Diana Gabaldon readers, as well as fans of Elizabeth Aston and Linda Berdoll who have continued the adventures of Austen's Darcy clan, will enjoy this book." Library Journal
"Richly textured and carefully researched, By a Lady is a bright and bawdy romp that combines nitty-gritty life in 1801 Britain with the wit of the real Jane Austen. Amanda Elyot brings the past alive in this fresh and wickedly clever tale." Mary Jo Putney, author of Stolen Magic
In this comic, romantic time-travel romp, a young woman fascinated by the life and work of Jane Austen finds herself mysteriously transported back to the author's beloved city of Bath in 1801.
About the Author
Amanda Elyot is a professional actress and the author of The Memoirs of Helen of Troy. She lives in New York City.
Reading Group Guide
An audition for a plum role in a play about Jane Austen becomes an unexpected adventure for New York actress and unabashed Anglophile C. J. Welles. Upon exiting the stage following her final audition, C. J. finds herself inexplicably transported to Bath, England, at the turn of the nineteenth century. Alone in a strange place, at first C. J. is frightened and confused, and barely succeeds in fitting in without betraying the truth of her origin. But she grows increasingly comfortable after she meets the delightfully eccentric Lady Dalrymple, with whom she forms a special bond. A budding romance with Owen Percival, the dashing Earl of Darlington, fosters her increasing affection for the earlier era, especially when C. J. finds out that Darlington’s cousin is none other than Jane Austen–one of C. J.’s literary heroes.
But C. J. remains desperately torn between the two centuries. She longs to return to her own time but faces the difficult decision of leaving behind her new friends and the irresistible Lord Darlington. Then, in the midst of a remarkable turn of events, C. J. makes a startling discovery, uncovering a secret about her past that may explain why she wound up in Bath in the first place.
By a Lady is a marvelous fish-out-of-water historical drama, laced with comedy, romance, and mystery. This guide is designed to help direct your reading group’s discussion of Amanda Elyot’s delightful novel.
1. Before you read By a Lady, had you read any of Jane Austen’s novels? If so, what are some themes common to Austen’s writing that appear in By a Lady? Do any of the characters in By a Lady resemble those in Austen’s works?
2. At the book’s opening, the author includes this quote from Jane Austen: “The novels which I approve are such as display human nature with grandeur–such as show her in the sublimities of intense feeling–such as exhibit the progress of strong passion from the first germ of incipient susceptibility to the utmost energies of reason half-dethroned–where we see the strong spark of women’s captivations elicit such fire in the soul of man as leads him . . . to hazard all, dare all, achieve all, to obtain her.” Do you think By a Lady lives up to the standards Austen sets forth in these words? Why or why not?
3. Do you share an affinity for another era? If so, which one and why?
4. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice opens with this line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” How does this sentiment hold true in By a Lady?
5. The author describes the acute class differences in Georgian England, as well as C. J.’s intense feelings about this disparity. On page 134, Lady Dalrymple says to C. J., “I do not condone the behavior you just witnessed, nor do I agree with it, but my dear, that is the way of the upper crust.” On page 177, Darlington says to C. J., “The English class system has been ingrained for centuries, Miss Welles, and everyone knows and accepts his place with alacrity. That is the way of the world.” Do you agree with the sentiment that a tradition should be upheld for no other reason than its continued existence? Where in the modern world are there similar disparities in economic and/or social classes? Why do you think this kind of inequality has endured? Do you think circumstances in these societies could someday change?
6. By a Lady is full of rich period detail–clothing, sights and smells, societal customs. What were some of the more surprising aspects of Georgian life you became familiar with through this novel?
7. “Every time C. J. thought she had gotten a handle on their mores or manners, these Georgians threw her a curve. A proper lady did not address the servants as equals, and yet she drank her tea out of the saucer!” (page 111). Discuss other points in the book where such inconsistency in manners is displayed by members of Bath’s society.
8. In Chapter Three (page 32), when C. J. is brought in front of the magistrate, she learns the origin of the phrase “rule of thumb” as it applied to a case of a man accused of abusing his wife with a stick. In Chapter Ten (page 124), she is horrified to discover the quite literal meaning of “putting on the dog.” Are there other colloquialisms from the Georgian age enduring today that you know of? What are they and what are their origins?
9. “Nearly everyone here danced around his or her intentions, cloaking them in nuance, riddle, and understatement,” C. J. observes on page 137. What are the benefits of a polite society like that of Georgian Bath, where custom prevented expression of candid thoughts and ideas? Would you prefer this type of polite society, or a more liberated society where people were free to express their opinions? Why?
10. “Despite the fact that she had been arrested, imprisoned, tried, nearly committed to a lifetime of indentured servitude, publicly jilted by the man she loved, and, most recently, incarcerated in a madhouse, C. J. had come to feel, in a most inexplicable way, that she really belonged in 1801” (page 315). Were you surprised at C. J.’s decision to remain in nineteenth-century Bath? Did you see her decision as a foreshadowing of the novel’s subsequent plot twist?
11. Did the book’s ending surprise you? Why or why not?
12. Who are your literary heroes? Who would you like to befriend in another life?