Jane and Prudence

    Prudence Bates was twenty-nine, an age that is often rather desperate for a woman who has not yet married.  Jane Cleveland was forty-one, an age that may bring with it compensations unsuspected by the anxious woman of twenty-nine.

    The young man edged away from her.  He thinks he has come to a private mental home, thought Jane, the patients are not dangerous, but are allowed to take walks in the grounds.  ‘I’m sorry I can’t oblige you,’ she said pleasantly.  ‘What a lovely morning it is,’ she added as he wished her a hasty good morning and hurried out through the gate.

    ‘They say, though, that men only want one thing – that’s the truth of the matter.’ Miss Doggett again looked puzzled; it was as if she had heard that men only wanted one thing, but had forgotten for the moment what it was.

    In Jane and Prudence, one character ironically compares herself to Austen’s matchmaking heroine Emma Woodhouse – and turns out to be no better at finding a husband for her protégée than Emma was.  This is Jane Cleveland, a vicar's wife, now in her forties, who hopes to see her best friend Prudence Bates – a sophisticated bachelor girl with a tendency to fall for unsuitable men – happily settled like herself. So she invites her to the village where her husband Nicholas is vicar, and introduces her to Fabian Driver, a handsome and eligible widower. But Prudence has an unlikely rival for Fabian’s affections in mousy-looking Jessie Morrow, a lady’s companion determined to escape her role as a spinster.
–Reviewed by Christina Koning in The Times, 14 December 2007