I recently re-read Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, which is dedicated to “Charlotte, Jane, Georgette, and Dorothy,” who are of course Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and Dorothy Dunnett. There are elements of all those authors in the story, but this time around I particularly noticed the Austen moments. Please note, there are spoilers ahead (but neither of these books is new!).
In particular, I was struck by many references to Pride and Prejudice. A Civil Campaign is about marriage, and all that marriage means. Bujold shows a whole range of courtships as well as established marriages. Most notably, she pairs off the Koudelka sisters (Delia, Olivia, Martya, Kareen) in four very different ways; I don’t know why it had never struck me before that they could be examined against the Bennett sisters who are paired off at the end of their novel (Jane, Elizabeth, Lydia) and Elizabeth’s friend, Charlotte.
At the beginning of A Civil Campaign, the eldest sister, Delia, is already engaged to Duv Galeni, a former scholar and career officer. Delia easily mirrors Jane in the way she gets along well in society and follows, so far as her parents know, proper social practices.
Olivia, next eldest, becomes angaged to Lord Dono Vorrutyer, who was recently Lady Donna Vorrutyer, but had her sex changed in order to inherit her brother’s title (and prevent a hated cousin from inheriting, instead). Dono’s plot, despite the science fictional aspects (related to him having viable sperm, not the sex change itself) ought to be familiar to romance readers because it revolves around inheritance issues. The Dono-and-Olivia plot is a little less Austen on the surface, but does reflect Austen’s concerns about appropriate spouses. Olivia, by marrying Dono, will move up in society. This plot is also very familiar from modern romance novels set in Georgian and Victorian England.
Martya, the most cranky and managing of the sisters, sets her cap for unworldly genius Enrique Borgos; though they are not yet engaged by the end of the novel, it’s clear that’s her plan and that she will succeed. Martya’s practical choice makes her a good comparison with Charlotte Lucas, who weds Mr. Collins. Though Borgos is a brilliant scientist, he lacks social skills and business sense, which Martya can provide; thus, there will be economic benefit for both, and social benefit to Enrique who gains a buffer or perhaps an interpreter between him and society.
Finally, Kareen begins the novel as the lover of Mark Vorkosigan, but discovers that she cannot bring herself to tell her family. The comparison of Kareen to Lydia is more contrast than correspondence, but both womens’ stories do deal with relationships that are unconventional by the standards of their family. Lydia elopes with an unsuitable man who turns out to be much worse than initially thought; Kareen has begun a sexual relationship with an emotionally damaged man while away at school on another planet, when in her parents’ eyes, she should have remained a virgin until marriage. Unlike Wickham, though, Mark is financially very well off and has solid familial support.
While Lydia is portrayed as flighty, with little concern for her family’s and her own reputation or for her own future, Kareen is almost too concerned with these issues; she hides her relationship with Mark until it’s revealed at the worst possible moment. Lydia’s problem is solved, as well as it can be, by an outsider, Mr. Darcy. Kareen takes several actions on her own behalf, and with Mark, enlists the help of Cordelia Vorkosigan to negotiate with her parents. In the end, she decides to let her relationship remain unconventional by the standards of her parents.
Bujold’s heroines have many more options than Austen’s did.