Helen Stanley is a gentle heroine. Not as passive as Fanny in Mansfield Park, more like a younger version of Anne in Persuasion. Orphaned as a child and educated beyond her fortune, she is bought up by her kindly but extravagant uncle. After his sudden death she is adopted by Lady Davenant the mother of her best friend, Cecilia.
I have made up my mind to like no Novels really, but Miss Edgeworth's, Yours & my own. Jane Austen, letter to Anna Austen, Wednesday 28th September 1814
Cecilia provides a lively contrast to Helen. Spirited, confident and an incurable liar, she charms the reader and exploits Helen's naivety. Helen believes Cecilia's blatant lie that the man she loves is engaged and when Cecilia suggests that, as best friends, they always dress alike she orders jewellery way beyond her income. Of course, Cecilia's lies lead to her downfall and the plot races along to a most satisfying end which I'm not going to spoil.
Maria Edgeworth is an astute writer, politically engaged and some of her waspish lines could be lifted straight from an Austen novel:
Helen was too pretty to be invited to stay at a house where there are marriageable daughters.
She is different to Austen, too. About half way through I realised that Helen is not a love story but an exploration of female relationships. I've ordered Edgeworth's Belinda and I'm tempted to re-read Persuasion that most autumnal of Austen's novels.