Unfortunately, many of the letters and other documents that Jane Austen wrote were destroyed by her sister Cassandra. However, if you read what are remaining of Jane Austen’s letters you get a sense of her quick wit and mischievous, acerbic sense of humour (think Elizabeth Bennet’s humour, but with more of a bite to it!). This story is loosely based on the seaside romance that Jane Austen is said to have had around 1800, before she moved to Bath, where her writing ceased for some years. Some of the details are changed from what I had read previously of that seaside romance, which surprised me a little when I realised it, but the flip side of the changes was that I had less idea of where the story was going. I learned afterwards that there appears to be more than one interpretation of the truth of it and I am not sure whether the real truth of the episode has been established.
We first meet with Jane here in the heyday of her romance with Tom Lefroy. I always feel a little melancholy when reading books based on Austen’s life as we know where they are headed, so you know straight away that this romance is doomed and I just had to wait for the hammer to fall. I thought the author did a nice job of capturing her wit and cheekiness, though I wonder if Austen was ever as naive as she seems here. Although a romantic, I think Jane Austen was also a realist, and such a keen observer that she would have known very well how the world of marriage worked at the age of 21. So although she might have hoped for a different outcome I don’t think she would have been as surprised by it as is shown here. When themes like this are discussed in Austen’s novels the only character who seems surprised by the general customs around marriage appears to be the über-romantic Marianne Dashwood, and I got the impression when I read that story that Austen wasn’t that sympathetic towards her, though of course that could have been just the bitterness of looking back. Once Jane has gone through this, and other, painful experiences, she resolves to learn from them, and not to be hurt again.
‘If only it had been explained to me from an early age... my lack of value in the marriage economy. Then I should be quite reconciled by now to a long, unending, solitary future.’But then she goes to the seaside, where there is both a clergyman and a seaman, and she will find her resolve tested...
I very much enjoyed this book. I have my doubts whether Austen’s speech was so shocking in real life, though I am confident she was capable of thinking every one of the cheeky thoughts attributed to her here! One thing that I found particularly enjoyable in this book was spotting the inspiration for many of the characters and situations that found their way into her books (all of which were yet to be published at this time of her life). There is a clear Mr Collins, lines from her books, a situation reminiscent of Louisa Musgrove’s behaviour on the Cobb at Lyme and so on.
“And do these compliments spring from the moment?” I inquired. “Or are they the work of previous rehearsal?”Jane is working on more than one book during this novel, and we see her passing on the lessons she has learned to her characters Elinor, Marianne, Elizabeth and Jane. The melodrama of the situations she puts them in are more in the line of her juvenilia than the finished articles, but it’s worth bearing in mind that they were a decade off being fully polished.
The language usage in this book was pretty good on the whole, although there were some American and modern words that I noticed, but I am particularly distractable by such things so other readers might not notice them too much.
As I said above I usually find books about Austen’s life melancholy as we know they are heading toward spinsterhood and a premature death but this book is saved from that by the amount of humour in it. There were some real laugh out loud moments, and the end particularly is pretty funny, which is quite an achievement! The below quote is Jane’s plan to get her dear friend Martha (potentially the model for Charlotte in ‘Pride & Prejudice’) invited to live with the Austens if Martha’s mother should die:
‘I laid out my plan. Mama was already fond of Martha, and with just a little exertion, Martha could make herself even more agreeable. During her visits, she could offer cheerful assistance with chores. Humour Mama’s medical complaints. Make herself indispensible. When Cassie was called away to play nursemaid to our expectant sister-in-laws, Martha would be there to fill the void. I should do my own part by becoming more and more useless, so that Martha’s assistance would grow to be essential.’I’d certainly recommend this book to people who like books based on Jane Austen’s life. I felt it had a real flavour of the author’s wit and character, and managed not to be too sad a read. This is Carolyn V Murray’s debut book and I hope she writes more. I’d rate this as a 4 star read.
If my review has whetted your appetite to read this book, there is still time to enter the international giveaway for an ebook copy! Comment on the giveaway post to enter, and comment on this post for a bonus entry.