Friday 28 October 2022

Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby - Review

Blog tour promo graphic: Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby. Cover shows a young lady in dark period clothes in the foreground, while young ladies in lighter colours are in the background outside.
Today the blog tour for Gill Hornby’s Godmersham Park stops by at Babblings of a Bookworm. Godmersham Park is where Austen’s well-off brother Edward lived, and this book is a fictionalised account of the time that real-life governess Anne Sharp spent there. Read on to find out more about the book, and what I thought of it. 

Book cover: Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby. Cover shows a young lady in dark period clothes in the foreground, while young ladies in lighter colours are in the background outside.
Book Description

A richly imagined novel inspired by the true story of Anne Sharp, a governess who became very close with Jane Austen and her family by the #1 International bestselling-author of Miss Austen.

On January 21, 1804, Anne Sharp arrives at Godmersham Park in Kent to take up the position of governess. At thirty-one years old, she has no previous experience of either teaching or fine country houses. Her mother has died, and she has nowhere else to go. Anne is left with no choice. For her new charge—twelve-year-old Fanny Austen—Anne's arrival is all novelty and excitement.

The governess role is a uniquely awkward one. Anne is neither one of the servants, nor one of the family, and to balance a position between the "upstairs" and "downstairs" members of the household is a diplomatic chess game. One wrong move may result in instant dismissal. Anne knows that she must never let down her guard.

When Mr. Edward Austen's family comes to stay, Anne forms an immediate attachment to Jane. They write plays together and enjoy long discussions. However, in the process, Anne reveals herself as not merely pretty, charming, and competent; she is clever too. Even her sleepy, complacent, mistress can hardly fail to notice.

Meanwhile Jane's brother, Henry, begins to take an unusually strong interest in the lovely young governess. And from now on, Anne's days at Godmersham Park are numbered.

Book cover: Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby. Cover shows a young lady in dark period clothes in the foreground, while young ladies in lighter colours are in the background outside.
My Review of Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby

I loved Miss Austen, a book about Cassandra Austen by Gill Hornby (you can read my review of Miss Austen here), and so was really pleased to see that she had written another book in which known facts are weaved into a story of what may have happened. This time, the main character is Anne Sharp, the real-life governess of Fanny Austen, eldest daughter of Edward Austen, who you may know, was the well-off brother in the Austen family, having been adopted by rich relatives. Edward’s family home was Godmersham Park in Kent. I am not sure I had heard of Anne Sharp prior to this so was interested to learn more.

The author paints a picture of a young woman who had fallen on hard times, which is probably not unusual for a governess, as they would have needed the money for a good education, but now be in a position where they are forced to earn their own money. I felt really sorry for the situation poor Anne found herself in which led to her becoming a governess. The reasons are left quite mysterious, and this is something that unfolds as the story progresses.

We see Anne move to Godmersham Park, try to repress her personality, wants and needs, and fit into an odd place within the household – below the family but above the servants, and therefore resented by them. I felt for Anne, as if you hadn’t been brought up expecting to have to serve it would be a huge change in outlook, and a necessary one, as she is shown as a person reliant upon the goodwill of her employers and therefore constantly walking a tightrope, trying to keep them happy.

One theme which crops up a few times is the differences in opportunity and agency that women and men would have found in the world back then. If you were a sufferer under this system of society it must have been hard to swallow, having to be reliant on your husband / father / male relatives in a way that men were not. They could make more of their own opportunities.

There is a quite a bit of possible romance in the book which personally I could have done without, as these were characters based on real people and as the relationships were ill-advised, I felt they shouldn’t have been included unless they actually were documented to have existed and I am not sure whether this is the case.

As somebody connected with Jane Austen I was expecting to see her appear as a character, and she did, although it was quite late on in the story. The relationship between them seemed to crop up very quickly and inspire a huge amount of passionate devotion on Anne’s part almost immediately, which I am not sure I really bought. However, upon reading the end of the book where some of the known facts of Anne’s life were set out, and doing some more additional reading myself I would say that their friendship must have developed quickly, during one of Jane’s visits to Godmersham. They corresponded for the rest of Jane’s life and were such friends that Anne Sharp was the recipient of one of 12 author presentation copies of Emma upon its publication.

There was some brutal medical treatment detailed, which I was sorry to learn afterwards was based in truth, as noted in Fanny Austen’s diaries, which she kept for the majority of her life and is depicted as starting in the story.

I thought that this was an interesting look at what life could have been like for Anne Sharp. I really appreciated the section of the book at the end which clarifies some of the things which are facts, and which were fiction. I was pleased to become acquainted with a person who was known to be a friend of Austen’s and one who was trusted with the secret of Austen being a writer. I’d rate this as a 4 star read.

4 star read

Author Gill Hornby
Author Bio 

Gill Hornby is the author of the novels Miss Austen, The Hive, and All Together Now, as well as The Story of Jane Austen, a biography of Austen for young readers. She lives in Kintbury, England, with her husband and their four children.

Book cover: Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby. Cover shows a young lady in dark period clothes in the foreground, while young ladies in lighter colours are in the background outside.
Buy Links

Godmersham Park is available to buy now in Hardback, Paperback, Kindle and audio.


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  1. Very insightful as usual, Ceri! I enjoyed this peek into the Edward Austen household, too.

  2. I first read of Anne Sharp in a non-fiction title called A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney. The friendship she had with Jane was fascinating, and some of the things you mentioned were discussed in that section of the book I read.

    1. I hadn't heard of that book Jen, I must check it out.


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