Trade paperback, 269 pages
Reviewed by Sandra
Who can resist a story about “dear Miss Austen?” This novel is a tender and poignant account of the friendship between the beloved sisters, Cassandra and Jane Austen, as seen through the eyes of Cassandra, Jane’s older sister. And despite a plethora of books about Jane, this novel offers new insight into her character.
The author offers answers to some of the questions that have plagued Jane-o-philes, such as:
Was Jane a difficult character? Was she ever in love? Why did she accept a marriage proposal and then reject it? Why did Cassandra destroy some of Jane’s letters? Why was Jane silent, writing nothing, for ten years?
Jane was not always amiable to her family and friends. No doubt part of the reason was due to her reduced circumstances in life. How frustrating and demeaning for a woman to have no money of her own (even for the smallest items), to always be dependent on father or brothers and to never have, as an unmarried woman, any real status in society of the time? The author records Jane’s feelings on these matters through “imaginary conversations” between Cassandra and Jane.
Cassandra and Jane each suffer through painful romantic loss while the other looks on and tries to console. Upon the death of her fiancé Cassandra reconciles herself to a life of remaining at home with her family and being of service to others. It takes Jane longer to come to grips with lost love (Mr. Atkins?) and her place in the world. Time passes with Jane reworking her novels in the hope of publication. Jane “bounces off” mild-mannered Cassandra her wry, forthright viewpoints. Cassandra and Jane spend many evenings reading Jane’s novels together. Cassandra is proud and happy that Jane shares these “children” with her before the rest of the family.
Time passes and Mr. Austen, the patriarch of the family, dies. One of the married sons and his family take over the parsonage. Mrs. Austen, Cassandra and Jane are forced to leave the family home. They begin to wander from rented home to rented home, essentially as nomads, for about ten years. Concurrent with that wandering is Jane’s barren literary period. The author suggests that Jane experienced deep depression at that time. Who wouldn’t? A well-to-do sibling finally offers them a permanent home. Jane is thrilled with their new residence. It is at Chawton that she regains her “voice” and resumes writing. Jane begins to enjoy life once more and rejoices in the sale of some of her manuscripts enabling her to buy a few simply luxuries. Unfortunately for her and for us that period didn’t last long as she succumbed to a mortal illness. Even so, in her short 41 years of life, Jane produced six incredible novels that are more popular and more widely read now than they were in the day.
I wept at the sadness that engulfed Cassandra when she realized that her dear sister was dying. And cried even more in her reminiscences of life with and then without Jane. Cassandra died some 27 years after Jane. Though Cassandra burnt most of Jane’s letters, enough information survives for the reader to have a glimpse into the tight bond of friendship between the two sisters. As Cassandra said after Jane’s passing, she was “the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, soother of every sorrow; it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”
This is a beautiful, well-developed story about true friendship, family dynamics, and women who succeed in making the best of their circumstances. I highly recommend it.
Disclaimer: I bought this book and was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.