The title of this book is sufficient to hook any Jane Austen fanatic, and I was no exception.I was in such a haste to uncover the story, that I didn’t even consider the obvious truth, that this was fiction.
The author, Syrie James, tells us in the prologue of this book,
“Chawton Manor House—one of the many homes owned by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight (who was adopted by his father’s cousins, and inherited many valuable properties)—has been in the Knight family since the late sixteenth century. Jane Austen lived for many years in a cottage in the village nearby and was a frequent visitor.A workman recently employed to repair the roof of the manor house, in an attempt to trap an errant family of mice, discovered an old seaman’s chest bricked up behind a wall in a far corner of the immense, rambling attic. The chest, to the befuddlement of the entire work crew, was filled with what appeared to be old manuscripts. Incongruously, at the bottom of the chest, in a tiny velvet box, lay a delicate gold-and-ruby ring.
The chest, which is the type a seaman might have used to store his gear during the Napoleonic wars, may have belonged to one of Jane Austen’s other brothers, Frank or Charles, both of whom were in the Royal Navy. To the astonishment and exhilaration of the scholars who were first privileged to review its contents (myself included), the numerous documents stored inside appear to have been written during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and have been formally authenticated as being the work of Jane Austen herself.”
and goes on to reason why and how Jane Austen may have set about writing these memoirs, in those last illness-filled days of hers.
The book follows Jane’s journey through life, her relationship with her family, especially her sister Cassandra, and the person who was the true love of her life.Yes, you heard that right. Jane says,
“People may read what I have written, and wonder: how could this spinster, this woman who, to all appearances, never even courted—who never felt that wondrous connection of mind and spirit between a man and woman, which, inspired by friendship and affection, blooms into something deeper—how could she have had the temerity to write about the revered institutions of love and courtship, having never experienced them herself?
To those few friends and relations who, upon learning of my authorship, have dared to pose a similar question (although, I must admit, in a rather more genteel turn of phrase), I have given the self-same reply: “Is it not conceivable that an active mind and an observant eye and ear, combined with a vivid imagination, might produce a literary work of some merit and amusement, which may, in turn, evoke sentiments and feelings which resemble life itself?”
There is much truth in this observation.
But there are many levels of veracity, are there not, between that truth which we reveal publicly and that which we silently acknowledge, in the privacy of our own thoughts, and perhaps to one or two of our most intimate acquaintances?”
Can you see now, why I was deluded into believing it was Jane who was speaking to me through this book? The style, the narrative(in first person), the humour , are all those which we have seen throughout her other books! Though it does get tedious at times, when we realise that almost all those situations which occur in her books are those Jane found herself in, her love story is different enough to make the book a good novel in its own right.
I definitely recommend this book to all those who love Jane Austen’s works, and who wish they knew more about her. Yes, this book is a work of fiction, but as Syrie James says, through Jane Austen’s nephew James-Edward,“Do you mean to say, that if I believe in your story as you have told it, then it is as good as if it were true?” , I prefer to believe that Jane may truly have lived such a life, and known true love.
I will not disclose any other details about the book, for any summary seems too dry to me, and if I continue including excerpts of the book, I shall soon have copied the whole book onto this post. 🙂 Enjoy reading, and tell me your views!