Sunday, January 23, 2011
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James
When Jane Austen's father dies, Jane, her sister Cassandra, and their mother are left homeless and nearly penniless. Although Jane's brothers pitch in to offer financial support, Jane still lacks privacy and a settled place in which to live and write. She has long since given up her dream of becoming a published author.
On a fateful trip to Lyme, Jane meets the well-read and charming Mr. Ashford, a man who is her equal in intellect and temperament. The two fall deeply in love. Inspired by the people and places around her, and encouraged by Mr. Ashford's faith in her, Jane begins revising Sense and Sensibility, a book she began years earlier, hoping to be published at last.
I've been on a little Regency kick lately, and on a whim I went to the bookstore and picked this up. Anyone who is a fan of Jane Austen has wondered how (or why) the author who wrote love stories that have touched so many people never appeared to have a love story of her own (Austen never married).
This book is written as if a lost memoir of Austen's has been recently discovered, and an editor's note in the beginning of the book is told from the supposed President of the Jane Austen Literary Society, Mary I. Jesse (actually an anagram of the author's name), who has been asked to authenticate the memoir.
Although the memoir is actually fictional, the author tries to stay in keeping with Jane Austen's real life-- including the type of person she was, the places she lived, and the people who surrounded her.
It's quite a feat to write a romance novel about a woman who is known to have died unmarried and alone. How do you write an ending to the novel that both stays in keeping with her real life and yet satisfies the romantic-type person who would be interested in a story about Jane Austen?
It says something about the book that I kept reading even though I knew the romance couldn't end well. I thought Syrie James did a wonderful job in capturing Austen's voice. There was nothing in the story that seemed out of character for either Jane Austen or for that time period (one of my biggest pet peeves is reading a Regency book where the characters have modern day sensibilities).
The love story is sweet and sincere, and the closer I got to the end the more I began to dread how it would unravel. However, I felt James presented a satisfying (though sad) ending. It seemed plausible to me that if Jane Austen really had been involved in a romance in her life, it could have been very much like this book described.
One of the things I really enjoyed in the book is the way Syrie James references so many of Jane Austen's stories. Anyone who is familiar with them will see characters and situations in this story that mirror Austen's novels- particularly Sense and Sensibility.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Jane Austen and Regency romance.