Miss Austen by Gill Hornby is a brilliant original novel that explores the reasons why letters written by Jane were burned by her sister, Cassandra. This act of seemingly wilful obliteration has troubled academics for centuries.
Jane Austen (b: 16 December 1775, Steventon, England, d: July 1817, Winchester, England) wrote six full-length novels. Two of these were published after her death.
Jane’s letters to Eliza are entirely imagined by the author although the poetry is by James Austen, who succeeded his father as Rector of Steventon
In 1840, twenty-three years after the death of her sister, Cassandra returns to the village of Kintbury to visit Isabella, daughter of Fulwar Craven Fowle, who has just died. Isabella’s mother, Eliza was a friend of Jane’s and they corresponded regularly until Jane’s death.
Cassandra is on a mission to find those letters, convinced that they hold secrets that must remain undisclosed. She is constantly thwarted by Isabella’s disrespectful maid, Dinah, however, who is suspicious of her snooping. But, time is running out as Isabella is packing up to leave. The new Vicar is keen to take up residence and his living.
As Cassandra relives her conversations with Jane and their close sisterhood, she recalls the events that took place. There was the family’s move to Bath when their father retired. Oh, how much they missed the countryside! Jane’s depression at their reduced circumstances after their father’s death troubled Cassandra, as did the tragic loss of Edward’s wife Elizabeth. And then, finally, Jane’s illness.
Will Cassandra find what she seeks and will she be able to destroy those intimate reminders of her sister’s life?
Whether you are an avid fan of Jane Austen or have never read any of her books I can guarantee that you’ll love this book. It touches on so many aspects of the lives of women of that time.
If rich, they had servants, attended dinners, balls, and all manner of social events. When not being ‘seen’ by the best of society, they were bearing children, and hopefully boys to carry on the line. If poor, they were maidservants, cooks, fieldworkers, drudges eking out a living as best they could and also producing many children. Rich or poor, however, they needed a husband to survive. Pity the widow or the elderly spinster with no means of support! Men of those times thought of their women only as mindless child bearers, inferior and ignorant.
Jane Austen portrayed the people she knew with great intelligence and wit. It is to be hoped that she made some of her readers laugh at themselves.
In modern times she has become an icon, one who chose her writing above all else and thumbed her nose at all of those who derided her brilliance.
Miss Austen is available in paperback, hardback and e-book
About Gill Hornby
Gill Hornby is the author of the novels 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.