Jane Austen's sister, Cassandra, tells her story in this beautifully done historical novel.
It's 1840 and Cassandra Austen, sister to the famous Jane, has come to the village of Kintbury on a solemn mission. Her sister's letters, containing much that is private and should remain so, are hidden somewhere in the vicarage. Cassandra has a plan to destroy any “dangerous” correspondence that compromises the reputation of her dear, long departed sister. Many of the letters are to Eliza Fowle, a close friend of Jane's. As Cassandra reads the letters, a whole world comes rushing back, of former loves and personal tragedies, and memories of Jane.
Gill Hornby's Miss Austen (the title refers to Cassandra, not Jane) is a great triumph, painting a vivid portrait of the lives and precarious fortunes of women during the early 19th century. The novel jumps back and forth between 1840 and the period 1795-1817, Jane's great period of literary activity. The core of Miss Austen concentrates on Cassandra's emotional life, her loves, personal losses and troubled pursuit of happiness. Insightful and emotionally satisfying, Gill Hornby's book works brilliantly as a page-turning novel and an eye-opener onto the Regency period, especially its treatment of women.
Miss Austen, by Gill Hornby. Random House. $32.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books