The Jane Austen Society

By Natalie Jenner

And the society itself sounded like a band of misfits with negligible expertise and no head for business: a country doctor, an old maid, a schoolmarm, a bachelor farmer, a fey auctioneer, a conflict-averse solicitor, a scullery maid, and one Hollywood movie star.

I really really like this one. I started it on Audible read by Richard Armitage and finished it on Kindle. As many have pointed out, it has a lot in common with a book that really spoke to me, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. England recovering from the devastation of WWII…an outsider welcomed into a small community of the like-minded… gentle romances…bookish conversations. It also reminded me of the work of the 20th-century English novelist, D. E. Stevenson. And this one has a Hollywood Movie Star and Jane Austen!

Winding through the story of the diverse group of society members are shades of some of the plots and characters from Jane Austen’s novels. Particularly PersuasionEmma, and a cad straight out of Sense and Sensibility. Or is it Mansfield Park? Or Pride and Prejudice? Or Northanger Abbey?)
The novel is character-driven, but the characters would probably not be all that interesting to many people. But I felt like I was drawn in and a part of their small world. I cared about them and their sufferings, secrets, and fates. I was invested in their mission to save Jane Austen’s house and the library, which was full of secret priceless treasures revealed thanks to a scholarly teenage housemaid. I was anxious and concerned because their chances of success looked pretty slim at times. Then we are given hope in a surprise twist I did not see coming.

Like many, I struggled to understand “the vote” of the society regarding how to advise one of their members. But I think it had something to do with this perspective from Mimi, the Hollywood star.

“…we are lucky if we get to live in places where so many people care—the trick is understanding why they care. Here, what I love, is that you care because you have a history together. You have known each other’s parents and grandparents…In Hollywood, it’s quite the opposite. Everyone comes there to start new and makes up a history—…Anyway, in a town where no one even knows your real name, let alone where you come from, what is tethering you to anything? What is there to keep you on the ground?

But I still didn’t like it, agree with it, or really fully understand it.

It won’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with Jane Austen that in this book, so closely aligned with that great author, it all works out in the end. And I will add that the epilogue was everything an epilogue should be. Even though this is a fictional treatment of a real Society, the Knight Family, their home, and Chawton, it was loosely tethered enough to reality that I learned a lot.
And I agree with Adeline about Emma.
**4 1/2 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

August 19, 2022

33 thoughts on “The Jane Austen Society

  1. In Lucy’s book there is this:

    Cassandra had been away from Steventon staying with cousins in Bath. Mr Austen had traveled to Andover to collect his daughter from the hands of her uncle and brought her home in a hired carriage. But then, when they were almost home, Mr Austen and Cassandra met upon the road Jane and Charles, the two little ones of the family, who had got as far as New Down to meet the chaise and have the pleasure of riding home in it. You must know, as Jane died so young, that this story of her life does not end happily. But do please fix in your mind this sunny scene, when she was six and a half, because in this beginning there is also much that prefigures our devastating end. Imagine Jane happy, if you will, life before her, running through the Hampshire fields on a summer’s evening, eager to see Cassandra once again and bring her home.

    I want to cry.

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    • I just thought I wanted to cry then! 😉

      35 short years later:

      ‘I have lost a treasure, such a Sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed,-She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, & it is as if I had lost a part of myself’

      And then the kicker:
      ‘I was able to close her eyes myself & it was a great gratification me to render her these last services.’

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  2. It just hit me hard the turn the story took beginning chapter 9. I wasn’t expecting that at all. I’m enjoying the book, I’m a third of the way through and I haven’t a clue where it’s going. Pretty cool idea letting the locale write half the book for her. But I’m mad at the author.

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    • Oh good…..all this stuff just came through. I’m blaming my worn out computer. Still can’t see what I’m typing but I can when it’s posted at least. What troubled me about the direction things took in Chapter 9 was how impossibly cruel that would have been for Samuel’s parents. My heart bled.The book was a treat because you had introduced me to everything else. Lucy Worsley’s book is a must, John Mullan’s book has some interesting stuff, especially the chapter “When Does Jane Austen Speak Directly, and I’m on the J. E, Austen-Leigh book now and it’s been a surprisingly wonderful picture of everyday life during Jane’s life. I’m loving it.I’m going to try and find something by Anna Lefroy that isn’t on Kindle and I’ve decided it’s not worth the effort to read Jane’s letters. If you have any suggestions please feel free.

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  3. I’m coming to the end of my wonderful discovery phase and I can’t thank you enough. When I watched that IQ2 debate it was purely for Emily Bronte’s contribution……and it was brilliant….But I wasn’t even going to watch Jane Austen’s part because Hugh Grant spoke for me in The Rewrite. But John Mullan was so compelling and the part from Emma so funny and then I got remarkably lucky and discovered your stuff and I got schooled. 🙂 I feel so sad about her and I can’t help it so if you don’t mind this is what I’m going to take with me.

    Imagine Jane happy, if you will, life before her, running through the Hampshire fields on a summer’s evening, eager to see Cassandra once again and bring her home.

    Liked by 1 person

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