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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Review: Miss Austen

Title: Miss Austen
Author: Gill Hornby
Publisher: 23rd January 2020 by Random House UK, Cornerstone
Pages: 288 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 3 crowns


A wonderfully original, emotionally complex novel that delves into why Cassandra burned a treasure trove of letters written by her sister, Jane Austen – an act of destruction that has troubled academics for centuries.
1840: twenty three years after the death of her famous sister Jane, Cassandra Austen returns to the village of Kintbury, and the home of her family’s friends, the Fowles.
She knows that, in some dusty corner of the sprawling vicarage, there is a cache of family letters which hold secrets she is desperate should not be revealed.
As Cassandra recalls her youth and her relationship with her brilliant yet complex sister, she pieces together buried truths about Jane’s history, and her own. And she faces a stark choice: should she act to protect Jane’s reputation? Or leave the contents of the letters to go unguarded into posterity …
Based on a literary mystery that has long puzzled biographers and academics, Miss Austen is a wonderfully original and emotionally complex novel about the loves and lives of Cassandra and Jane Austen.
My Thoughts

‘Her purpose in coming to Kintbury had been to remove all that might reflect badly upon Jane or the legacy: that was the brief she had given herself.’

I love all things Austen. So it was with great interest that a story has been written about her sister, Cassandra. With the spotlight always on the talented Jane, it was refreshing to come across a tale from a differing perspective. There was always much controversy as to why Cassandra in her later years, destroyed all letters and correspondence concerning her famous sister. So here the author, Gill Hornby, has imagined how and why Cassandra undertook such a task. 

The novel alternates between the time Cassandra was actually collecting the letters, and with them in her hands to read and reflect, to another time, back on the actual events that gave rise to them. All these snippets of information that have been lost to history, are now imagined (by the author) through both the reasoning of Cassandra and musings on the actual events that saw them come to pass. 

I found the time period of Cassandra retrieving and destroying the letters are struggle. Not a lot goes on. She is determined to protect everything concerning her sister and there is a small side story to accompany that. Even the flashbacks to the imagined conversations of when Jane was alive - although seemingly commendable in capturing the voice of the time - still lacks that full engagement. This is not a complex tale at all. It meanders gently through the years, with often sad outcomes for the reasoning behind well known events. 

If you are looking for something new and riveting, then this is not the book for you. What you do read is the story of a sister and her family, the struggles and personal (possible) reasoning behind this most famous family’s correspondence. Jane Austen devotees are sure to appreciate this new interpretation. Personally, I struggled with the slowness. Initially intrigued as to why Cassandra would deny the world a window into Jane’s thinking, I felt this promising premise fell short. 

What I do feel warrants a mention is the definite social commentary on the plight of unmarried women and being a spinster in this time. The author has completed valid research and it really is rather sad how women struggled when not, through choice or otherwise, in a position to be married.

‘... thinking that this was the thing by which she would be defined from here on. She would have no other opportunity. Her future was to be denied her. She would have no marriage to succeed in, no vicarage to run, no children to raise. This was to be the test of Miss–forever, eternally Miss–Cassandra Austen.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.


Mystica said...

I've requested for this from Netgalley but unfortunately its a wish for book. Unlikely I'll get but I live in hope!

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