But she was never quick enough to say the things that were in her heart at the most important moments. Instead she waited until minutes or even days later, when the moment was past and there was no longer anyone there to hear them.
“Then, when it is far too late,” she confided to her reflection in the mirror, “but loathe to waste my sage replies and witty repartee, I transfer them to the mouths of my always-brilliant Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters.”
(from The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, page 251)
The Man Who Loved Jane Austen is a very different Pride and Prejudice retelling, one that centers on 200-year-old letters between Jane Austen and Fitzwilliam Darcy, which are found in an antique vanity table purchased by New York artist Eliza Knight. Eliza’s quest to determine whether the Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice was based on someone Austen knew in real life leads her to Fitzwilliam Darcy of Virginia, a horse breeder who owns the grand Pemberley Farms.
Eliza makes the trip to discuss the letters, in which Fitz is extremely interested. She arrives just before the annual Rose Ball, and he convinces her to stay so he can explain why he wants to buy the letters. If only Faith Harrington, the temperamental socialite intent on marrying Fitz (think Caroline Bingley, only worse) would leave them alone long enough for Fitz to explain his obsession with Jane Austen…but would Eliza believe him anyway?
Sally Smith O’Rourke has created a delightful tale of a woman who has never taken a chance on love and a man who nearly lost everything for just a taste of it, who are brought together by a writer whose romantic tales have been cherished by readers for 200 years but who may never have had a love story of her own. In The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, O’Rourke transports readers to Chawton Cottage in 1810 when Austen was editing First Impressions, the novel that would become Pride and Prejudice. O’Rourke imagines Jane as an intelligent, observant, witty, and curious young woman who is very much attached to her family but is a hopeless romantic. She is willing to risk a great deal for a kiss in the moonlight, a chance to know how it feels to love and be loved, even if it breaks her heart.
I decided to re-read The Man Who Loved Jane Austen (first read in my pre-blogging days) to refresh my memory before reading the newly published sequel, Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen, and I’m glad I did because I think I liked it even more the second time around. I didn’t completely buy Eliza as a sort of modern day Elizabeth Bennet, mainly because she was willing to settle for a boring relationship with a boring investment manager (and we know from Elizabeth turning down two marriage proposals that she doesn’t settle!) and she lacked Elizabeth’s wit. However, Fitz reminded me of Austen’s Darcy, quiet and arrogant until you chip away at his hard shell and uncover the good man hiding beneath. While I don’t know all that much about Jane Austen’s life (and O’Rourke admits to taking liberties when it comes to the biographical details), I liked how she was portrayed as being very similar to Elizabeth Bennet in personality. It’s easy to think of Austen merely as a spinster who died young and somehow managed to write some great love stories, but she was so much more than that. And who doesn’t want to believe that Jane had a love story?
The Man Who Loved Jane Austen is unique in simultaneously juggling past and present retellings of Pride and Prejudice and imagining the inspiration for Austen’s beloved novel. There’s a bit of a mystery amidst all the romance, and it’s even a bit predictable, but that was easy for me to overlook because I just got swept up in the magic of the story. It’s a lighthearted novel that, at its core, is about the power of love to change people.
Disclosure: I borrowed The Man Who Loved Jane Austen from my local library.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.