“I am a different person now.”
“Different? How so?”
“I decided this last week,” Jane said matter-of-factly. “I am planning to begin a new chapter in my life.”
“Is this like one of your little books?”
“My books are anything but little, Cassandra.”
(from A Jane Austen Daydream)
In A Jane Austen Daydream, Scott D. Southard says from the start, “This book is a work of fiction, only marginally influenced by the facts.” From there, he takes readers on a journey with Jane Austen from her home in Steventon to her brother’s home at Godmersham Park and even to Bath and Chawton, from her early 20s through the publication of Sense and Sensibility. Readers familiar with the known details of Austen’s life will notice that he plays with the timeline of her life, making her brother Charles younger than he should be, for instance, but his portrayal of Austen’s wit and sharp tongue provides much humor and makes it easy to just go with the flow.
Austen never married, but since she wrote much about love and had a keen understanding of romantic relationships and human nature, it’s not surprising that people want to believe she had a great love story of her own. Generally the novels that create such a love story focus on one romance, but Southard imagines several relationships for Jane, including a youthful flirtation full of misunderstanding with Tom LeFroy and an attraction with a mysterious American with whom she crosses paths in Bath.
Southard also references Austen’s novels, and readers can imagine Jane tucking the things people say into her memory for later use in a novel and picture her at her writing desk remembering the ridiculous people she met over the years and turning them into Lady Catherine de Bourgh or Mr. Collins. Southard also imagines the events that would inspire the two insulting proposals Elizabeth Bennet receives in Pride and Prejudice, and it was fun to find these things within the story.
A Jane Austen Daydream shows how a palm-reading by a gypsy put Jane on the lookout for love and how each of the men she meets along the way changed her views about love and marriage, her writing and her future. Southard also focuses on Jane’s close relationship with her sister, Cassandra, how deeply Cassandra was affected by her fiancé’s death, and the burden women placed on their families by remaining unmarried. Jane’s strained relationships with her parents, her brothers, and even their wives also play a role in the story, making it more exciting and dramatic, whether true or not.
The novel is creative in its blending of the facts with fiction, but the only thing I didn’t like was (spoiler alert, highlight the rest of the sentence to reveal) how the author inserted himself into the story. Despite that minor quibble, I found myself lost in the novel, enjoying the Jane he brings to life on the page and the nod he gives to her immortality, as she lives on forever in the novels she wrote and the movies and novels they have, in turn, inspired.
Disclosure: I received A Jane Austen Daydream from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.