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jane austen's first love

Source: Review copy from Berkley
Rating: ★★★★★

“I take it, Mr. Payler, that you have never read a novel?”

“Never.  It is said that they are designed to entertain the weak of mind.”

“Sir,” said I with animation, “that could not be further from the truth.  Some novels might be poorly written, but in the main, I believe the opposite to be the case.  A good novel — a well-written novel — not only entertains the readers with effusions of wit and humour, it touches the emotions and conveys a comprehensive understanding of human nature — all via the simple and remarkable act of transmitting words on a page — while at the same time displaying, in the best-chosen language, the greatest powers of the human mind.”

(from Jane Austen’s First Love, pages 81-82)

The inspiration for Syrie James’ latest novel, Jane Austen’s First Love, was a single line Jane wrote in a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1796: “We went by Bifrons and I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.”  The resulting novel is a beautifully written tale of 15-year-old Jane Austen falling in love for the first time in the summer of 1791 on a trip to Kent to celebrate her brother Edward’s engagement to Elizabeth Bridges.  Despite knowing deep down that a match between herself and Edward Taylor, the heir to Bifrons — who has led a fascinating life on the Continent and even dined and danced with princesses — will never be, his intelligence, knowledge of the world, humor, and admiration of her impertinence make it impossible for her to resist him.

In this delightful novel, told from the first person viewpoint of Jane herself, James portrays Jane as a girl quick to fall in love, open with her opinions, and astute in her observations of human character and behavior.  Early on, Jane says to her mother, “I write because I cannot help it,” and I loved picturing her sneaking in a few moments to write while her mother insists that needlework is more important.

What I loved most about Jane Austen’s First Love were the references to her novels, from misguided matchmaking attempts reminiscent of Emma Woodhouse and the similarities between Jane’s relationship with Cassandra and the bond between Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, to Jane’s insistence that love could overpower society’s expectations for marriage.  Jane’s observations of the people she met certainly inspired the various characters she wrote, and James gives readers a glimpse of how that might have happened, and in her skilled hands, Jane’s family, friends, and acquaintances come to life on the page.  James even includes an afterword where she explains her inspiration for the book, details the research she conducted, and points out which aspects of the story are imagined.

Jane Austen’s First Love is a satisfying novel that gives Jane the love story that many of us imagine she had.  But more than that, it’s a portrait of a young woman who was ahead of her time in many ways, whose brilliantly composed stories and characters have stood the test of time.  James shows Jane Austen as a normal teenager, with a desire to act older than her age, an impulsiveness that prompts her to make poor decisions, and a romantic nature that ensured she truly felt the things she wrote about.  The few letters that survived provide the only glimpse we’ll ever really have of the real Jane, but James does such a fantastic job creating a believable inner narrative, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t actually inside Jane’s head reading her thoughts.  Jane Austen’s First Love is another book likely to turn up on my Best of 2014 list!

JA tour

historical fiction challenge

Book 18 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Jane Austen’s First Love from Berkley for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Syrie JamesAuthorPhoto2011 - Credit William JamesI adored Syrie James’ latest novel, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen (my review), about a young woman who stumbles upon a 200-year-old, unfinished letter written by Jane Austen to her sister that alludes to a manuscript lost during a stay at an English estate.  If written by Austen, the manuscript would be worth some serious cash, and Samantha and the estate’s handsome owner, Anthony, butt heads over what to do with it.  Of course, they can’t resist reading it first, and the manuscript itself was my favorite part of the book.

I’m thrilled to have Syrie James as a guest today on Diary of an Eccentric, and she’s here to discuss how family and friendship played important roles in the life of Jane Austen. Please give her a warm welcome, and stay tuned to see how you can get your hands on a copy of the book!

Family was the center of Jane Austen’s universe, and her dearest friends were like family to her. Jane’s closest friend and confidant was her sister Cassandra. They were incredibly close, shared a bedroom all their life, and shared all the details (as they called them, the “important nothings”) of their lives. When Jane died, Cassandra wrote: “…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, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”

the missing manuscript of jane austenJane Austen had only a handful of close friends, and she didn’t desire any more than that. She preferred leading a quiet life with the people she was closest to: her large family, who she adored, and friends like Martha Lloyd. Even though Martha was a decade older, she and Jane became friends from the day Martha moved into the neighborhood when Jane was thirteen years old. As Jane grew up, she and Martha enjoyed taking long walks and used to lie in bed talking together until two in the morning after a ball. Years later, when Martha’s mother passed away and she had no one to live with, she moved in permanently with Jane and her mother and sister: a dear friend who literally became a member of the family.

Jane was also close with the Bigg Sisters (who lived in the neighborhood where she grew up) and with Anne Sharp (the governess for her brother Edward’s large brood of children). These friendships lasted all of her life. When she was older, before a carriage ride with acquaintances, Jane wrote in a letter to her niece, Fanny Knight, “tho’ I like Miss H. M. as much as one can at my time of Life after a day’s acquaintance, it is uphill work to be talking to those whom one knows so little.”

If Jane were alive today, I doubt she would be overly impressed or affected by her worldwide fame. I think she would advise us that nothing is more important than our family and close friends, and we should cherish and value them and their company above all else.

Syrie James is the bestselling author of eight critically acclaimed novels, including The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, Dracula My Love, Nocturne, Forbidden, and The Harrison Duet: Songbird and Propositions. Her books have been translated into eighteen foreign languages. In addition to her work as a novelist, she is a screenwriter, a member of the Writers Guild of America, and a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She lives with her family in Los Angeles, California. Connect with her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

**The giveaway is now closed and the entry form has been deleted.**

Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the missing manuscript of jane austen

Source: Review copy from Berkley
Rating: ★★★★★

The book felt wonderful in my hands.  I held it up to my nose and drank in its aroma.  “I think I’m addicted to the smell of books.  It’s as comforting to me as Christmas.”

(from The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, page 39)

While on a trip to England with her boyfriend, Samantha McDonough buys a poetry book at a used bookstore in Oxford unaware that it will take her on a life-changing journey and give her the opportunity to live out the dream of many Jane Austen fans.  Although forced to abandon the PhD program at Oxford four years before to care for her ailing mother, forcing her to give up on her dream of becoming a college English professor, Samantha understands the importance of the unfinished letter she finds in the back of the book.  She is certain that the letter was written over 200 hundred years ago by Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, and it makes mention of a manuscript she lost while on vacation at the Greenbriar estate.

Most Austen fans lament the fact that she only wrote six novels during her short life, so the chance that there might be a seventh novel out there somewhere is something Samantha can’t ignore.  She travels to the now run-down Greenbriar and convinces its new owner, the handsome (and British!) Anthony Whitaker to search for the missing manuscript.  It’s not long before the precious pages are in their hands, and as they delve into the story, they form a bond that will be tested by the decision Anthony must make:  sell the manuscript for several million dollars at auction or sell it for a lesser amount to a museum or university, the latter of which ensures that Austen fans across the globe will have a chance to read the precious manuscript.

In The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, Syrie James succeeds in writing a book-within-a-book that is delightful and captivating from the very first page.  I could feel Samantha’s excitement upon discovering the letter and the manuscript, and having once dreamed of being a college English professor myself, I could understand her regret at not finishing her degree.  I could understand Anthony’s desire to live out his dream and how selling the manuscript could make that possible, and I could understand how Samantha could be tempted by a sexy British man willing to spend hours with her reading aloud the works of Jane Austen.  And their discussions about reading, rare books, and of course, Jane Austen were right up my alley.

Even better than the story in the present day was the fictional seventh Austen novel, The Stanhopes, and readers get to enjoy it with Samantha and Anthony.  I absolutely adored this book within the book, the tale of Rebecca Stanhope, whose world is turned upside down when her beloved father is forced to retire as rector when his reputation is ruined, leaving them homeless and penniless and forced to rely on the kindness of relatives.  Rebecca clashes with the young man who takes her father’s place as rector, befriends a silly young woman, catches the eye of a dashing doctor, and stands by her father through the worst of times.

James does a brilliant job with the missing manuscript, so much so that I had to remind myself that it wasn’t really Austen.  It sounded much like Austen’s earlier writings, her juvenilia, and it was fun to pick out characters who were (for the sake of the book) precursors to those in her published novels.  Rebecca was as feisty as Elizabeth Bennet, as devoted to her father as Emma Woodhouse, and as good a person as Fanny Price or Anne Elliot.  I loved this part of the book, and when it shifted back to Samantha and Anthony, I honestly couldn’t wait to get back to the Stanhopes and their tale of woe.

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, based on Austen’s “Plan of a Novel,” is a must read for Austen fans, providing a few hours in which to dream about what it might be like to have a new Austen novel to read.  James also gets you thinking about the importance of reading and sharing literature, the lessons learned from reading Austen’s novels, and whether your life is fulfilling or whether you need to find your bliss.  A great start to my 2013 reading!

Disclosure: I received The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen from Berkley for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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