As a Jane Austen fan, this was a must read for me. While it is a fictionalized account of Cassandra Austen’s life, it was one that I was eager to read and enjoy.
This book came in at just under 300 pages (about 290) and to be honest, I was worried that because of the length, it would only scratch the surface of Cassandra’s story.
But I have never been more pleased to be wrong in my assumption! This book packed an emotional punch that I wasn’t expecting but it worked so well and I happily passed a few quarantined days reading this book!
Whoever looked at an elderly lady and saw the young heroine she once was?
England, 1840. For the two decades following the death of her beloved sister, Jane, Cassandra Austen has lived alone and unwed, spending her days visiting friends and relations and quietly, purposefully working to preserve her sister’s reputation. Now in her ’60s and increasingly frail, Cassandra goes to stay with the Fowles of Kintbury, family of her long-dead fiancé, in search of a trove of Jane’s letters. Dodging her hostess and a meddlesome housemaid, Cassandra eventually hunts down the letters and confronts the secrets they hold, secrets not only about Jane but about Cassandra herself. Will Cassandra bare the most private details of her life to the world, or commit her sister’s legacy to the flames?
Moving back and forth between the vicarage and Cassandra’s vibrant memories of her years with Jane, interwoven with Jane’s brilliantly reimagined lost letters, ‘Miss Austen’ is the untold story of the most important person in Jane’s life. With extraordinary empathy, emotional complexity, and wit, Gill Hornby finally gives Cassandra her due, bringing to life a woman as captivating as any Austen heroine. (summary from Goodreads)
I loved that this book explored the ‘what if’ aspect of the missing Jane Austen letters. I thought it made sense and felt true to the period and to Austen herself. Jane Austen is such a classic author with so many beloved books that it’s easy to romanticize not only herself but her life and books/characters. What I loved about this book was it made the reader look at Jane’s life from the perspective of her sister, who is often referred to as Jane’s censor.
From Cassandra’s perspective we get a look into the lives of unmarried women during this time and not just the idyllic views we traditionally see in many fictional novels of this time period. I thought it was a very interesting study and I loved that the author really brought this pierce of silent history to light. In this book, Cassandra is definitely portrayed as the thoughtful sister to Jane and while I have mostly studies Jane’s novels rather than her personal life, I found that their relationship portrayed in this book was genuine and believable.
One of my favorite parts of the book was getting to see the wold be villain Mary Austen. As I mentioned before, I haven’t gone down the worm hole of Austen history yet….I have only just stayed within the literary context. Debating about who inspired Jane’s characters or stories just never really appealed to me so I stayed away from it, but I do know that her sister in law Mary Austen was often thought to be the inspiration for Mary Bennett and I loved having a chance to explore Mary Austen’s character in this book that is independent from the traditional Austen cannon.
I think my only regret in this book was that it wasn’t a little longer. Don’t get me wrong, as I mentioned earlier the book is very satisfying on its own but I wanted to linger in the world that the author has created. In short I was not ready to say goodbye so soon, but ultimately all the loose ends and such were wrapped up nicely in the 280 ish pages and I felt that the story was indeed done but I loved the author’s prose and historical details, that I just wasn’t ready to be done.