Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

Title: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen
Author: Syrie James
Genre: Fiction, Jane Austen
Pages:303
Date Finished: 27 Feb 2008
My Rating: 4 Stars

"Do you mean to say, that if I believe in your story as you have told it, then it is as good as if it were true?" (303) So asks Jane Austen's nephew in this fictional account of her life and so sums up my feelings for this book. While I know the story is fiction, it was written in such a true and believable fashion that I had to remind myself that it wasn't actually a recently discovered memoir of Jane Austen.
What fan of Jane Austen has not, at some point, lamented the fact that Cassandra Austen destroyed so many of her sister's letters? Who amongst us has not harbored a wish that maybe Cassandra had not destroyed them but just hidden them away really, really well and someday they will be unearthed? Or that some other forgotten and lost work by Jane Austen would be discovered?
That is the premise of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James. Workmen, repairing the roof at Chawton Manor house, find an old trunk bricked up in the wall of the attic. Inside the trunk they find several old manuscripts and a ring. The manuscripts turn out to be the long lost memoirs of Jane Austen.
The story takes place during a period of time when none of Jane Austen's letters remain for modern audiences to read. This gap in time has left many today wondering what was happening in Jane's life during those silent years. Syrie James gives us a beautiful tale of what could have happened during those years. "Jane Austen has given up her writing when, on a fateful trip to Lyme, she meets the well-read and charming Mr. Ashford, a man who is her equal in in intellect and temperament. Inspired by the people and places around her, and encouraged by his faith in her, Jane begins revising Sense and Sensibility, a book she began years earlier, hoping to be published at last."
I'll admit I was skeptical at first, but this is a love story befitting of Jane Austen. I felt James captured Austen's essence and style. James gave us a mature woman, secretly in love but still grounded in the reality of her time. There have been many who have attempted to write about Jane Austen or her characters but few, if any, have done such a wonderful job. James clearly knew her subject matter and blended the fact and fiction masterfully to give us a most enjoyable, romantic story.
I did have a few complaints. I felt that James took too much of this story directly from Austen's own novels and it read more like a novel than a memoir or journal. How many people writing about events that happened years earlier can remember such long chunks of dialogue?
Withstanding these two things, the novel was wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone, whether or not they are a fan of Jane Austen.

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