Author: Gill Hornby
Publication: Flatiron Books, hardcover, 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 19th-century EnglandDescription: In this historical novel set in 1840, Hornby imagines a purposeful visit paid by Cassandra Austen to Kintbury in Berkshire after the deaths of Eliza and Fulwar Fowle. The Fowles were close friends of the Austens: Reverend Austen had taught all the sons and Cassandra had been engaged to Tom Fowle, who died of yellow fever on a Caribbean voyage. Eliza had been the frequent recipient of letters from Jane Austen, and it is Cassandra’s goal to find and destroy any letters that might reveal too much personal information about her sister. Once Cassandra finds and reads the letters, the story is told in flashbacks, revealing the close bond between the sisters, romantic possibilities, and their lives after their father’s retirement.
My Impression: Jane Austen died in Winchester in 1817 – I visited her grave in June and paid my respects – but her elder sister Cassandra lived until 1845. Most Austen fans know that Cassandra destroyed most of Jane’s letters, presumably to suppress information that she felt would damage Jane’s dignified reputation. This fictional exploration of Jane Austen's life through Cassandra’s point of view is well researched and told with humor. Hornby focuses on the sisters’ relationship and believes Cassandra essentially facilitated the freedom Jane needed to write: that if Cassandra, the more attractive sister, had married, Jane would have been stuck with domestic responsibilities and never have created her six novels.
I chose this for my book group to read this month, partly because my friend Cath had just enjoyed it and partly because I was curious about the concept and whether the author could deliver. And once I heard PBS was adapting the book into a four-part series for Masterpiece, I knew it was important to read it first! It is a quiet book but well worth reading. It will be interesting to see what my friends think when we meet next week. Hornby lives in Kintbury herself, in a former vicarage, with her husband, Robert Harris, author of Fatherland and Enigma. Her brother is writer Nick Hornby.Source: Library. Miss Austen was my nineteenth book in the 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge led by Marg at The Intrepid Reader. I am also reading this for Austen in August with Adam at Roof Beam Reader.
Giveaway: I have a copy of Jane Austen's Christmas by Maria Hubert to give away (US only). If you are interested, please indicate in the comments and tell me which Austen book is your favorite.