This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Berkley
Released on August 5, 2014
[quote]The summer of 1791 was so firmly fixed in my memory that I believe I can never forget it; every detail is as fresh and vivid as if it occurred only yesterday, and looking back, there are times when it seems that my life never really began until that moment- the moment when I first met him. p. 1 Jane of Jane Austen’s First Love[/quote]
I was utterly enchanted at the idea of reading a story that retells even a portion of Jane Austen’s earlier life that all began when the author spotted a curious sentence that Jane Austen penned in a letter to her sister Cassandra. So I picked up this speculative story and began. I hadn’t given much thought to Jane in context of her surroundings, activities and her family during that time. I loved meeting her family including her parents, her younger brother Charles, her brother Edward and even her dear friend like a sister Martha Lloyd, but best of all spending good page time with her sister, Cassandra. It was a heady feeling perusing the pages of this story and engaging with Jane in her summer adventure into Kent where I met Jane’s first love, but also the first glimmer of Jane Austen the novelist.
The story begins with the Austen family receiving a letter from second son, Edward, announcing his engagement to Elizabeth Bridges and extending an invitation for the family to journey into Kent to visit Elizabeth’s Bridges family at their estate as they celebrate the engagements of their two eldest daughters with house party, ball, and other festivities. Jane is eager as a young girl not quite out in society and rarely traveled can be for this opportunity. Since it is family and friends, Jane is allowed to join all the activities including that of her first ball. This will also be a treat for her younger brother, Charles who will soon be leaving them to join the naval academy.
So into Kent, Jane goes and soon encounters the distinguished, handsome and accomplished Edward Taylor who impresses her with his lively demeanor, interesting conversation and superiority over the other gentlemen she meets. Edward Taylor has lived on the Continent since he was a small boy, gained knowledge through travel and is very accomplished for a young man of his age as a result. Now he is home to learn how to run the family estate and attend university. Being in Edward’s company and even competing as a rival for his interest keeps her occupied, but not so occupied that she entirely oblivious to other goings on.
Jane sees herself as a student of human nature and observes all around her even as she participates in fun new experiences. She is a lively girl quick to say what is on her mind and impulsively act leaving her family to shake their heads over her. Cass is her closest confidante, but the two sisters see entirely different things when they compare notes about the people around them. Jane is enamored of Edward Taylor while Cassandra finds that his impetuousness is not attractive. Jane sees more than one star-crossed pair of lovers and gets up to a bit of Puckish match-making that has interesting results. Her visit draws to a close and she wonders if Edward Taylor feels as she does even as she prepares to return to her beloved family home with a new energy to write.
The gently-paced character-driven story is told first person from Jane’s point of view and takes place mostly over the course of a month in the summer of her fifteenth year. I enjoyed the in depth work done to immerse the reader in the settings, society, dialogue and the life of Jane Austen in the late Georgian era. The attention to detail could have bogged things down, but it didn’t. It is made interesting and sprinkled through the length of the story so it doesn’t feel ponderous. For instance, the wearing of hair powder is turned into a humorous learning experience for a Georgian teenager longing to engage in the going fad. Her first ball seems exciting until she has the real fear of not being asked to dance. And daily activities and conversations detail what life was like and what people were thinking.
Speaking of people, the characters were amazing. The way they were so richly described, talked and acted felt pretty authentic and didn’t contradict what is known about them in historical documents. They were three dimensional with heart and depth and not just caricatures. I loved the family moments with the Austens and because of several scenes and conversations, I actually considered what it was like for them to allow a son to be adopted into the upper-class so his future as a man of wealth and stature was secured and to allow two sons to go off as mere boys to the hardened world of the navy. The tender sisterly love and affection between Cass and Jane was so well written. Then there is the young authoress herself on her first venture into society. Jane is not written as this paragon of wit and keen observation that I imagine after reading her novels and letters. She is just a normal young girl- lively and vivacious like a Lydia Bennet sans the spoilt nature. She says things out of turn, does some impetuous things and makes some silly, but grave mistakes that she has to fix.
There were fun winks and nods to her later novels too. It was amusing to see facets of all her novel heroines in this version of Jane. Just like other characters in the story showed glimpses of other well known novel characters. This was a fun inclusion as were scenes that gave tribute to the novels- the strawberry excursion that could have come out of Emma, the disastrous play and the visit to a neighboring estate reminding me of Mansfield Park – all were familiar and I could imagine that this was how she came up with her ideas to put them in her novels.
All in all, I found this coming of age story told about a real life historical figure just a delight. I loved the tender hopes and dreams of first love and the engaging descriptions too. I would heartily recommend this one for Historical Romance and Fiction lovers from YA to adult, but particularly those who have a fascination for all things Jane Austen.
I was given my review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
This book tells the story of real life people and events so that other than the speculative details, I was quite aware of the ultimate outcome. This was not a deterrent for me in enjoying the story, but I wonder if that is true of you, dear reader. Do you like reading fiction that pretty much toes the line and tells a real life persons story or do you prefer stories where the outcome could be anyone’s guess?
Historical Romance #13
Historical Fiction #6
Austenesque TBR Pile #3
Romance Roundabout #38 YA
Literary Pickers: #39 Estate
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