Miss Austen by Gill Hornby
Published: April 7, 2020 – Flatiron Books
E-galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley
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, spending her days visiting friends and relations and quietly, purposefully working to preserve her sister’s reputation. Now in her sixties 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. (publisher)
My take: I’m not an Austen scholar by any stretch of the imagination but I am a fan of her novels. I loved reading about Jane and her sister Cassandra in Miss Austen. They had such a dear relationship. Jane fought bouts of depression and Cassie took care of her as well as their mother. Cassie had deep compassion for others and ultimately lived to serve members of her family instead of focusing on her losses. It was easy to feel sympathy for her all the while hoping for some romantic happiness to land at her door. The novel moves back and forth from her time as a daughter and sister to her days of relying on the charity of relatives. She visits one relative with hopes of reclaiming letters that could reveal Jane’s personal feelings/thoughts if they were to land in the wrong hands. I enjoyed Gill Hornby’s novel and found myself smiling quite a bit while reading. It was a satisfying read for this casual fan.
Praise for Miss Austen
—Library Journal, starred review
—Claire Tomalin, author of Jane Austen: A Life
—Lara Prescott, author of The Secrets We Kept