My book review of ‘Miss Austen’ written by Gill Hornby
In my view
A lot has been written about Jane Austen and her works. But not so often you stumble upon a book focussing on one of her relatives: her beloved sister Cassandra Austen. Before I read this book, I did not know that Jane Austen developed in her adult years an illness that was chronical and she deceased, aged far below the average lifespan of a woman during that age (first half of the 1800’s).
Based on this story I do not know every difference between what is real and what is filled in with fiction surrounding Jane Austen’s life and that of her sister Cassandra. I did not know of the existence of Cassandra at all before reading this book. I did some research and therefor know a couple of true facts. The Austen family wrote many letters in there lives. Some of them are preserved and some others – a great deal surrounding Jane Austen – are lost or destroyed. And many literature studies, study the work of Austen and their contemporaries.
The book is published last year (end 2020) and is therefor not yet that popular in The Netherlands, but I believe it will become very popular over time. Especially among Jane Austen fans.
Just like pictionary… this story fills in, in a refined way, your image of Cassandra and Jane Austen and it has set out a lifeline as if you are watching a film about these sisters lives.
This is the best novel that has intertwined perfectly in so many places throughout the book the relation between fact and fiction. Therefor this is the most complex novel to read and to ‘solve’ the puzzle of what is real and what is fiction? In the style of Jane Austen: some assumptions / prejudices used about Jane Austen and the Austen family… they feel so real… you can’t imagine it differently.
The writing style is, compared to the list of books I have read so far, quite unique. The story line contains flashbacks based on the written letters between the sisters Austen and their friends and families. Especially the beloved friend Eliza with whom both sisters shared a loving friendship.
The partly fictionary story is set in the time of the late 1700s, early 1800s and of the middle 1800s around 1840. It spans half a century, from the 18th to the 19th century. Gill Hornby describes very detailed the characteristics of the 1800s and the position of women back in the day. The inheritances that often passed from father to son and the habits of the house – and everything that needed to be arranged – led by the lady of the house. Because the story is so detailed, the reading pace is quite slow. You don’t want to miss out on a detail.
*Yes I used the word fictionary which can not be found in the Oxford dictionary. And I am not a literair agent, but I thought of the word as a meaning of:
– a story based on a couple of historical true facts but mostly filled in with fiction for creating a storyline. So the story belongs to the ‘fiction’ and not to the ‘true story’ or ‘historical novel’ genre (in my experience minor differences but very important ones). Most of all: it confuses you in a positive way, perfectly blends historical fiction and true facts. Has to fill in both some events, characters and occurrences but uses real characters and tries to mimic their characteristics discovered by literary writings / academical study of it post mortem.
The two main characters of this novel, the misses Jane Austen and Cassandra Austen, are described in detail. Many characters ‘passer le revu’ and of some of them I had expected them to be quite shallow. The side characters who appear only in the passages of Cassandra’s adult life often seem shallow but in the second half of this novel they – except óne, a mr. Dundas – become more meaningful.
The author Gill Hornby provides a list of the main characters and the most important side characters with a description of their relationship to one another. And that’s a big help. Some small parts in the story are a bit confusing if you don’t figure out in the beginning which friend becomes family by marriage etcetera.
I think that an image of the family tree of the Austen family would have been a nice addition to the book.
I love the works of Jane Austen and her style of writing. And in my opinion Gill Hornby has written a great novel about the two sisters Austen. The only thing that keeps me from adding it to my super favourites is: the puzzle between fact and fiction is só complex but so perfectly intertwined. It keeps you thinking about your own thoughts and opinion about the Austen family. Never again I can read something about Jane Austen or another relative or literature writer of that century… without thinking about the fictionary of this book.
Title: Miss Austen
Author: Gill Hornby
Genre: Fiction / Historical / British Literature
Publisher: Uitgeverij Cargo [NL] / Flatiron Books [EN]
Year 1st edition & read edition: 2020
Year read: 2021
Original title & language: Miss Austen [EN]
Read language: Dutch
Places: England: Bath / Chawton / Derbyshire / Hampshire / Kent / Southampton / Steventon
Rating: 8 / 10 stars or 4 / 5
I hope you like the book too. It is worth to read it! I am not telling about the story too much, you have to read the book yourself and make your own opinion.
Loves from Sophie