Books ‘n Blogging: Miss Austen – Gill Hornby

Today I tell you a bit more about my most recent read: Miss Austen by Gill Hornby.

Miss Austen – Summary

Here’s the summary I could read on Goodreads:

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.

Miss Austen – My Thoughts

I bought this book a couple of months ago as I fell in love with the cover. It is such a piece of art in itself! It looks like a piece of embroidery and the inside of the cover looks like the back of the embroidery. Really lovely and detailed!

I was really looking forward to reading this book as I am quite a fan of Jane Austen. The book also had promising reviews from renomated newspapers, but perhaps I set my standards too high as the first part of the novel couldn’t get to me as I had hoped. It wasn’t until well over 100 pages that I started to enjoy reading it.

This book tells the tale of Cassandra Austen, the sister of Jane Austen, who at one point was engaged. Unfortunately her fiancé dies and as she vowed to him to never mary someone else, she remains single the rest of her life.

At the end of her life, Cassandra goes searching for letters she and her sister wrote. The letters act as flashbacks and they tell the tale of the Austen family. I preferred reading the flashbacks over the ‘present’ time of 1840.

The author describes the difficulties of being a single woman at the beginning of the 19th century: once your father dies, the search for a decent roof above your head and an income that helps you to make ends meet begins. It often all depends on the goodwill of brothers or family.

There are quite some characters in the book, but in the beginning of the novel, the different families are introduced, which makes it easier to follow.

Part of this novel is based on true facts. As most letters written by Jane and Cassandra were destroyed, the author fills in how she thinks their lives must have developed. I liked this book, but I can’t really say I loved it. I once read ‘Jane Austen, onder vier ogen’ by the Dutch writer Anke Wenker which was much more compelling. I even gave that a 5 star review on Goodreads, whereas this one will be a 3 star.

I’m not sorry to have read this book however. It gave a glimse of the Austen’s life, something that intrigues me anyway…

Love, Kathleen

book club

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