Two new Jane Austen biofics each offer a peek into Jane Austen’s innermost thoughts before Sense and Sensibility was published:
Just Jane by Nancy Moser is a contemplative, diary-like exploration of Jane Austen’s thoughts on life, love, and writing. The narrative begins with Jane’s brief romance with Tom Lefroy, spends the majority of the book covering the time before any of her novels were published, then very quickly celebrates the success of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park, concluding with Emma‘s publication. As Jane observes life around her she tries to find a place to call her own in her own family. She also strives to create meaning for her life through her writing, though she struggles with writer’s block and the uncertainty of whether her novels are any good.
Passages from Jane Austen’s letters are interwoven with new explorations of Jane’s inner feelings, frustrations, and personal triumphs. I found the difference in tone between the two a little uneven – there is a certain wit and sparkle to Jane Austen’s letters which is missing from this interpretation of her private thoughts – but overall the book steadily maintains the pursuit of what it means to be “just Jane”. Fans of A Walk with Jane Austen will appreciate Just Jane‘s similar thoughtful pace and tone.
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James is inspired by the anecdotal story of Jane’s mysterious “suitor by the sea”. This romance is a fast, easy read; as the cover promises, I couldn’t put it down. I also think readers will eat this one up with a spoon due in no small part to the hero, who bears a strong resemblance to Richard Armitage. Jane meets him on a visit to Lyme: while walking up Granny’s Teeth on the Cobb, she slips and falls, but is safely caught in the manly embrace of Mr.
Armitage Ashford. (Take that, “Butterfingers” Wentworth!) Mr. Ashford seems to be the perfect match for Jane, but will a secret destroy her chance for happiness?
Lost Memoirs is packed full of references to characters and scenes from Jane Austen’s novels. Many readers will enjoy recognizing Mrs. Jennings, Mr. Collins, and other favorites from the people Jane encounters in this story. Even the romance with Mr. Ashford moves along thanks to plot elements from several of Jane Austen’s novels. And unfortunately here is where I must be crabby: to me, a scene from Persuasion, followed by a scene from Sense and Sensibility, followed by a scene from Pride and Prejudice (and so on) make an entertaining YouTube video, but not a memorable novel in its own right. So many people Jane meets and so much of the action of Lost Memoirs will be directly reproduced in her novels that one wonders if Jane can be believed when she tells a friend that her aim in writing is to create, not reproduce. I would have liked to have seen more original characters and plot in Lost Memoirs instead of such heavy reliance on those Jane created.
But even with this criticism, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen kept my interest and was a pleasant way to pass an afternoon. Less picky readers will adore Mr. Ashford, love the tastefully done romance scenes, and have fun spotting all the references (and there are some obscure ones). Finally: if Jane Austen doesn’t deserve a good snog in a rowboat by Richard Armitage … well, I don’t know who does.
AustenBlog is giving away a copy of Just Jane by Nancy Moser. To enter the drawing, send an e-mail with your full name and mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org
by 10 p.m. Eastern time, Wednesday, November 21, 2007. (The contest is closed early, because the Editrix is a moron.)