Review by a Baja Janeite
I am a lazy reader. I realized this recently, after abruptly abandoning two Jane Austen biographies. I became impatient with 1) the number of pages dedicated to Jane’s relatives or 2) poorly documented theories about Jane’s love life. However, I just discovered a charming “Jane Austen Novel” that focuses primarily on Jane’s life and does not try to pass off fictionalized romance as true biography. Perfect!
Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley (US Copyright 2008, HarperCollins Publishers, New York) recounts Austen’s life from sister Cassandra’s sympathetic viewpoint. Opening and closing with the famous letter burning scene, Cassandra remembers Jane’s birth, life, and contributions. There are historical facts woven throughout the book as well as three or four direct quotes from Austen’s novels. The language seems appropriate for the period. The conversations reflect both Jane’s astuteness and Cassandra’s affection. The almost-romance even seems plausible, given the little we actually know about Jane’s life and tastes.
The story behind Cassandra and Jane is interesting, too. Baroness Pitkeathley has been a true Austen devotee for over fifty years. She rereads at least two or three novels each year and “never goes on holiday without at least one in her luggage.” During her second serious bout with cancer, she vowed to write a book about her favorite author, and Cassandra and Jane is the result. The tender insights and conversations reflect Pitkeathley’s many years interacting with people as a social service worker in Britain.