Book Club: Writing Jane Austen

There’s just so much to say about Elizabeth Aston’s 2010 entry into her growing group of Jane Austen sequels and tributes. As I was listening to it in the car, I kept having to scribble ideas down on note cards because there was a lot of great stuff going on in this book.

It’s clear that Aston, unlike her heroine Georgina Jackson, knows a lot about Jane Austen and a lot about the literary world. That’s what makes this book work, because Georgina Jackson is one of the more unlikable main characters I’ve encountered in a while. She’s an American modern-day academic who specialized in downtrodden females and children from the late 19th century. She’s immersed herself in studying social history in the English industrial revolution towns such as Birmingham and Manchester, and has written a critically acclaimed novel about the degradations of growing up poor in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell and Georgina’s fellowship is about to run out of funding which will force her to leave her beloved England and return to America as writer who never lived up to her promise.

When Georgina is offered the chance of a lifetime opportunity to finish a recently discovered novel fragment written by Jane Austen, she does everything she can to get out of it. Her dirty little secret comes out — not only is she supercilious about the society in which she believes Jane Austen lived and wrote, she’s totally ignorant of the truth about Austen. She’s a very well-educated literature scholar (Brown, Oxford) who has never read any of Austen’s novels.

As an Austen lover myself, I think it is truly masterful the way Elizabeth Aston unfolds the rose petals of the plot as Georgina learns about Jane Austen’s writing and struggles to recreate and match its tone and syntax. The story is populated by secondary characters worthy of an Austen novel, including a particularly unflattering subplot about Georgina’s literary agent and publishers. Aston drops all kinds of literary jokes and allusions to both Austen and other writers contemporary to her; references to Kim by Rudyard Kipling and Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey-Maturin series, which includes Master and Commander, made me want to rush to the library to check them out.

English: Image of the High Street of Lacock Vi...

Image via Wikipedia

Georgina’s visits to Bath and Lacock brought back many happy memories of our recent trips to England, and I was particularly enchanted by her friend’s shop in which one could buy all things Austen. This website popped up as I was writing this post, just in case you want to skip the trip to Bath and let your fingers do the walking.

All in all, I was delighted with this book about a character who lives under a rock of misguided prejudice. I have to admit, though, I was surprised by the final twist to the story. Thank goodness Aston was true to her own plot; Writing Jane Austen ends, as in many Austen novels, with not one, but two happy marriages. The only reason I didn’t give this book a full 4/4 rating was that the unfolding of the rose was pretty slow in the beginning of the book, probably so that non-Austen readers could fully understand how far under the literary rock Georgina really was!

Elizabeth Aston was born in Chile to an impeccably English father and a distinctly un-English Argentine mother. Educated by Benedictine nuns in Calcutta, Fabians in London, and Inklings at Oxford, she’s lived in India, England, Malta and Italy. Her Mountjoy books (originally published by Hodder, and now reissued as ebooks) were inspired by years of living in York, where her son was a chorister at the Minster. They depict the unholy, unquiet, and frequently unseemly goings-on of an imaginary northern cathedral city and its peculiar inhabitants, enhanced with a touch of magic and enchantment – Elizabeth Aston has always been fascinated by what lies just beyond our sight. Her other books include the bestselling Darcy series – six historical romantic comedies set in the world of Jane Austen, and a contemporary novel, Writing Jane Austen. These were inspired by her love of Jane Austen – her heroes, her heroines and her wicked sense of humour (amazon.com).

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