In the winter of 1807, we find Jane Austen in the seaport of Southampton living in hired lodgings while her brother Francis Austen’s new residence is made ready for them at Castle Square. The Austen women (Jane, sister Cassandra, their widowed mother, and a dear family friend Martha Lloyd), will all be residing together under her brother’s kind graces. He is at present a landlocked Royal Navy post-captain anxiously awaiting his next assignment, and his first child.
News has reached Frank of a possible new ship, but the circumstances of its availability are a two-edged sword. Its previous captain is a personal friend, Thomas Seagrave, who has been charged with violating the Articles of War by murdering an unarmed French captain during a siege. The prime witness to the assault is Seagrave’s first lieutenant, Eustace Chessyre, an older officer who has been passed by many times for promotion. The case against Seagrave is “compelling in the extreme” and if he is court-martialed, he will hang. Frank would lose a fine friend but gain in the assignment of his ship the frigate HMS Stella Marisand, and the possibility of fame and fortune.
Both Frank and Jane feel Seagrave is innocent and set out to discover the true killer. A prisoner from the seized ship held at the Wool House goal in Southampton may have the evidence to save his life. Jane’s skill at observation and deduction could save Seagrave from the gallows.
Barron supplies us with another enthralling case in the Jane Austen mystery series written from the famous authoresses perspective from her diaries that she has edited. It is all fiction mind you, but so convincing in its tone and historical detail that it reads like a true rediscovered journal in Austen’s own hand. In the previous novels, Jane’s brothers Henry and Edward have assisted her ably in her detection of murder, but I must admit to being swayed with a “fine naval fervour.” Reveling in the time spent with her brother, post captain Francis “Fly” Austen, and his Royal Navy world, I searched through my library for my C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian novels so I could continue the theme.
Even though the narrative got waylaid a few times in slow-moving details, minor characters like self-absorbed Mrs. Seagrave and matter-of-fact Dr. Hill were interesting and finely drawn. Happily, wet blanket sister Cassandra was away in Kent staying at brother Edward’s estate Godmersham, so Mrs. Austen more than made up for any lack of Austen womanly opinions. She spends much of the story in her sickbed bordering on valetudinarian territory only breached by Austen’s own over-anxious parent Mr. Woodhouse from her novel Emma. I am awestruck by the prospect of five women cohabiting at Castle Square together in peace and harmony. Captain Austen must have been very relieved in April 1807 when he received his next ship, the HMS St. Albans, a third-rate ship of the line. He was back in the game, and out of the house!
5 out of 5 Stars
Jane and the Prisoner of the Wool House, Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 6), by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books, New York (2002)
Mass Market paperback (384) pages
- Read my review of Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
- Read my review of Jane and the Man of the Cloth
- Read my review of Jane and the Wandering Eye
- Read my review of Jane and the Genius of the Place
- Read my review of Jane and the Stillroom Maid
Cover image courtesy of Bantam Books © 2002; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2011, Austenprose.com
Ah!!! This caught my eye straight away, Laurel Ann.. Southampton is my home town.. I know all the Jane sites very well in and around the city. The title referencing the Wool House. Yes!!! The Wool House was a medieval storage barn near the then waterfront of Southampton. French prisoners were indeed kept there during the Napoleonic Wars. The Tudor House Museum, a few hundred yards from the Wool House has a great display of ship models made from bone, probably lamb and pork, that these French prisoners made. They are very detailed reconstructions of ships the prisoners knew well. There are probably other artefacts the prisoners left behind too. The Wool House has a great exhibition about The Titanic at the moment. Of course it was from Southampton The Titanic left from on it’s faitful voyage. Many Southampton people worked and died on it some my family knew.
i would encourage any of your readers to include Southampton on anny jane tour they do. Southampton is often left out. using her letters it is possible to piece together many of her movements around the town and some sites still exist, The Dolphin for one.The pub on the site of her house in castle Square has just been renamed The Juniper Berry again. It was The Bosuns Locker for a while.
Anybody up for a tour of Janes Southampton? I would give you a free guided tour!!!!!!!
Castle Square is a matter of a few hundred yards from the Wool House by the way.
Laurel Ann I”ll send you some photographs.
All the best,
Thanks Tony. You should read the novel. I am certain you would recognize all the locations!! Wish I could fly to England for your tour.
Laurel Ann,, I think I might just do that. You know, you might convert me yet!!!!!
All the best,
How exciting! I love this series. The setting has me most intrigued about this book. I just recently discover this series, so now I need to pick up the pace in reading so I can be ready for the new one!
Thank you for the giveaway. I love Jane Austen mysteries and look forward to reading this one.
By the way, the house in Castle Square was reasonably rambling. There was room for them all.They often had family to stay, it wasn’t just the women on their own. They employed a gardener and planted out their garden with relish. Jane acquired quite a few acquaintances around the town, including a family called the Lances who lived on a fine estate on the Portsmouth Road at Bitterne on the edge of Southampton. She often attended balls at the Dolphin with the Lance daughters. She loved rowing on the Itchen River and described in one letter rowing her two nephews, Edward’s sons, up the Itchen to visit a 70 gun man of War. She had picnics at Netley Abbey and visited the Isle of Wight. Jane seemed to enjoy her time at Southampton.
So far I have read the first two mystery novels, and I plan to continue reading the series. This one sounds like fun. (I was amused by Laurel Ann’s description of Cassandra, “the wet blanket.” ) The Southampton site sounds wonderful. Thanks to Tony Grant for the tidbits about Jane Austen’s activities there. This book will definitely be in my queue!
Yes, Tony, enjoyed reading your comments! Just wanted to add that I’m late posting my own thoughts about the drafting of Wool House on the Stephanie Barron blog because one son was getting through his exams this week, and the other is celebrating his 13th birthday today! TWO teenagers in the house! It’s been a hectic season. Please check out my blog on Sunday, June 12, for a bit about Jane in Southampton…
Oh Hi Stephanie.
I must admit when I saw the title of your new book I was slightly taken aback, in the nicest possible way. Being born and bred in Southampton I know the city gets a raw deal in the world of Jane Austen. She probably preferred it to Bath. She lead a far more stable and settled life there and of course it was back in Hampshire.
It was a pretty little town, medieval walls and gateway and many Georgian and Tudor buildings were situated in the High Street right up to WWII. Southampton was blitzed badly by the Lufwaffe and nearly wiped out, because of it’s prominence as a port but also because of some shipbuilding on the Itchen where my grandfather worked and also because of Supermarine, the Spitfire factory in Woolston. My mother says it was a lovely town and then it was all gone.
It is a lovely city once again!!!
I have had a look at your website and noticed you have also used Netley Abbey as a source for your stories. As a young lad I used to clamber all over those ruins. They are two miles from where my Mum and Dad live at Netley.
So, thank you for featuring Southampton and please keep up the Southampton link in your future novels.
All the best,
Yes, Tony, Netley Abbey was the focus of the next book in the series, number seven out of the total eleven–Jane and the Ghosts of Netley, which will be discussed in July. In that book, I have Jane rowing her nephews to a shipyard–lifted right out of her letters, as you mentioned above. It’s the second Southampton book in the series; in book eight, she moved to Chawton, and naturally so did the action of the series.
I’ve so enjoyed reading your comments, and I’m sure everyone else has, as well. Wish I’d known you existed when I researched these two books in Southampton so many years ago! All the best–
I’m intrigued to hear more about the time Jane Austen spent following her father’s death – when she wasn’t really writing.
This is one of my two favorite books in the series – the other being Jane and the Ghosts of Netley. Francis Austen is my favorite character. I love the interaction between Jane and Fly. I also appreciate his role in the next book.
I had gotten behind in reading this next book but I finished it today. Loved it! Twists and turns that I didn’t expect. I was really surprised by the ending. I’ve already got the next one to read and won’t be behind next month.
I am intrigued to read about Mrs. Austen as a female version of Mr. Woodhouse!
The setting and time period intrigue me about this book (as do all books about Jane Austen!) I have only read a couple in this series so far, and really enjoy Ms. Barron’s work. So kind of her to do these giveaways!