Jane and the Barque of Frailty: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and the Barque of Frailty: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron (2007)Here we are at the ninth novel in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series, Stephanie Barron’s sagacious slant on “our dear Jane” as a sleuth!

The spring of 1811 finds Jane in London staying with her banker-brother Henry Austen and his sophisticated wife Eliza at their residence on Sloane Street preparing her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, for publication. While attending a performance of Macbeth at the Theatre Royal at Covent Garden, it is difficult to determine who is the bigger draw to the audience; the esteemed actress Mrs. Siddons on stage, or the beautiful Russian Princess Evegenia Tscholikova in a box. That very week, her private letters to her married lover Lord Castlereagh had been published in a London paper for all to read. Such a shocking scandal for a Tory Minister is sure to have serious repercussions, but finding the lifeless body of the Princess strewn across the his front steps the next morning with her throat cut should not be one of them. Jane and Eliza are shocked, but certain that it is not the suicide that the paper reports.

Confident that the coroner’s inquest will disclose the truth, Jane and Eliza soon learn that they are the prime suspects in the murder after attempting to help the Comtesse d’ Entraigues discreetly sell her jewels. This act of kindness for Eliza’s friend places them in an incriminating position. The authorities disclose that the jewels belong to the dead Russian Princess and not the Comtesse. Why were Eliza and Jane set up? Who is benefitting from the Princesses death? How will they save themselves from the gallows?

Jane negotiates a seven day reprieve to discover the truth and begins the investigation through London’s fashionable Ton, dubious politicians, and their intimate circle of powerful women – the Barque of Frailty.

For those of you not in the know on Regency era colloquialisms, in common cant, Barque of Frailty is a woman of easy virtue, a mistress, or a prostitute.  There are interesting “fallen women” who factor into this story, including the infamous Society supplicant Harriette Wilson, and the one hit wonder Julia Radcliffe.  Harriette was a real “demi-rep” (woman of ill repute) who kept important statesmen tucked in her décolleté like a favorite scented lace hanky. Julia is fictitious, but cut from the same cloth.

Not far from these highly desirable “light skirts” are the men of the Beau Monde (fashionable society) and government circling their flame: Emmanuel, Comte d’Entraigues, Francis Edward Rawdon-Hastings, Earl of Moria, Charles Malverley, George Canning, and Robert, Lord Castlereagh to name a few, and there are many to remember in this tale of political intrigue, and passions spent and spurned.

Jane and Eliza are the key players through the political subterfuge and romantic dalliances in deducing the mystery. Some of their exploits require a total suspension of disbelief for a clergyman’s daughter and a bankers wife. However, this adventuresome energy swiftly glides you through a masterful story that at times, reminded me of a Georgette Heyer novel. But, in due deference to Ms. Barron’s skill as a mystery novelist, every time I hear the name Freddy, and there is a Freddy Ponsonby in this tale, it reminds me of  Freddy Standen in Cotillion!

As we have continued through this series we have sleuthed with Jane in the country, by the sea-side, and in Town. I think I enjoy her temperament more in these novels away from London. I have always thought she preferred the county to Town. When visiting London in 1796, she wrote to her sister Cassandra, “Here I am once more in this Scene of Dissipation & Vice, and I begin already to find my Morals corrupted.” In her novels bad things seem to happen to characters in London. Marianne gets jilted by Willoughby there in Sense and Sensibility, the married Maria Rushworth cheats on hubby with Henry Crawford and runs away with him in Mansfield Park, silly, selfish Lydia Bennet elopes with Wickham, doesn’t marry, and lives with him in sin there in Pride and Prejudice, and Mr. Knightley escapes Highbury to Town to forget Miss Woodhouse in Emma!

Is Jane trying to tell us something? In Jane and the Barque of Frailty, we certainly meet with Dissipation & Vice. If a bath by fire is redemption for the reader after 235 pages of the dark underworld of “muslin company,” then the final decadent scene set at the Cyprians Ball, an anti-Almacks soiree for the “high-water courtesans” and their entourage of moths, is a refreshing denouement. Jane (thirty-five year old spinster and country girl) and her sister-in-law Eliza (outrageous flirt and party girl) gain entrance for a scandalous subterfuge as masked “ladies of the night” to assemble all the key players into one room for the final show down. After the shocking conclusion, the mystery is solved, but the words used to describe those ladies who lived off their looks and charms are still rolling through my head…doxy, cunning jade, bird of paradise, celebrated Impure, Paphiana and trollop. Like Jane, I am glad I live in the country.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

This is my tenth selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011, as we are reading all eleven mysteries in the series this year. Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed paperback copy of Jane and the Barque of Frailty to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about Jane Austen as a detective, or if you have read Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion, why Freddy Standen is haunting me by midnight PT, Wednesday, November 23, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, November 24, 2011. Shipment to US addresses only. Good luck!

Visit author Stephanie Barron’s blog and discover her research for this novel which includes Channeling Harriette in the Barque of Frailty

Jane and the Barque of Frailty: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books (2007)
Mass market paperback (368)
ISBN: 978-0553584080

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

22 thoughts on “Jane and the Barque of Frailty: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

  1. I think Stephanie Barron has picked an excellent way to combine readers’ love of Jane Austen with Regency detective fiction. Emma, of course, really is a mystery novel, with “clues” to the mystery disclosed to the careful reader. I do have to wonder how much Jane Austen was experiencing dissipation in London! Wish I could have been a fly on the wall to see a young Jane experiencing 1796 London! Melinda

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  2. Having savored just a sampler of Stephanie Barron’s talent for turning a dandy mystery from reading Jane And The Gentleman Rogue in JAMMDI , how can I resist? I’ve also just received a copy of Jane & The Canterbury Tale, also by Stephanie. How fortunate I am! This is going to be FUN….

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  3. Another Barron stand-out!one of my favorites in the series. I do hope she continues to write this series — OR more on the Gentleman Rogue since Jane does have his trunk of memoirs…

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  4. Sure. Heyer uses it, but my understanding is that it was first applied to the actress Dolly Jordan–the Duke of Clarence’s mistress–because he was the “naval” duke. Jordan was referred to obliquely as Clarence’s “barque of frailty,” which was the press’s notion of a slightly salacious pun. The fact that a barque was a naval “vessel” only made it better. I’m remembering this foggily because I wrote Barque years ago, now, but I think I found that in Claire Tomalin’s excellent bio of Jordan. I’ll try to check. And I’d point out that Heyer, to my knowledge, never made anything up–she researched constantly and employed phrases she found in newspapers or private correspondence of the time.
    Love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on this–

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    • I believe she did make up a few phrases (though I don’t know which ones), as she wanted to sue one of her imitators who used a cant term she had made up!

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  5. I loved this series from the beginning because in my mind it was like reading a real Jane Austen diary as she went about her daily activities. It is just that these were her more exciting activities.
    I have no trouble believing her in the role of detective because to create the characters and plots that she did takes an observant, analytical person who sees- and knows the significance of what they are seeing (i.e. a detective).
    I read this novel a little while ago and enjoyed learning of this side of London society through the novel. I remember being amused at the thought ‘what Jane must be thinking of all this’- a country vicar’s daughter.

    Oh Freddie Stanton! One of the most delicious beta heroes ever written- quietly get the job done with no fuss while amusing you with his seemingly light manners.

    Enjoyed the review and thank you for the giveaway opportunity.

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  6. Jane Austen was a natural for the detective genre. Her plots are logical and her characters often are two dimensional. She had a background conducive to dramas of life as a minister’s daughter.

    Very entertaining review and mnay thanks for the giveaway.

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  7. I love mysteries and with Jane Austen as the sleuth to boot. Who could beat that…move over Nancy Drew ;-) I actually was just looking for the book mentioned yesterday “The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen” for this exact reason. I thought a combination of Jane and a mystery sounded so good. I have never heard of this series and will be looking into getting these books. Would love to get started with a book give away :)!!!

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  8. yet another great mystery from Stephanie Barron! I loved this one and agree with Melinda to enjoy imagining Jane enjoying London’s dissapations!

    Freddy Standen! How I love that young man! So gentlemanly, a good eye for fashion, and caring for those around him! Plus, says some of the funniest lines in Heyer’s writings!

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  9. What intrigues me about jane austen as detective is it gives readers new perspectives and be able to see favorite author in a new way even if it didn’t happen in real life

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  10. I like Jane Austen as a detective because the “establishment” assumes that because she is a woman that she cannot see things objectively and she is dismissed. She reminds me of how Miss Marple is treated, and Miss Marple is very smart and always underestimated. Jane as a detective is so believable which is exactly why this whole series is so successful.

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  11. I can definitely see Jane Austen as a detective. Solving mysteries seems like something she would enjoy. I absolutely love this series and Stephanie Barron’s writing. And I like spending time with our beloved author even if it is through a fictional story! I have had so much fun reading through this series! And I haven’t read Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion yet, but it is in my TBR pile. It may have to be moved up the list.=)

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    • I can’t think of a better time to meet Freddy Standen than over a long Thanksgiving weekend, Kelli–I’ll wish you a sudden snowstorm, an unexpected bowl of Rum Punch, and all the time in the world to linger on a couch with Cotillion…

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  12. I love this series. It’s one of my all time favorites. Stephanie’s portrayal of Jane as a detective is so natural, and I hope this series continues.

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  13. Pingback: Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011 « Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog

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