A gentleman of my acquaintance once confidently assured me that the writings of Jane Austen were much too “girly.” By this, of course, he meant that they were beneath his notice as a man. Naturally, he’d never read a page of Austen or seen any of the movies based on her stories, but he firmly understood that men didn’t care about balls or romance or marriage. Gentlemen read better books.
But, novels like A Jane Austen Daydream confirm what we Janeites have known for years – Miss Austen counts many men among her admirers. Author Scott Southard spends the bulk of his story showing us just that – and dreaming about all the men who loved and admired Jane before him.
The novel is loosely based on Jane Austen’s life and follows her from roughly age 20 up until she’s around 35. We begin with a large ball and some shameless flirtation and slowly weave through some familiar events from Jane’s life. Lost love. The death of a future brother-in-law. A move to Bath. And even some marriage proposals to spice things up.
Throughout the story, Jane is challenged to live the kind of life she imagines for her characters. Only a husband she deeply loves and respects will do. And the author regularly throws potential suitors her way. Some are true to life – Tom Lefroy and Harris Bigg-Wither – and others are just part of the daydream.
This word – daydream – is a fitting addition to the title because that’s essentially what the book is. It’s a whimsical reimagining of the truth. Though the story is based on real events in Jane’s life, a good part of it is reworked or outright fictionalized to fit with the author’s version of Jane Austen.
The good news is Scott Southard’s Jane is a delightful creature. She is clever and witty and determined to do the best she can for herself, even when things take a turn for the worst. Jane’s dialogue is one of the bright spots in the novel and her thoughts and comments had me smiling (and even laughing) on more than one occasion.
Even a casual fan of Jane Austen will notice that the author has sprinkled in quotes and characters from her novels and letters. An arrogant clergyman becomes the inspiration for Mr. Collins. A silly, yet hilarious, family friend named Mrs. Catherine de Bourgh tells us:
I always wished to marry a lord, and to become a prim and proper lady myself. How I would sit and quietly give out stern but fair advice to all who asked for it and, dare I say, to those who did not ask as well!
She would certainly get her wish.
Though there’s no evidence that Austen pulled her plots and characters so closely from real life, I can forgive the author for this bit of fun. In fact, that’s what this book is – a bit of fun. If you’re a stickler for the truth and nothing but the truth when it comes to Jane, you probably won’t enjoy this book much. Or maybe you will. I had a good time trying to spot some of the lesser-known quotes and characters throughout the story.
The one big downside to the whole book is that it’s much too long. At over 400 pages, the story could stand to be edited down quite a bit. There were just some passages and scenes that dragged on much too long. I never thought I would get bored reading about Jane Austen, but apparently, it is possible.
I opened this review by describing this book as a work that embodies one man’s love for Jane Austen. I don’t say this because it’s amazing that a man would love Austen (indeed, every sensible person should), but, because, the author makes his point very literally by the end. By the time Jane finds her ideal (and fictional) man, it’s clear that the author who teasingly “swears he is not obsessed with Jane Austen” is in very, very deep.
For a segment of the population, Jane Austen’s books will only ever be one thing – chick lit. This is a term they mean as an insult, but fans of Austen understand the truth. Her books are about the lives of women, but they are also about the things that concern us all. Love. Marriage. Family. Class. Money. Life. A Jane Austen Daydream reminds us that love for Austen isn’t just a feminine virtue.
4 out of 5 Stars
A Jane Austen Daydream, by Scott D. Southard
Madison Street Publishing (2013)
Trade paperback (410) pages
Cover image courtesy Madison Street Publishing © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2013, Austenprose.com