From the desk of Katie Patchell:
What would Jane Austen say and do if she lived in the 1920s instead of the late 1700s/early 1800s? Would she wear a drop-waist dress that showed her ankles and bob her auburn hair? Would she dance the Charleston or listen to Jazz music? How would she react to being called ‘baby doll’? And would being handed into the front seat of a car by a young, eligible man just as romantic as being handed into a Regency carriage? These fascinating questions and more are imaginatively answered in Jane Odiwe’s latest novel, Jane Austen Lives Again, where readers—and Jane Austen herself—are transported to the chaotic, electrifying Jazz Age.
1817: After days of sickness, Jane Austen closes her eyes on this world for the last time. Or so she thinks. When she opens them again—to her, only a few moments later—her doctor informs her that he found the secret to immortal life, and the year is…
1925: Post-re-birth and after months reading modern newspapers, watching Hollywood films, and listening to Jazz music, Jane convinces Dr. Lyford that it’s time she takes her first steps to become an independent woman of the 20th century. A post as a governess for the five young daughters of Lord and Lady Milton seems just the thing.
“I’ve never felt better. I feel as if I am about to start a new adventure, even if the thought of five little girls is a disquieting one. More than anything, I will have the time to write all the novels I thought were to be denied to me, and I will endure anything to that end.” (Chapter 1, Location 104)
On her arrival at the beautiful but crumbling Manberley Castle, Jane discovers that the adventure that awaits her is of an entirely different sort. Rather than having to take care of five young children, she’s been given the time-consuming and hectic job of being a governess to five young adult women, some a few years older than her (seemingly) 21-year-old self!
But Jane has always loved a challenge, whatever the century. She soon gets swept up in the daily life of a quirky bohemian family and the romantic entanglements of five heroines—not to mention the attentions of William Milton, their irrepressibly charming, teasing, and oh-so-frustrating elder brother. Can Jane give her not-so-young charges the happy endings they deserve, even if they can’t see it themselves? Will she ever be able to find the time to pick up her pen (or typewriter) to write again? And in the midst of the Milton chaos and “modern” 1920s world, will she find love and happiness in her second chance at life?
Two major things were done in Jane Austen Lives Again that made it marvelous: Jane as the novel’s protagonist, and character similarities with Austen’s originals. Because of her supernatural awakening a century after Jane’s supposed death, she is given the chance to be the heroine of her own story. While I’ve loved other books starring Jane Austen that are set in her own time (such as Carolyn V. Murray’s beautiful 2015 debut, Jane by the Sea), getting the chance to see Jane in a different time period was a rare treat—especially in 1920s Devon, England. Transplanting her—the inimitable, fearless, sparkling Jane Austen we all know and love—to a different setting was a genius move. Odiwe skillfully kept Jane’s personality (and history through moments of back story) but enabled her to grow as a heroine.
At the same time, Jane Austen Lives Again is also a reimagining of most of the main love stories in Jane Austen’s novels. The five Milton women were reimaginings of Anne Elliot, Marianne Dashwood, Emma Woodhouse, Elizabeth Bennet, and Jane Bennet. While these main characters followed their original plotlines closely, sometimes they (and the men I thought they’d end up with) varied from their original characters or merged with others (such as the “Frank Churchill” character combining with “Willoughby”). This was handled with ease on Odiwe’s part and kept me guessing—and highlighting my Kindle copy because of new character insights—until the final pages.
In its humor, family shenanigans, and determined heroine, Jane Austen Lives Again is reminiscent of Cold Comfort Farm, a hilarious, dazzling classic by Stella Gibbons. Yet at the same time, it stays true to Jane Austen and her novels in spirit—and still more, manages to stand apart from these as a unique novel of love, family, and laughter.
With a remarkable setting and gorgeous descriptions, memorable characters and a message of happy endings and new beginnings, Jane Austen Lives Again is a perfect read for Christmas and New Year’s.
5 out of 5 Stars
Jane Austen Lives Again, by Jane Odiwe
Paintbox Publishing (2015)
Trade paperback & eBook (280) pages
Disclosure of Material Connection: We purchased one review copy from the publisher to write this review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Cover images courtesy of Paintbox Press © 2015; text Katie Patchell © 2015, Austenprose.com