A year and a half ago I had the privilege of reading an early manuscript of The Jane Austen Society by debut novelist Natalie Jenner. It only took two chapters for me to be totally hooked. By the end of the book, I was weeping with joy. I just knew that my fellow historical fiction and Jane Austen fans would rejoice as I had in the endearing characters, compelling plot, and the heartfelt tribute to one of literature’s most beloved authors, Jane Austen.
If ever we needed an emotionally uplifting escape, it is during these turbulent times. The Jane Austen Society is a joyous antidote to help us through a pandemic.
Today, I am so thrilled to finally share this very special book with my readers. Natalie has kindly offered an exclusive excerpt that will give you an introduction to one of the five main characters, Adam Berwick, as he reads Pride and Prejudice.
And…gentle reader, I do hope you are sitting down. The audiobook of The Jane Austen Society was narrated by British actor Richard Armitage! The combination of Natalie’s enchanting prose and his velvet voice is nonpareil. I have included an audio excerpt from it as well. I hope your aromatic vinegars are close at hand.
Our full review of The Jane Austen Society will post on Monday, May 25th. Until its release, I hope you enjoy this excerpt and additional information.
Be sure to enter the sweepstakes offered by her publisher St. Martin’s Press for a chance to win an advance reader’s copy of the book. The details are included below. Enjoy!
Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.
A powerful and moving novel that explores the tragedies and triumphs of life, both large and small, and the universal humanity in us all, Natalie Jenner’s The Jane Austen Society is destined to resonate with readers for years to come.
He was becoming quite worried for Mr. Darcy.
It seemed to Adam that once a man notices a woman’s eyes to be fine, and tries to eavesdrop on her conversations, and finds himself overly affected by her bad opinion of him, then such a man is on the path to something uncharted, whether he admits it to himself or not. Adam did not know much about women (although his mother kept telling him it did not take much), but he wondered if in the history of life, as well as in literature, a man had ever fallen into such obvious lust as fast as Mr. Darcy, and not done anything about it except to inadvertently, and so successfully, push it away.
He appreciated more than ever that their small two-up, two-down terrace cottage, which sat next to a lane-way leading back from the main Winchester road, gave him his own bedroom and space to read. In his sparse room with its gabled ceiling was the plain twin bed—one half of a set—that he had slept in since his boyhood. A single oak armoire and an antique dresser stood in opposite corners of the room. And he had his shelf of books that had once belonged to his father—adventure novels, the boys’ treasury, and the greats like Conan Doyle and Alexandre Dumas and H. G. Wells. But now, next to his bed, lay a fairly thick hardcover book with a laminated cover, from the library, showing two women in bonnets whispering to each other, while a man in the background stood imperiously next to a garden urn.
He had discreetly slipped it across the counter at the lending library only two days earlier.
It was going fast.
But as much as it amused him, the book also confused him. For one thing, he wondered at the father character; he did not think it reflected well on Mr. Bennet to spend all his leisure time barricaded in his study or indulging his humour at the expense of everyone else. Mrs. Bennet was much more easily understood, but something about the Bennet household was still amiss, in a way that he did not recall encountering before in literature. Not among a big family at least. He had read books about orphans, and treachery among friends, and fathers sent off to debtors’ prison—but the biggest plots always turned on an act of revenge or greed or a missing will.
The Bennets, for all intents and purposes, simply didn’t like each other. He had not been expecting this at all from a lady writer with a commitment to happy endings. Yet, sadly, it felt more real to him than anything else he had ever read.
Finishing the chapter where Darcy shows his estate to the woman who once so robustly spurned his marriage proposal, Adam finally started to drift off to sleep. He recalled the recent visitor to his own town, the tiny cross on a chain, the white winning smile: tokens of the faith and hope so sadly missing from his own life. He could not conceive of the willingness to travel so far for something so whimsical—yet an unguarded happiness had also radiated from within the visitor, real happiness, the kind he had always searched for in books.
Reading Jane Austen was making him identify with Darcy and the thunderclap power of physical attraction that flies in the face of one’s usual judgment. It was helping him understand how even someone without much means or agency might demand to be treated. How we can act the fool and no one around us will necessarily clue us in.
He would surely never see the American woman again. But maybe reading Jane Austen could help him gain even a small degree of her contented state.
Maybe reading Austen could give him the key.
Chapter 1, pages 10-12
- “Just like a story written by Austen herself, Jenner’s first novel is brimming with charming moments, endearing characters, and nuanced relationships…Readers won’t need previous knowledge of Austen and her novels to enjoy this tale’s slow revealing of secrets that build to a satisfying and dramatic ending.” ―Booklist (starred review)
- “Few things draw disparate people together so quickly as discovering they love the same writers. Few writers cement such friendships as deeply as Austen does. I believe that the readers of Jenner’s book will fall in love with the readers inside Jenner’s book, all of us thinking and dreaming of Austen the whole while. What could be better? Nothing, that’s what! A wonderful book, a wonderful read.” ―Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club
- “Fans of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will adore The Jane Austen Society… A charming and memorable debut, which reminds us of the universal language of literature and the power of books to unite and heal.” —Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris
- “Prepare to meet ‘three or four families in a country village’ who embrace their passion and form a literary society in honor of an author whose enduring appeal, after 200 years, reminds us of what should be paramount in our lives: compassion, love, and reading!! The Jane Austen Society is an uplifting tribute to its inspiration and the nobility of the human spirit. Natalie Jenner could be the next Helen Simonson.” ―Laurel Ann Nattress, editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It and Austenprose.com
Natalie Jenner is the author of The Jane Austen Society (St. Martin’s Press, May 2020), a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.
To qualify for a chance to win one of five advanced reader’s copies of The Jane Austen Society, please leave a comment with this post. No purchase necessary. Open only to legal residents of the 50 United States, D.C., and Canada. who are age 18 or older and of the legal age of majority. The entry period begins at 12:00 AM Pacific Time (PT) on 4/1/20 and ends at 11:59 PM PT on 4/30/20. The winners will be notified by email. Sponsored by St. Martin’s Press.
The Jane Austen Society: A Novel, by Natalie Jenner
St Martin’s Press (May 26, 2020)
Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook (320) pages
Cover image, book description, an exclusive excerpt, and author bio compliments of St. Martin’s Press © 2020; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2020, Austenprose.com