The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, by Syrie James – A Review

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, by Syrie James (2007)From the desk of Christina Boyd: 

Jane Austen. Fact: born December 16, 1775; died July 18, 1817 at age 41.  Fact:  never married. Fact: wrote six complete novels, including a few unfinished works, and juvenilia. Fact: lived out her life in a quiet Chawton Cottage with her older, spinster sister Cassandra and aging mother. Also known is that not long before her own death, Cassandra burned much of Jane’s private correspondence and even cut out entire passages of the letters saved, driving many discussions as to why? Many Jane Austen biographies abound and mention her brief flirtation with Tom Lefroy at the age of 19, and even her short-lived engagement to Harris Bigg-Wither, heir of Manydown Park, where over night she retracted her acceptance of his hand. But nothing from the author herself. Nothing as rich as a personal journal. What a literary triumph that would be to discover such a one!  Surely, a writer with transparent understanding of romance, great love and human nature would have had her own back story to mine such rich characters, conversations and scenarios as found in Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion, et al. Surely, such a mind would have experienced first-hand what it is to be in-love! Author Syrie James undertakes this venture of speculation in her novel, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.

In this fictional work, the story opens with an Editor’s Forward, written by a Mary I. Jesse, of Oxford University, President of the Jane Austen Literary Foundation, stating that manuscripts written in Jane Austen’s own hand were recently discovered in a chest that had been walled up at Chawton Manor House. These memoirs begin with Jane and Cassandra moving to Bath in 1801 with their parents, until Mr. Austen dies four years later, leaving the women barely solvent. During these years they make extended stays with their Austen brothers and are quite dependent on their kindness. On one particular occasion while visiting Lyme with her brother Henry, Jane meets the handsome, rich and amiable Mr. Frederick Ashford. As devoted Janeites will clearly perceive the language, phrasing and situations found in Austen’s masterpieces, we would also easily recognize many of her male protagonists’ characteristics in this fine gentleman. One example while strolling the Cobb, Jane loses her footing and would have fallen to her death on the hard pavement below if not for the quick actions by Mr. Ashford. A few moments later after this prophetic initial meeting, Jane attempts to properly thank him, Ashford declares

‘ No thanks are necessary.’

‘Indeed they are.  Reaching out as you did, you might have lost your footing and come to harm yourself.’

‘Had that been the case, I would have given my life – or limb – in a worthy cause.’

‘Do you mean to imply that it was worth risking your life, to save mine?’

‘I do.’

‘A bold statement, on such a short acquaintance.’

‘In what way bold?’

‘You are a gentleman and the heir to a title and, apparently, a vast estate.  Whereas I am a woman with no fortune and of very little consequence.’

‘If first impressions are to be believed, Miss Austen’ he began.

‘Never trust your first impressions, Mr. Ashford.  They are invariably wrong.’

‘Mine are invariably right.  And they lead me to this conclusion: that you, Miss Austen, are a woman of greater fortune and consequence than I.’

‘On what grounds do you base this claim?’

‘On these grounds: if you were to have perished just now, how many people would have missed you?’

‘How many people?’

‘Yes.’

‘I would like to think my mother, my sister, my friend Martha, and my six brothers would miss me.  My brothers’ wives, my nieces and nephews, who number more than a dozen, and perhaps several dear old friends.’

‘Whereas I have only my friend and one younger sister to regret my passing.’

‘No wife, then?’

‘No.  So you see, although I may be rich in property, you are rich in family, and therefore the far more wealthy and important of us.’

I laughed.  ‘If wealth were based on your principle, Mr. Ashford, the entire class system of England would fall apart at the seams.’ Chapter 3

Although knowing from the beginning that this was entirely a tale of fancy, and knowing in my head that Jane never married, the story filled my heart with an impossible hope. Moreover, I was surprised when I found myself weeping when the happy event never came to be.

Syrie James has extensively researched Austen’s life and Regency times blending what we know as fact with the mysterious lore created by the gaps unknown to her public, creating a beautiful, fictional what if. The footnotes, maps and Austen family tree as well as the chronology of her life were delightful reference bonuses. Also included is a Q & A with the author, Quotations from Austen’s works and letters, and even Book Club/Reading Group Study Guide discussion points.

Although this novel is a work of fiction, I read it through wishing all along that it were not. Like many, I would like to imagine this brilliant, opinionated, witty woman had met the great love of her life and that she did in fact experience some of the magic she so keenly wrote of. Syrie James successfully creates a world of Jane Austen we can only wonder. “…but for my part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.” (The Juvenilia of Jane Austen) With such sage words I can only echo that The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is indeed entirely too short!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, by Syrie James
HarperCollins (2007)
Trade paperback (352)
ISBN: 978-0061341427

Cover image courtesy of HarperCollin © 2007; text Christina Boyd © 2010, Austenprose.com

Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Blogosphere

“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.”
Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

Jane Austen around the blogosphere for the week of October 13th

The movie The Duchess staring Keria Knightley (Pride and Prejudice 2005) opened in national release this last week and I am all anticipation to see. It has received mixed reviews and a lot of press about comparisons of Georgiana Cavendish to Princess Diana, claims that producers asked Knightley to allow a boob job to the movie posters and all sorts of hooey. The movie is based on the 1998 biography entitled Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman and also features other actors with Austen connections; Hayley Atwell (Mansfield Park 2007), Dominic Cooper (Sense and Sensibility 2008), Joseph Beatie (Mansfield Park 2007), Alistair Petrie (Emma 1996) and composer Rachel Portman (Emma 1996). The costumes look sumptuous and it is on the top of my list of must see movies this fall.

My Austen friends in Canada are definetly the favoured nation, again! First they get a new production of Pride and Prejudice in Edmonton, NOW, they get Lost in Austen on TV! Geesh, I am feeling out of the loop here in the States. ; (

Join romance author Stephanie Sloan as she discusses Jane Austen every Friday with An Austen Friday on her blog.

Austen and Austen-esque book reviews for the week; Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Mr. Darcy Present his Bride, Pride and PrejudiceCassandra & Jane, and a second review of Cassandra & Jane, Mr. Darcy’s Diary, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, and The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet.

One of the October Austen-esque books that really intrigued me was Two Guys Read Jane Austen by Steve Chandler and Terence Hill. What a fascinating premise, — well from a feminine perspective that is! Check out author Steve Chandler’s insights on how the book came about and other musing on the experience of writing it with his friend at his blog. No surprised that their wives put them up to it. ; )

Writer Marilyn Brant shares her wonderful experience at the 30th annual AGM of JASN which concluded in Chicago earlier this month. I am pea green over her Jane Austen watch. You can get your very own at Jane Austen Books. Janeite Deb of Jane Austen in Vermont continues her reports from JASNA also with The Adventures Befalling a Janeite in Chicago – Part 3, and Part 4.

Chawton House Library is offering a short story competition to celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s arrival in the Hampshire village of Chawton. There are cash prizes and trips to a writer’s retreat at Chawton House. The deadline is March 31st, 2009 and the complete details can be found here.

The Becoming Jane Fansite has an uplifting quote of the week from Jane Austen’s letters, The Happiness Project has another great quote from Miss Bates from Emma, and The Rest is Still Unwritten offers a long quote from Persuasion that sets men straight.

Aimee at Saccharine Irony imagines herself as Mrs. Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility and has tea. Is that Mrs. Dashwood senior or Fanny Dashwood the daughter-in-law? Hope it’s the former.

What was Jane Austen really like? Find out what author Claire Tomalin and Carol Shields have to say and then vote for which heroine that you think Jane Austen was most like on Ripple Effects.

Find out if Jane Austen was a hot surfer chick as Niqel of The Trim of My Sails blog explains it all for us.

Want to check out the shelves in the closet at Hunsford Parsonage, that humble abode on the Rosings estate of The Rev. Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice ? Well, here’s your chance to get about as close to a fictional structure as can be if you rent the house used in the filming of the Pride and Prejudice movie of 2005. The present owners of Almshouse in Weekley near Kettering in Northamptonshire will let you have it for a song, if your like the tune of £2,350.00 a month!  One wonders out loud if perchance the house is misnamed. ; )

I had been ignoring the fact that the holidays are quickly aproaching and then I received my monthly Jane Austen Centre online newsletter in my mail box and read about fruit cake! If you are wondering what the connection to Jane is, then brace yourself gentle readers, Jane does discuss it in her letter to her sister Cassandra in 1808. Well almost fruit cake since she mentions the family being anxious to receive wedding cake, which was similar to today’s fruit cake and prized by the Regency era. I am one of those odd creatures that adores fruit cake. I know, I just heard you all gasp in horror. You all think of fruit cake as that sticky gooey super sweet concoction that grandma used to send to your family during the holidays and was re-gifted to other family members for 20 years as a joke. Granted, fruit cake has gotten a bum rap since it was cherished in the 1800’s (or lately by your granny), but you might be interested to read over the recipes in the Centre’s article and see for yourself that it does not contain any lost mittens or old socks! I have a cherished recipe too, which will go unshared until someone admits they like it! Subscribe to the Centre’s newsletter here.

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey continues here at Austenprose. I am really enjoying the group read of Northanger Abbey, the guest blogs this week by Margaret Sullivan (Mags) on Henry Tilney, Vic (Ms. Place) on dancing in Bath, and fashion in the 2 Northanger movie adpataions by Kali Pappas. Be sure to check out all the free giveaways, and leave a comment to qualify for the drawings before October 30th.

Until next week, happy Jane sighting,

Laurel Ann