This beautifully tender story offers a new insight into the world of the Austen sisters interweaving the past and present effectively.
It can never be easy being a sister who is overshadowed by her fellow sibling – particularly when that sibling is Jane Austen. But what Gill Hornby’s gorgeously written novel Miss Austen does bring Cassandra Austen out of the shadows to offer a new perspective of Jane Austen and the close relationship she had with her sister Cassandra.
Set twenty three years after the death of Jane Austen, Cassandra finds herself at the home of family friends the Fowles on a search for some private letters that her sister wrote – which contain secrets that best not revealed. On a wider scale, Miss Austen is a story of family, friendship, mothers and sisters told through a female perspective that is told both tenderly and honestly.
Gill Hornby has written a story that is filled with humour, grief and love all with a striking similarity to the way in which Jane Austen constructed her stories – particularly with regards to character insights and the sharpness of the wit. Throughout it all she also gives voice to a personality that has been overshadowed by her famous sister – her grief and unwillingness to remarry following the death of her beloved fiance Tom Fowles is particularly heart rendering to read about.
Throughout it all, as Cassandra rediscovers her sister’s letters (which were all fictionally written by the author), the book entwines the past with the present to offer a vivid insight into the strength of the relationship between the two sisters as well as all of the other female characters that we encounter throughout. There are moments which do pleasingly read like something that Austen herself would have written, with eagle-eyed fans of her work being able to pick up some small similarities in words or the way in which characters have been portrayed.
But more importantly, Miss Austen also adds something different to the ongoing appeal of Jane Austen that allows us a glimpse of what she may have been like away from her writing. In particular, given her sharp observations of society consistently found in her books. Hornby allows the reader to see her through new eyes of those who were closest to her which makes for a real treat for her fans. A deeply engaging read.
By Emma Clarendon
Miss Austen is available to buy now.