Martin's Must Reads: 'Miss Austen'

Oct 12, 2021

"Kintbury, March 1840. ‘Miss Austen’ the voice came from behind her. ‘Forgive me.’ She turned. ‘I did not know you were there.’ Cassandra managed a smile but stayed where she was on the vicarage doorstep. She would dearly like to be more effusive...but was simply too tired to move. Her old bones had been shaken apart by the coach ride from her home in Chawton, and the chill wind off the river was piercing her joints. She stood by her bags and watched Isabella approach.”

I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads" and those are some lines from the beginning of Gill Hornby’s novel Miss Austen. The novel begins in 1840. Cassandra’s famous author sister, Jane Austen, has been dead for twenty years. In an effort to protect any secrets that may shed a bad light on Jane, Cassandra has traveled to the Fowle’s home to retrieve any damaging letters that Jane may have sent to her friend Eliza Fowle. Her excuse is to help Isabelle Fowle pack up the family possessions to ready the rectory for a new occupant.

As the book jacket states the novel “moves back and forth in time, between Cassandra’s vibrant memories of Jane and the revelations found years later in her sister’s letters. It is the untold story of the most important person in Jane Austen’s life.”

In her Author’s Note Hornby states that it is a matter of family record that Cassandra did indeed review Jane’s letters and burned a majority of them, so the ones that appear in this novel are fictional. This novel is written in the same style as Jane Austen’s works so if you’re a fan of hers, then you must read Miss Austen by Gill Hornby.