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Syrie James: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

02 Jan 2009 · No Comments

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is the most recent book to explore the fundamental seeming contradiction of Austen — how was she able to write about romance with such clarity and conviction, when her own life history appears to include no more than a youthful crush? It also takes advantage of several of the tantalizing details and omissions of Austen’s actual biography. Most notably, her sister (and closest confidant) Cassandra burned the bulk of their correspondence after Jane Austen’s death. Austen’s extremely brief engagement also comes into play.

In an author’s afterword which is perhaps a little too forthcoming, James acknowledges Shakespeare in Love as a major inspiration. Like that film, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen invents life situations for Austen which can be reflected in her art, but the novel is also concerns the tortuous progress of Austen’s novels towards publication. Sometimes this becomes gimmicky, as when characters suggest revisions or even title changes to Austen’s drafts, but the portrayal of Austen’s joy in her work is one of the books’ highlights.

Despite James’ claim that she steeped herself in Austen during the writing of the book, and the inclusion of some paraphrases from Austen’s work and correspondence, James’s prose is mostly (sometimes jarringly) modern, and I found it a very quick, diverting read. The romance that James designs for Austen is quite nicely constructed: although it has echoes of Austen’s most famous works, it doesn’t nakedly recapitulate any one of them.

needs more demons? tempting as it is to imagine Austen as a demon-hunter*, not really

*author Stephanie Barron managed a series in which Austen’s presumed-lost correspondence to Cassandra revealed her to be an amateur sleuth, so perhaps anything is possible.

Tags: historical · j-author · l-title

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