Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Jenny by any other name...

To me, Jane Austen is a tragic figure. Save William Shakespeare, she is perhaps the best-loved author in the English Language. She got there by penning sweet, funny, romantic tales that tell of Regency life with a astute eye. Sweet, ROMANTIC tales. sigh. But she totally died without ever marrying. Which, like, to my unmarried self, is SUCH the tragedy! We're fascinated - enamored, even - of her heroines and her life. This is the 2nd book I've read inspired by her this year, and the fourth in two years - not counting the movies. If it's inspired by Jane or her books, it's the dark chocolate of women's (and teen) lit. Tasty, and with antioxidants.

Cassandra's Sister (other than being a 2007 Cybil nominee) was recommended to me by blogger/author Colleen Mondor. In person. Over munchies at a Barnes & Noble cafe (Yes, I DO feel special! Thanks for asking!). So, it was sorta a must read. And so:

Cassandra Austen's little sister, Jenny, was always scribbling away, creating stories for her friends' and family's amusement. It wasn't terribly serious, as all young women were merely waiting to get married. She was a bit shy about it, but all who learned of her stories loved them. This is Jenny Austen becoming the woman Jane. This is her, with her optimism, her shyness, and her everyday struggles.

Curiously, the novel starts out with the French Revolution during the Reign of Terror. Execution via guillotine certainly gets my attention, but it is an odd entrance into a life that, while it may have coincided with the events, did not much engage with them (well, as far as I know, and as is revealed in the text). Aside: The intersections of history fascinate me. One forgets amid the pastoral calm of Austen that merely a few hundred miles away chaos reigned in France. Yes, there's an acknowledgment of war with the constant parade of soldiers, but it is at a distance in her work, at least from my perspective (yeah. I'm saying this without ever have read any of her books. Just watched the movies. Yes, yes, bad librarian. Miss Erin intends to rectify the situation with her Christmas present to me. She's a doll. Again, special. I'm a lucky girl.).

The author accounts a bit for this: "Revolution and war, two such vivid players on the stage of history might seem far away from her quiet family in their rectory in the Hampshire countryside. But they were not" (p 10). It's meant to connect the beheading with Jane's life, and it does, but I don't really feel that the incident is quite large enough to warrant the opening scene of the book. However, it does, as I said, effectively get the reader's attention. And that is SUCH a large percentage of the battle.

Other wee bits I noticed: The passage of time is a bit uncomfortable. Suddenly, a year or two, or ten have past. Nothing has really changed. Some people have died, or been born. Jenny becomes Jane and loses interest in playing cards. Nothing truly momentous, and that's... just life. Jane Austen's life. In fiction by Veronica Bennett. There were, especially in the beginning, slightly annoying expository sections that reveal the social constraints of the time. The explanation was necessary, but inelegantly done. Bennett seems to have nicely mimicked the tone, pace and style of Austen, which is a double edged sword; great for those who are looking for things to extend their love for Austen, but a barrier for those (like me), who sometimes need something rather faster. All flaws were forgotten about half-way through the book, and I sunk into that world.

This will most likely appeal to readers who are already in love with Austen. This sounds like a negative review, but I really don't view the book that way. It took me some time to get into it, after that opening salvo wore off, but I did grow to care about the characters. I just found it difficult, since I knew that she doesn't find her love. It's just so sad to me that the woman who gave the world the ideal of romance...didn't find it herself. I liked the book. I'll stop talking now.


Becky said...

If you should want to venture forth into the Austen realm (book and/or movies) feel free to join my Austen mini-challenge. Participants commit to watching or reading two movies or books.

Anonymous said...

What are you doing blogging while on vacation? Is that allowed? ;)

Erin said...

I've been going back and forth on wanting to read this. I think perhaps I will, thanks to your review. :)

Anonymous said...

You know what's funny - I'm not a Jane Austen fan! ha! I have never gotten anywhere with her books. They just move too slow and I get so frustrated by everyone sits around talking and not doing. I never read an Austen book through to the end although I did fall hard for Sense and Sensibility because of Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet (and Alan Rickman...swoon!!!!)

Okay, long comment but I think Cassandra's Sister was the first book that made me care about Jane. Finally I understood why all her books were written on the subjects she chose - why that world mattered so much to her. Seems stupid (and obvious) but I just never realized how much of it was her world.

Anyway, I think the book has some good appeal to people who don't care at all about Jane (like me). And I also strongly suggest they get that Thompson/Winslet movie too. It might make them read Jane's books themselves. (Although I still haven't done that yet..... :)


Anonymous said...

I love Jane Austen, and read and watch every derivative chic lit/flick based on, or inspired by her life and work. You are is the dark chocolate. I have one minor nit-picky bone to pick with you, m'dear...Regency England (Mad King George III and the Prince Regent George) NOT Edwardian. That come later. Okay, end of lecture. Totally miss seeing you, can't wait for you to get back here.

Little Willow said...

It's in my to-read pile.

Jackie Parker said...

Oh, for Pete's sake, Gwendolyn. I got a phone call from my mother complaining about the mistake, too. I WAS BLOGGING ON MY VACATION. Give me a break. sigh. I normally would never make such an error. I'm above average with my British eras. No, really. It's fixed.