Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
TYPE OF AUSTENESQUE NOVEL: Epistolary Novel, Minor Character, Alternate Point-of-View
TIME FRAME: (October 1813) Mrs. Weston’s Wedding – (August 1814)
MAIN CHARACTERS: Mrs. Goddard, her sister Mrs. Pinkney, Mr. Pinkney, Harriet Smith, and Mrs. Pinkney’s young friend Charlotte Gordon
WHY I WANTED TO READ THIS NOVEL: I first read this retelling back in 2003 when I was eagerly searching out any published Austenesque works I could find. I’ve reread it three times since them and find that my enjoyment and admiration for this work increases with every reread!
SYNOPSIS: Covering the same timeline as Jane Austen’s Emma, this shows the same story from the perspective of Mrs. Goddard. In this epistolary novel the letters are exchanged between Mary Goddard and her sister, Charlotte Pinkley, who after being recently widowed has married a second time to man she doesn’t love.
WHAT I LOVED:
- A Conversation Through Letters: The two sisters exchange 70 letters in this retelling – full of the events and cares of their lives, newsy gossip about their neighbors, complaints, lamentations, and admonishments. The letters were so effortlessly and eloquently written you would think you were witnessing a conversation between two close friends instead of letters written days and weeks apart.
- Minor and Original Characters: I love how Ms. Austen-Leigh fleshed out and developed Mrs. Goddard. I admired her cheery attitude, warm heart, and strength. To know the constraints on women during the time period she lived and to see how she established a successful school to support herself, while providing education and a nurturing home to so many young girls is an impressive feat! Mrs. Pinkney, on the other hand isn’t as maternal and giving. She is earnest and devoted, but sometimes could be a little outspoken and unfair in her judgments. I loved spending time with these two interesting and charming sisters, I’m sure Jane Austen herself would have delighted in such well-drawn and engaging creations!
- Multiple and Different Story-lines: Since she isn’t present at all the important scenes and events of Emma, Mrs. Goddard learns much through reports and gossip from other minor characters and servants. What she doesn’t know is left up to speculation and conjecture – which she oftentimes shares with Mrs. Pinkney and her husband. The other main story-line focuses on Mrs. Pinkey and her newly married husband. Their marriage is one of convenience, isolation, and mutual regret. But when Mrs. Pinkney befriends a young school girl next door, things begin to change for our unhappy couple.
- Mutual Acquaintances: I loved how there were several occasions where Mr. and Mrs. Pinkney would encounter someone with a connection to Highbury in London or Bath. Hearing their impressions and information about the John Knightleys and Mr. Elton were brilliant additions.
- Clever Nods to Jane Austen’s Other Novels: I absolutely loved finding these subtle allusions and parallels to several of Jane Austen’s novels. Some of my favorites were seeing Charlotte ponder using Gowland’s to help her freckles and witnessing Mrs. Pinkney get all defensive about her penchant for reading novels. 😉
- The Author is Jane Austen’s Relative: Joan Austen-Leigh is Jane Austen’s great-great-great niece! I just think that is so cool!
WHAT I WASN’T TOO FOND OF:
- Not a thing!
With meticulous attention to period language, tone, and the events and characters of Jane Austen’s Emma, Joan Austen-Leigh gives readers a most enchanting and memorable visit to Highbury. Those who long to live in this idyllic village will feel wonderfully at home with Mrs. Goddard as she relates all her exciting news, cares, and busy nothings to her dear sister in London. Inventive, reverent, and incredibly well-executed!
Note: This story was published under the a different title, Mrs. Goddard, Mistress of a School, in 1993
While preparing for our move a couple months ago I found I own two copies of A Visit to Highbury! Since I only need one copy for my many future rereads I thought I’d share the love and use this second copy for a giveaway! As you see pictured below, I have a used/former library copy of A Visit to Highbury that is looking for a new home.
If you are interested in winning this lovely book for yourself, just leave a comment below.
- This giveaway is open to residents worldwide because you all are awesome!
- This giveaway will end May 29th.