Cassandra Austen Tells All!
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Besides being the devoted sister to one of the most cherished and beloved authors, Cassandra Austen is best known for her devastating destruction of many of Jane Austen’s letters and correspondence. What was in these precious letters that Cassandra didn’t want the world to see? What new insight to Jane Austen’s personality would they have provided? Admirers of Jane Austen’s novels cannot help but harbor a desire to know more about this wonderful woman’s character, yet, because of her letters being destroyed we are only able to know what Cassandra wanted us to know. In her biographical fiction novel, author Jill Pitkeathley envisions the special relationship between Cassandra and Jane, displaying what she believes might have been the true character of Jane Austen and provides answers to questions like: Was Jane Austen ever in love? What occurred in those long years where she did not write?
What is unique about this novel is that it is told from Cassandra’s perspective and narrated through her voice. Cassandra’s story begins with Jane’s birth, which almost at the age of three, Cassandra has a slight memory of, and continues with her childhood, adulthood, and death. The relationship between Cassandra and Jane is filled with sisterly affection and intimacy. Ms. Pitkeathley portrays the wonderful candor between the two sisters and the dependence they had upon one another. However, Ms. Pitkeathley makes a point to show that the relationship between Cassandra and Jane was not a “picture of perfection.” While still maintaining that Cassandra and Jane meant the world to each other, Ms. Pitkeathley illustrates that there were times where jealousy, insecurities, and distance crept into their relationship. Moreover, she depicts our beloved Jane as having faults such as impatience and sometimes bitterness.
What a delightful and illuminating biographical fiction novel! While some aspects of Jane Austen’s life and family history were already familiar to me, there was still plenty for me discover and learn in this novel. I greatly enjoyed how the author inferred Jane Austen’s feelings and thoughts about the events in her life and found myself in complete agreement with her conjectures. I do believe that with three sister-in-laws who died in the midst of or as the result of childbirth that it is completely natural to assume that Jane Austen would be a little frightened of the danger of having children. In addition, I find it very reasonable that with the move to Bath, her father’s death, their looming financial predicaments, and her acceptance/rejection of Harris Bigg Wither’s marriage proposal that Jane Austen would go through a period of depression that would forestall her writing.
One aspect of this novel I took pleasure in was observing the connections and similarities between Jane Austen and many of her character creations. Through this novel I was able to imagine her as a Marianne Dashwood when she was young and in love with Tom Lefory, a satirical Elizabeth Bennet with her biting wit, and perhaps a little bit of a Charlotte Lucas when she contemplated a marriage of convenience. I was also able to observe how Cassandra was the inspiration for Jane’s quieter and gentler characters such as Jane Bingley and Elinor Dashwood. I think Ms. Pitkeathley did a marvelous job of re-imagining and rendering the personalities of these sisters. There is no way of knowing how accurate she is, but I found her interpretations and assumptions to be viable and well-supported. Occasionally there was a moment where I felt that Jane was a little too harsh or self-absorbed and Cassandra a little too insecure, but those were few and far between.
If you are interested in Jane Austen’s missing correspondence and the relationship between Jane and Cassandra Austen, or if you are enamored with all these biographical fiction novels that have recently been in vogue, Cassandra and Jane is a novel you will not want to miss! I cannot get enough of these bio-fic novels, I have loved each one I have had the good fortune to come across! I eagerly anticipate reading Jill Pitkeathley’s newest novel, Dearest Cousin Jane (published in March 2010), as I am curious to learn more about Jane Austen’s lively and independence-loving cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, and her influence on Jane Austen’s life and writing.
GIVEAWAY TIME!!! In honor of Book Rat’s magnificent Jane in June event I am giving away a NEW copy of Cassandra and Jane to one lucky reader!
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This giveaway will end June 30th. Thank you for entering and best of luck!!!