May 222015

“In a Time Where One’s Town was One’s World…”

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Source: Purchased

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.


  • 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!


  • 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

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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.

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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.
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  69 Responses to “A Visit To Highbury – Joan Austen-Leigh + GIVEAWAY!!!”


    Thank you for the chance to win this book!


    Is this the same as a book also published earlier as Old Friends and New Fancies? It sounds very likely, and I remember loving it too. Perhaps because the author was closer in time to Jane Austen, a product of the prewar world, there were none of the awkward misunderstandings of Regency manners that are so prevalent in many retellings, no matter how hard modern authors try to get it right. Thanks for bringing this lovely book back to people’s notice!


      Hi Abigail! That would be a different book – also special and unique. Special because it was published in 1913 – way before so Austenesque and JAFF were popular. And unique because it is a sequel to P&P but contains characters from all 6 Jane Austen novels! 🙂 I’d reference my review of it for you, but I read it pre-blog…definitely one I want to reread in the future though! Happy to highlight this treasure!


        Aha, faulty memory strikes again! What you describe in your review sounds so familiar, maybe I borrowed it from somebody and did not keep it in my permanent collection. Goody, one more to look forward to reading!


          With so many books it is definitely easy to mix some up! The author of of Old Friends New Fancies is Sybil Brinton, just realized I didn’t share that!


    As I am very fond of Emma and buy everything Emma related I can find…this as definitely got to go on the must have list!! Thanks for the review, as always, it leaves me needing to purchase a book!! 😉


      I share that with you Stephanie! I’d love to read all the Emma-inspired books! This one is not to be missed by Emma fans! But be warned…not much of Mr. Knightley. :/ But that is understandable. As mistress of a school, Mrs. Goddard wouldn’t have much cause to interact frequently with Mr. Knightley!


    Thank you for the chance to win a copy of a book I have not come across before


    This sounds like such a clever book. I am adding it to my wish list! I also think it is neat that the author is related to Jane Austen. I always enjoy your reviews, Meredith.


      🙂 It was very well-thought out, in my opinion! I really appreciate how Ms. Austen-Leigh worked so hard to make her story fit perfectly in the framework of Emma – not one date, line, or event was changed.


    OH hadn’t read this one! Thanks for the recommendation.


    I just looked and my local library has the follow-up, A
    Later Visit to Highbury. I’m off to get it! Thanks for bringing this author to my attention.


    This does sound interesting. Thanks for the reviews. I will add this to my long Wish List.


    The premise of this book sounds so fun to read & I’ve liked the epistolary novels I’ve read, such as Dear Mr. Knightley. They’re a nice change of pace from time to time rather than just straight narrative. Thanks so much for sharing both your great review & your extra book! 🙂


    Definitely interested, thank you!


    Emma was my first Austen, and one that I go back to time and again. I hadn’t heard of this book, but the premise is wonderful, and the chance to learn more about Mrs Goddard is exciting. Thank you for sharing this book with us!


    If you have read this book three times, it must be exciting to read Emma through letters and through the voice of Mrs. Goddard. I would love to read it! Thank you for the giveaway.


    Thank you for this giveaway! I spent some time with Joan Austen-Leigh in
    the 80’s, but I never read this book.


    Thanks for generously sharing your extra copy, Meredith! Please add me to the giveaway!


    I simply love epistolary stories. This one sounds really interesting. Thanks for letting us international readers in on the act, Meredith.


    I wasn’t familiar with this one and I’m glad to get your review thoughts. Very creative alternate view on the story. Another one for the wish list. 😉


      Happy to share my thoughts with you! I think it is interesting how Ms. Austen-Leigh chose Mrs. Goddard out of all the characters in Highbury! She is so unassuming and inconsequential.


    I have never read a variation of Emma. I would love to read it. Even if I do not win it, thank you very much for doing this giveaway worldwide! 🙂


    I love it when we find an older Austenesque story, one that came about before the modern era of JAFF. I’m glad to learn of Old Friends and New Fancies, too! Thanks for the chance to win this!


    I’m agreeing with plenty of replies you’ve received already, I really like epistolary novels. I’d love to hear from an author someday whether or not they are difficult to write. What do you think?

    I would love to read this. Although Emma has not been my go-to JAFF choice, I’m coming around to your point of view. Thanks Meredith. Hope you DO review ‘Old Friends and New Fancies’ someday.


      That is a very good question, Michelle! I’ve never written anything, but I’d imagine it would be easier in some respects but challenging in others. 🙂 It might be easier to have the narrow style of only communicating via letter, but also harder because you might have something you want to show or tell and can’t figure out how.

      I’d definitely love to reread and review Old Friends and New Fancies!


    Oh, wow! I’ve had this on my to read list since forever. I’ve never found a copy for myself though. Thanks for giving us more info about it.


    Can’t believe I haven’t entered this one yet!!! Thanks for the giveaway and the great review. Meredith! It sounds like a great book!


    An epistolary novel?? I LOVE books like that! They’re my absolute favourites!! They give me the chance to be a part of the story, because it’s like reading the characters’ personal journals and it’s wonderful! Thanks for your generosity, Meredith! 🙂


    I never heard of this novel!!! Thanks for introduced me to it and for sharing with us your review.


    This sounds awesome, Meredith! Many Thanks for the chance to win a copy!


    I have heard of this book but have never seen a copy. I would love to win!


    Why have I never heard of this book, it sounds delightful. I am always looking for EMMA re-tellings, just not enough out there, in my opinion. Would love to win a copy. Thanks for the giveaway..


      LOL! It was published in 1995, so I’m afraid it’s popularity has definitely worn off now. 😉 I agree, we need more Emma-retellings, more Highbury!


    Meredith, I haven’t heard about this book until you highlighted it in your previous post. Thanks for enlightening and sharing your views with us in addition to hosting this giveaway. I would love to win a copy.


    That’s very kind of you to share this copy with us!. I love epistolary novels, I enjoy a lot with them and sometimes I miss the lost art of writing letters. I think there’s scope for gossip and letters in a place like Highbury!. Thanks for the review 😉


      I’m very happy to share! I can only read one at a time! And this is such a lovely book that I want others to enjoy it too! 🙂 Very true about letter writing and the gossip!


    This sounds like an interesting book. I haven’t heard about it before so thank you for the introduction. I hadn’t even been introduced to Jane Austen in 1995. Thank you for the generous give away.


      Happy to introduce you to this book! In 1995 I was still reading American Girl books – it would be another 7 years before I found Jane Austen. 😉


    Haven’t heard of this book before. I’m glad you liked it! I’ve read Emma more that 3 times already (Persuasion is my favorite) and loved and your review makes me want to read this one as well. Thanks for the chance to win this, sounds like something I’d enjoy 🙂


    Thanks for a chance to read this book! I love Emma variations! This one looks great!


    I’d love to give it a new home. I’d say I have room on my shelf, but I am in need of a bigger shelf. It will have a place here with my other books though!


    Always love your review Meredith! They are always so insightful without relieving too much!

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