Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
TYPE OF AUSTENESQUE NOVEL: Graphic Novel
SYNOPSIS: A reimagining of Jane Austen’s life with a focus on her relationship with her “Irish friend,” Tom Lefroy. Geared towards a younger audience, this graphic novel shares a little of Jane Austen’s childhood and family life, her experiences with romance, and the beginning of her writing career. Accompanying this short tale are black and white images in comic-strip style.
WHAT I LOVED:
- Speculation and Romance: I know respecting privacy is important, but at the same time I dearly wish we knew more about Jane Austen’s life and that somehow we’d find a bunch of letters that Cassandra didn’t destroy! I like to think of Jane Austen having some big romance in her life, whether it be with Tom Lefroy, an unnamed gentleman from the seaside, or someone else. And I love reading stories that imagine and illustrate what that romance might be like.
- Sketching Her Character: Literally and figuratively! I very much enjoyed the collection of illustrations in this graphic novel; I liked the variety of sizes and styles. And I felt these images were dynamic and expressive – even though they were in black and white! I enjoyed how the author gave Jane some distinctive traits – such as her disinclination for lady-like accomplishments, her shared passion for scholarly pursuits, and some unruly curls! (LOL!) However, I do not agree with the author that Jane Austen was terrible at and disliked playing the piano! (not true!) But I did appreciate her depicting Jane Austen as an independent thinker and gifted writer.
- Back Matter: Included in the back matter of this novel is a timeline of Jane Austen’s life and a short essay by Dr. Mara Burbuni, which are great additions. I think readers who are unfamiliar with Jane Austen and the details of her life will find this information helpful. However, I would have loved to see the author elaborate more on what is fact and what is fiction in this work. Those sorts of details are always helpful and interesting too.
WHAT I WASN’T TOO FOND OF:
- Misrepresenting?: Since I am familiar with some details of Jane Austen’s life, I did notice a few times where the truth felt slightly misrepresented. Such as some cattiness from Cassandra.
- Mixed Messages: SPOILER ALERT!!! In this scenario, Jane eventually realizes that she does not love Tom enough to give up her writing and become a wife and mother. She ends their engagement and declares that she “no longer felt anything for him” and that she confused fiction with reality. Yet towards the end of the story, it paints the picture that Tom was the great love of her life and that he did touch her heart deeply. I’m not sure what to think – perhaps the author wanted to illustrate Jane’s strength in breaking away from the belief that women must marry, even when in love? But at the same time it felt unclear what Jane truly felt for Tom – was it love or a passing fancy?
Despite these minor criticisms I found a lot to enjoy in this delightful reimagining of Jane Austen’s life and I would recommend Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper to all readers who take pleasure in graphic novels, speculating about Jane Austen’s relationships, or are looking for a way to introduce Jane Austen to some younger readers!