Cassandra and Jane

( 8 )

Overview

Cassandra and Jane
A Jane Austen Novel

Chapter One

Our Early Years

How soon did you know her special qualities? That is the question I have always been asked ever since her fame spread beyond the family.

The fact is that I somehow always knew that she was different and the memories I have of her in our ...

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Overview

Cassandra and Jane
A Jane Austen Novel

Chapter One

Our Early Years

How soon did you know her special qualities? That is the question I have always been asked ever since her fame spread beyond the family.

The fact is that I somehow always knew that she was different and the memories I have of her in our childhood are about those times when it was clear that she behaved in some way which was unusual or unexpected. As a child, and as an adult, she could be difficult and cause discomfort to me and to others.

They always told me that I could not possible remember the first time I saw her. After all, I was not quite three and it was too much to expect that my memory was accurate. I knew what others told me about that first meeting in 1775 and had assumed that the memories were my own. But I know that is not true, I have a very clear memory of that very snowy day when Mrs. Littledown, my village mother, brought me to Steventon to meet my new sister.

The snow was very deep, too deep for me to walk, and Mother Littledown carried me all the way. I was so well wrapped up that I could scarcely see out from all the shawls and scarves but I caught a glimpse of the oak tree in the driveway, its branches so weighed with snow that they almost touched the ground. I laughed as my head touched the branches and flurries of snow fell on to my village mother's head. Though so cold, it was very sunny and the glare of the sun on the snow hurt my eyes so that it was a relief to pass into the darkness of the passage and be set down.

My mother was in the bed, her cap crooked on her head, and held her hand out to me as I approached.

"Dear little Cassy—we have a sister for you to play with at last—come and look at her."

There was a fire in the grate and the room was warm but still Jane was swaddled tightly as I bent over her. She lay in the wicker cradle that we later used for Charles and her eyes were open. They were the same light brown that I later drew and sparkled even then.

I can remember no more, but I have since been told that, shortly afterwards, Jane took my place with the village family and I returned to live at Steventon Rectory with my parents and four brothers.

My mother's way of raising her brood caused some disquiet in the rest of the family, though I did not learn this until much later. She nursed us herself until we were able to be weaned. I was later to be most embarrassed by this practice, as it was more usual to employ a wet nurse.

All her life, my mother was to act rather strangely in some matters and this was certainly one. Normally, when a child was weaned, it would be brought back from its wet nurse and take its place with the family. In the Austen household, the babies were sent off after they were on to the spoon and only returned when they were what Mama called civilised. This happened to us all and I did not therefore see Jane for a long while after that first glimpse in the bedroom. She was sent to Cheesedown Farm after her christening, I later learned, and came home after Charles, the last baby, was born.

The next memory I have is of a very hot day when we all went to see my brother George. George was almost as old as James, my eldest brother, and I could not understand why he had not come back home to live with the rest of us. When I asked, Mama would reply, "George is different, my love, as you will see when you meet him."

It must have been a Sunday I suppose, that first visit, as all the others were, after my father had finished his services. James was there and Edward and Henry too, but I cannot recall Frank.

When we reached Monk Sherborne, George came running out to meet us and he looked just like James, except that he was much smaller; he walked awkwardly, dragging one leg behind him. An older man was with him and I was told that this was my uncle Thomas, Mama's brother. He seemed more like a small boy himself. How long we stayed, I cannot rightly remember but, as we were to leave, I was very frightened to see George fall upon the ground and twitch in a most terrible manner, foaming at the mouth.

As we got back into the cart to be conveyed home, I saw that my mother was crying.

My father took her hand. "We are fortunate my dear that we have other, many other, healthy children. And we have this comfort, that he cannot be a bad or wicked child."

I knew that we should not respond to this but this was the first time I saw Jane show that determined, bold approach that I was to learn to expect of her.

"Why can he not be bad or wicked, Papa? Are other children bad or wicked?"

"Children are bad or wicked when they question their parents too much, Jenny."

"But why, Papa . . . ?"

I grasped her hand and squeezed it so she would stop. I had seen the sadness on my mother's face turn to anger and she folded her lips tightly as she looked at Jane.

"Hush my dear," said my father, "the child is naturally curious, that is all."

"She is too concerned for herself, with not enough consideration for others. Her high opinion of herself is not fitting for a girl child."

That was I think the first time I was aware that my mother did not like Jane much. There was something in each of their characters that made them at odds with each other. Jane put her own interpretation on it in later years, but in these childhood days it was a sadness I could not explain and led me to be even more protective of Jane than I would have been as an elder sister.

Cassandra and Jane
A Jane Austen Novel
. Copyright © by Jill Pitkeathley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Following Jane Austen's untimely death in 1817 at age 41, her "most beloved sister" destroyed most of their correspondence; in her first novel, House of Lords peer Pitkeathley attempts to fill in the gaps through the eyes of Cassandra, Jane's closest confidante and sharpest critic. Cassandra tells of the Austen family's precarious position on the lowest tier of Hampshire's aristocracy, Jane's early attempts at "scribbling" and the crushing romantic disappointments of the two. Throughout, Cassandra's detailed look at her younger sister showcases not only Jane's literary accomplishments and "the low spirits, the anger, even the bitterness in her," but also her indefatigable romanticism. Cassandra's voice is perfectly pitched, true to Austen's England, and jam-packed with Austen trivia. Descriptions of known events in the sisters' lives, however, tend toward the didactic, especially compared to Pitkeathley's imaginative leaps regarding the sisters' secrets; as such, the seams between actual and imagined history are entirely too visible. Ardent Austen devotees will be undeterred by the uneven narrative, but casual fans may want to pass. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

While Jane Austen is recognized the world over as one of the greatest storytellers in the English language, in this fictional work, the talent does not extend to her sister. This first novel by Pitkeathley imagines the relationship between the sisters Austen, as told from Cassandra's first-person point of view. Unfortunately, Cassandra is a dullish narrator, wringing her hands and denigrating herself throughout the book. The character may indeed have been an early model for Sense and Sensibility 's Elinor Dashwood (as Pitkeathley seems to imply), but she has none of the sparkle, wit, or drollery of Miss Dashwood, instead possessing an abundance of prudery and simpering judgment. From Cassandra, we get only the merest glimpses of the secret side of Jane that her sister claims to know better than any other. Accuracy aside, the novel fails to entertain with the story of Austen's life. Originally published in the United Kingdom in 2004, the book appears to be releasing Stateside to capitalize on the popularity of recent Austen biopics. Recommended for Austen completists.-Amy Watts, Univ. of Georgia Lib., Athens

Janet Aylmer
“This delightful book offers unique insight into the Austen sisters’ relationship.”
Syrie James
"A meticulously researched, engrossing and intimate portrait of Jane Austen’s life, sensitively told through the eyes of her sister Cassandra, this poignant and often painstakingly honest tribute is also a celebration of the enduring strength of sisterly love."
Ruth Rendell
"CASSANDRA AND JANE transports the reader into Jane Austen’s world...I loved every word of it."
Booklist
"Lively...a must-read for Austen fans."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616795702
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/9/2008
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jill Pitkeathley was born in the Channel Islands of the United Kingdom. The former chief executive of the Carers National Association (now Carers UK), she is a Life Peer in the House of Lords, a longtime Austen fan, and the author of the novel Cassandra and Jane. She lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt


Cassandra and Jane

A Jane Austen Novel


By Jill Pitkeathley
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008

Jill Pitkeathley
All right reserved.



ISBN: 9780061446399


Chapter One

Our Early Years

How soon did you know her special qualities? That is the question I have always been asked ever since her fame spread beyond the family.

The fact is that I somehow always knew that she was different and the memories I have of her in our childhood are about those times when it was clear that she behaved in some way which was unusual or unexpected. As a child, and as an adult, she could be difficult and cause discomfort to me and to others.

They always told me that I could not possible remember the first time I saw her. After all, I was not quite three and it was too much to expect that my memory was accurate. I knew what others told me about that first meeting in 1775 and had assumed that the memories were my own. But I know that is not true, I have a very clear memory of that very snowy day when Mrs. Littledown, my village mother, brought me to Steventon to meet my new sister.

The snow was very deep, too deep for me to walk, and Mother Littledown carried me all the way. I was so well wrapped up that I could scarcely see out from all the shawls and scarves but I caught a glimpse of the oak tree in the driveway, its branches so weighed with snow that they almost touched the ground. I laughed as my head touched the branches and flurries of snowfell on to my village mother's head. Though so cold, it was very sunny and the glare of the sun on the snow hurt my eyes so that it was a relief to pass into the darkness of the passage and be set down.

My mother was in the bed, her cap crooked on her head, and held her hand out to me as I approached.

"Dear little Cassy—we have a sister for you to play with at last—come and look at her."

There was a fire in the grate and the room was warm but still Jane was swaddled tightly as I bent over her. She lay in the wicker cradle that we later used for Charles and her eyes were open. They were the same light brown that I later drew and sparkled even then.

I can remember no more, but I have since been told that, shortly afterwards, Jane took my place with the village family and I returned to live at Steventon Rectory with my parents and four brothers.

My mother's way of raising her brood caused some disquiet in the rest of the family, though I did not learn this until much later. She nursed us herself until we were able to be weaned. I was later to be most embarrassed by this practice, as it was more usual to employ a wet nurse.

All her life, my mother was to act rather strangely in some matters and this was certainly one. Normally, when a child was weaned, it would be brought back from its wet nurse and take its place with the family. In the Austen household, the babies were sent off after they were on to the spoon and only returned when they were what Mama called civilised. This happened to us all and I did not therefore see Jane for a long while after that first glimpse in the bedroom. She was sent to Cheesedown Farm after her christening, I later learned, and came home after Charles, the last baby, was born.

The next memory I have is of a very hot day when we all went to see my brother George. George was almost as old as James, my eldest brother, and I could not understand why he had not come back home to live with the rest of us. When I asked, Mama would reply, "George is different, my love, as you will see when you meet him."

It must have been a Sunday I suppose, that first visit, as all the others were, after my father had finished his services. James was there and Edward and Henry too, but I cannot recall Frank.

When we reached Monk Sherborne, George came running out to meet us and he looked just like James, except that he was much smaller; he walked awkwardly, dragging one leg behind him. An older man was with him and I was told that this was my uncle Thomas, Mama's brother. He seemed more like a small boy himself. How long we stayed, I cannot rightly remember but, as we were to leave, I was very frightened to see George fall upon the ground and twitch in a most terrible manner, foaming at the mouth.

As we got back into the cart to be conveyed home, I saw that my mother was crying.

My father took her hand. "We are fortunate my dear that we have other, many other, healthy children. And we have this comfort, that he cannot be a bad or wicked child."

I knew that we should not respond to this but this was the first time I saw Jane show that determined, bold approach that I was to learn to expect of her.

"Why can he not be bad or wicked, Papa? Are other children bad or wicked?"

"Children are bad or wicked when they question their parents too much, Jenny."

"But why, Papa . . . ?"

I grasped her hand and squeezed it so she would stop. I had seen the sadness on my mother's face turn to anger and she folded her lips tightly as she looked at Jane.

"Hush my dear," said my father, "the child is naturally curious, that is all."

"She is too concerned for herself, with not enough consideration for others. Her high opinion of herself is not fitting for a girl child."

That was I think the first time I was aware that my mother did not like Jane much. There was something in each of their characters that made them at odds with each other. Jane put her own interpretation on it in later years, but in these childhood days it was a sadness I could not explain and led me to be even more protective of Jane than I would have been as an elder sister.



Continues...


Excerpted from Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley Copyright © 2008 by Jill Pitkeathley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 28, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Informative but slow-going.

    The book is told completly from Cassandra's perspective. It is like she is listing facts. She is meant to give you incites into their "imagined" personal sister relationship but you never get close enough to either girl to care.
    For a similar story but a much better telling of it I would recommend:
    The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen - by Syrie James!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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