Jane Austen's First Love

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Overview

INSPIRED BY ACTUAL EVENTS  
Fifteen-year-old Jane Austen dreams of three things: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling madly in love. When she visits her brother in Kent to celebrate his engagement, she meets wealthy, devilishly handsome Edward Taylor—a fascinating young man who is truly worthy of her affections. Jane knows a match between her and Edward is unlikely, but every moment she spends with him makes her heart race—and he seems to return her...

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Jane Austen's First Love

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Overview

INSPIRED BY ACTUAL EVENTS  
Fifteen-year-old Jane Austen dreams of three things: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling madly in love. When she visits her brother in Kent to celebrate his engagement, she meets wealthy, devilishly handsome Edward Taylor—a fascinating young man who is truly worthy of her affections. Jane knows a match between her and Edward is unlikely, but every moment she spends with him makes her heart race—and he seems to return her interest. Much to her displeasure, however, there is another seeking his attention
 
Unsure of her budding relationship, Jane seeks distraction by attempting to correct the pairings of three other prospective couples. But when her matchmaking aspirations do not all turn out as anticipated, Jane discovers the danger of relying on first impressions. The human heart cannot be easily deciphered, nor can it be directed or managed. And if others must be left to their own devices in matters of love and matrimony, can Jane even hope to satisfy her own heart?

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
Praise for Jane Austen's First Love
 
"Truly riveting...A realistic tale that could have been written by the revered author herself. James’s latest will charm Austen fans (and fans of James, too) as well as Austen unfamiliars...Romance fans will root for Jane all the way."—Library Journal (Editor's Pick)

"Not only based on James’s extensive research on the enigmatic Edward Taylor, but so many of the personalities are real, and the dates and events astonishingly match, which make this masterwork feel like a real memoir. Readers will race to the conclusion. Highly recommended."—Historical Novel Society

"Syrie James has woven a quite delightful romance—not only a touching record of a young girl's first experience of love, but also a funny, eventful and entertaining comedy of Regency manners...As ever, James's ear for dialogue is unfaltering, and her sympathy for her heroine whole-hearted. It all adds up to an unashamedly romantic package, presented with affection and respect."—Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine

"A wonderful, charming and lively story of what might have been. James presents readers with an evocative and sweet romance that reads like Emma...This enchanting tale will have readers recalling their first love: the joy, the nervousness, and the sadness of parting. Simply a lovely novel!"—Romantic Times 

"Syrie James is an incomparable storyteller, turning obscure details from personal research into inspired, yet richly embellished, fictional narratives. Jane Austen's First Love is a lively, romantic 'what if' that will make you laugh, as well as tug at your heart...You must add Syrie James' latest work to your Summer Reading List." —Austenprose
 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425271353
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/5/2014
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 149,342
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Syrie James

Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels including Jane Austen’s First Love, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, Dracula My Love, Nocturne, Forbidden, Songbird, and Propositions. Her books have been translated into 18 languages, awarded the Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, and named a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter the First

The summer of 1791 is so firmly fixed in my memory that I believe I can never forget it; every detail is as fresh and vivid as if it occurred only yesterday, and looking back, there are times when it seems as if my life never really began until that moment—the moment when I first met him.

It was a letter which instigated this fond remembrance—a letter I wrote to my sister Cassandra many years past, which she came upon the other day by happenstance. It was a cold morning in late November, and we had recently returned to our Bath apartment following a lovely, all too brief holiday at Lyme. I was setting the table for breakfast, when I observed my sister seated by the window in the drawing-room, deeply engrossed in reading. An open box of old correspondence lay at her feet.

“What are you reading, Cassandra?” inquired I.

“One of your old letters,” replied she, smiling. “I came upon this box while I was tidying the wardrobe, and could not prevent myself from taking a look inside.”

“My letters? Why do you keep those old things? Re-reading them can hardly prove to make lively entertainment of a morning.”

“Oh, but it does. You wrote this one in September 1796 when you were in Kent. Here you speak of a Miss Fletcher: She wore her purple muslin, which is pretty enough, though it does not become her complexion. There are two traits in her character which are pleasing; namely, she admires Camilla, and drinks no cream in her tea.” Cassandra laughed softly. “You are a most candid and amusing writer, Jane.”

“I am flattered that you think so, but I still say: what is the point of reading my old correspondence? It is full of nothing but useless details which can no longer be of interest to anybody.”

“I beg to differ. Reading them is a source of great pleasure for me, dearest.” Turning the letter over, she continued, “Look what you write here: We went by Bifrons and I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure the abode of him, on whom I once fondly doated.

I paused, the spoon which I had been holding forgotten in my hand. That single sentence caught at my heart, of a sudden bringing back to mind a person, and a time and place, which I had not thought about in many years—and an attachment which I thought I had long since got over.

Cassandra looked at me, empathy in her eyes. “You are thinking about that summer, are you not?”

I nodded.

“How many years has it been?”

I did the mental calculation. “Twelve and a half years.”

She carefully refolded the letter. “They say that memories fade in time—but where particular people and events are concerned, I have not found that to be the case.”

I knew that she was thinking of Tom, her own lost love, who had tragically died so many years before. Our eyes caught and held across the room.

“Nor have I.”

She came to me, removed the spoon from my hand, and set it on the table; then she took me in her embrace. “You are older and wiser now, Jane. But it is only natural that you should think of him. I know what he meant to you.”

So saying, she kissed my cheek, handed me the letter, and left the room.

I sank into the nearest chair, immediately opening and scanning the letter until I found the phrase which was of such interest to me. Then I held the missive to my chest, as a hundred memories came flooding back.

At that point of my life when this history occurs, I had attained my fifteenth year. I was young, I know it; but does age matter? Did Juliet, not fourteen, love her Romeo any less? What of Pyramus and Thisbe’s burning passion? Ought we to discount their raw and overpowering feelings, simply because of their youthful age? I think not. When he was near, at times my heart did not beat to its regular rhythm; in so many ways, I thought he was my perfect match.

To my mind, particularly when one took into account my education and the manner in which I was raised, I was, at fifteen, a grown-up person in every way; indeed, I felt as mature and worldly as my sister, who was three years my senior. I was not beautiful, like Cassandra; my hair was far too curly, and neither fashionably light nor dark, but a shade of brown somewhere in between; even so, I received compliments on my hazel eyes and clear complexion, and was often told that I bore a strong resemblance to my father and my six brothers, whom I believed to be handsome.

I lived in the house where I was born, Steventon Rectory, in the county of Hampshire. Although not grand or elegant by any means, it was a dwelling worthy of a scholar and a gentleman and had provided me with all the comforts and joys of a happy childhood. It offered more accommodation than many parsonage houses, making it possible for my father to augment his income as rector by taking in boarding pupils—as such, my sister and I had the benefit of growing up in a house of rowdy boys and being educated at their side. Since Cassandra had finished her studies, and all my brothers were grown and gone except Charles (the youngest, at nearly twelve), the size of the school was much depleted; yet Papa gave it no less attention than before.

We had a lovely garden and a big old barn, where for years my brothers and sister and I had enjoyed holding home theatricals. I had done very little travelling outside of Hampshire, other than two brief intervals away at school, and one family excursion to east Kent to visit my elderly great-uncle at Sevenoaks. I was anxious to see the world.

I had been taking dancing lessons since I was a child and loved nothing more than the idea of a ball; but an idea was all it had been, for as much as I perceived myself to be an adult, my mother still forbade me from attending the assemblies at Basingstoke. This was the greatest cross I bore at the time, for I dreamt of three things in life: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling in love—and how could I ever fall in love if I had to wait nearly two years before Mamma would allow me to come out?

On Thursday morning, the 18th of March, 1791, I was in my dressing-room, a smallish chamber which communicated with my bedroom and had been especially fitted up for my sister and me. I adored every inch of that room, from the chocolate brown carpet, blue wallpaper, and comforting fireplace, to the painted bookshelves and cheerful striped curtains, for it was a place of quiet and refuge, where I could write in privacy and peace.

I was seated at the small table between the windows, above which hung a looking-glass and our Tonbridge-ware work-boxes, thoroughly engaged in composing a little play I had entitled The Visit, and was just considering the next line to be spoken, when I heard the tread of footsteps on the stairs and my mother’s voice ringing out:

“Jane! Jane! Come down! You are needed!”

“I am writing, Mamma!” I doubted very much that my reply would hold much weight with her, and sadly this proved to be the case.

My mother entered the room and stopped beside me, shaking her head and clicking her tongue. “Look at you, bent over that table like an interrogation point—do sit up straight, Jane!”

Like myself, my mother was of middle height, and spare and thin; I never understood her personal assertion that she had never been handsome, for with her bright gray eyes, her aristocratic face and nose, and her shiny dark hair (which had retained its colour, although she was two-and-fifty) I thought her attractive. Although at times her behaviour mortified and infuriated me, I loved her dutifully, for she was a clever, honourable woman who worked hard to manage our busy household. However, to my everlasting distress, although she doted on her other children, she seemed to have singled me out as the one with whom to persistently find fault.

“Jane, put down your pen and come downstairs; we have work to do.”

“What kind of work?”

“I told you at breakfast! We still have all those shirts to make for Charles, and two new pairs of breeches, and who knows how many handkerchiefs. Cassandra and I have been working all morning, and with only two pairs of hands, it is slow going.”

My brother Charles was a cheerful, sweet-tempered, affectionate boy, who had chosen to follow in my brother Frank’s footsteps, and was to start at the Naval Academy at Portsmouth a few months hence. We had been sewing his new clothes for months, and although I was very happy to assist in the occupation, I saw no reason to interrupt my writing at that precise moment for such a task.

“Mamma: Charles is not going away until July. We have plenty of time.”

“The time will fly by, Jane. Even if we sew every day between now and July, we will be lucky if we finish it all before he leaves.”

“May I come down in an hour, Mamma? I am right in the middle of the most amazing scene: eight people are crowded into a tiny drawing-room which only has chairs for six. Two large persons will be obliged to sit on the laps of others—only imagine the hilarity which will ensue!”

“That can wait, Jane; this cannot.”

“But, Mamma! I have the whole dialogue in my head. If I stop now, I will forget! Did Shakespeare’s mother interrupt his efforts with a pen? Did Mozart’s father oblige him to sew gowns for his sister?”

My mother raised her eyes heavenward. “I know how much you enjoy your writing, Jane. Lord knows, we all love a good laugh now and then, and if anyone understands the pleasures of composition, it is I—I flatter myself that my poetry is not entirely unreadable—but it is only a hobby, Jane: an amusement for the family. We are neither of us Mozart nor Shakespeare.”

I could not argue with that assessment. The short stories and plays I had written were only fluff and nonsense which I composed to amuse myself and my family. When it came to literary talent, that honour belonged to my brothers James and Henry, who had demonstrated their brilliance by editing a newspaper while at Oxford.

“I write because I cannot help it,” said I.

“I understand; but that does not make it important. What is important is that you improve and perfect your needlework skills, Jane, for they will be of infinite value when you have a family of your own one day.”

I turned in my chair to face her. “How do you know I will have a family one day?” We had always been allowed—nay, encouraged—to speak frankly within the confines of our family; outside the home, it was a different matter. Perhaps this was to my detriment, for I often spoke without sufficient consideration, regardless of the setting; but my mother and father said they wished to know what was on our minds. “That will only happen if I marry, which requires that I meet an eligible gentleman—which seems highly unlikely given that you will never allow me to attend a real ball!”

She sighed. “We have been over this too many times to count, Jane. You may come out when you are seventeen, just as your sister did. Your father and I do not wish you to enter society or marry at too early an age.”

“Dancing does not necessarily lead to matrimony.”

“No, but dancing facilitates the means by which one might meet her life’s partner, and is one of several, certain steps towards falling in love. I met your father at a ball.”

“I know; but Cassandra has been out more than a year already, and she is not in love, nor even close to engaged. No doubt we shall both be required to attend many balls before we each find our perfect match. What is the harm in me starting early? Cassandra and I have done everything together since the moment of my birth; our progress in everything we have learnt has always been the same. Cannot you forget our age difference in this one, particular matter?”

“No, I cannot. Now go wash your hands—your fingers are all black—and come downstairs at once.” So saying, she quit the room.

With a deep sigh, I returned my aborted manuscript to my writing-box, washed my hands at the basin, and joined my mother and sister in the sitting-room. I threaded my needle and worked beside them in silence, struggling to keep the conversation between the characters in my play alive in my mind; but my mother’s and sister’s chatter, and the sounds of my father’s Latin lesson issuing from the adjoining parlour, forbade it.

After two hours thus employed, I felt I could sit still no longer. Glancing out the rectory window, I observed that the sun had made a bright appearance, and there was nary a cloud in the sky. After a frigid and dreary winter, the last dusting of snow had at last melted away, and the fields beyond, covered in a sparkling frost, beckoned to me. “Mamma, I have finished the long seam on this sleeve, and made good progress on the cuff. May I stop working now and take a walk?”

“You wish to go out in this weather?” She was incredulous.

“The post will not deliver itself. Someone has to go to Deane and fetch it,” replied I lightly, adding to my sister, “Would you like to join me?”

“I would, very much,” answered Cassandra, lowering her work. My sister, a prudent, well-judging young woman, was generally less demonstrative of feeling than I—a characteristic which I struggled in vain to emulate. She was also my dearest friend in the world; I valued her advice and counsel above anybody else’s, and loved her more than life itself.

“Well! I, too, am ready to do something else for a while,” mused my mother, putting her work in her bag, “but to go out? The roads and fields are all covered in frost. You will catch your death of cold!”

“It is nought but a light frost, Mamma,” countered I.

“There is nothing worse than a light frost, for it will soon melt away, and then you are forced to walk over wet ground. I had a childhood friend whose death was occasioned by nothing more—she walked out one morning in April after a hard rain, and her feet got wet through—she never changed her shoes when she came home—and that was the end of her! Have you any notion how many people have died in consequence of catching cold? There is not a disorder in the world except the smallpox which does not spring from it!”

“Mamma,” said Cassandra gently, “you are very right to be concerned, but I do not think there is any danger of the frost melting away today. The fields are still quite frozen.”

“We have walked for miles over fields far frostier than this,” added I. “We have been stuck inside such a long time this winter. I am dying to get out.”

My mother stood, and said, “Well, I can see there is no point trying to talk sense into either of you. If you catch cold, it will not be myfault. But see to it that you put on your boots, change your shoes the minute you get back home, and then it is back to sewing for the three of us.”

Cassandra and I donned all the essential accoutrements, and as we were about to leave the house, my mother cried, “Jane! That shawl will never be warm enough! Take it off and fetch your cloak! Why cannot you be more sensible, like your sister?”

Exasperated, I ran back upstairs and did as bidden.

As we stepped outside, I savoured the taste of the crisp, winter air and the refreshing bite of the breeze against my cheeks. “Is not itglorious to be outside? It is cold, but not too cold. Sunny, but not too bright.”

Cassandra agreed. “It is the perfect day in every way.”

“Yes—well—nearly perfect.” As we struck out along our usual shortcut—the well-travelled path carved across the half-frozen field in the direction of Deane Gate Inn, where the mail was delivered—I could not help but sigh. “Cassandra: why is Mamma so harsh where I am concerned? She is ever so sweet to you, yet constantly finds imperfection in me.”

“I think it is because she admires you more, Jane.”

“Admires me more? That makes no sense!”

“It does. You are ever so much brighter than I am, Jane.”

“That is not true.”

“The point cannot be argued. It is not in my nature to invent clever and witty stories, and relate them aloud in such a manner as to have the entire family laughing into stitches. Mamma perceives how very clever you are; so naturally, she expects more from you.”

“That is kind of you to say, but I fear it is not so. I know you all indulge me only because you love me. Mamma insists that my writing is not important. It is expert needlework, she said, which is to be the hallmark of my future.”

“Every woman needs to be skilled at needlework, Jane; but regardless of what Mamma says, she knows you are capable of far more than that; I feel certain of it.”

“If that is true—what do you think she expects of me?”

“I do not know,” replied she, troubled. “It is possible that even she does not know.”

“How confusing this is! How I wish I could oblige her! How I wish I could do more, Cassandra; more than darning stockings and making shirts and writing nonsense for no ears other than our own. Nothing of interest ever happens to me. I should dearly love to be useful somehow, to do something which might make a difference in the lives of others—but what that might be is a mystery to me.”

“You will discover it in time, Jane. You are still young.”

“Young! How that term exasperates me!” My footsteps crunched noisily against the hard, frosty ground. “I am not so very young, Cassandra. And what does age matter, in any case? How often have you said that you consider me your equal in every way? Oh! If only I were seventeen and out like you!”

“Do not wish your life away, Jane.”

“I am not wishing it away; I only wish to be out. Do you have any idea how hard it is to sit home while you go off to the assembly rooms without me?”

“I understand how you feel, my dearest; and I am sorry for it.”

“There are so few real amusements in the world. Dancing is such a glorious activity! It exercises both the body and the mind, all while moving with spirit and elegance to lively music.” Holding out my arm as if to an imaginary partner, I curtseyed, then practised my dancing across the field, making several turns.

Cassandra smiled. “You are an excellent dancer, Jane—so much more elegant and animated than I could ever be.”

“You are too modest. I love nothing more than watching you dance, dearest; except, perhaps, dancing myself. Oh! We know of parents who allowed their daughters to come out at fourteen, when accompanied by their mother or an older sister. Why must I be denied the same pleasures? How I wish I could powder my hair and put on a new gown, white gloves, and satin slippers with shoe-roses, and make my debut at the ball at Basingstoke with you tomorrow!”

“It is not all that agreeable to powder one’s hair, Jane; I only do it when I absolutely must, and because Mamma insists upon it. And with regard to your debut—you know Mamma will never bend on this matter. I wish you would not continue to let it vex you so.”

“How can I do otherwise?” The breeze whipped the strings of my bonnet, and I pulled my cloak more closely about me as we walked along. “It is so unfair. I am tired of dance lessons with Catherine and Alethea, improving my skills for nothing more than children’s balls at Manydown, or snug dances in our own parlour with pushed-back furniture and our brothers and neighbours’ sons for partners. How I long to converse and dance and flirt openly with gentlemen I have never met!”

With a little laugh, Cassandra said, “What appeals to you more? The flirting or the dancing?”

“The flirting, absolutely!” We had reached the opposite side of the field now, and holding up the hems of our skirts, we made our way up the mud-encrusted lane, past the tiny village and the church of St. Nicholas, over which my father presided. “Oh, Cassandra! Every night I dream of meeting a worthy young man who incites all my passions—a gentlemanlike, pleasant young man who is intelligent, thoughtful, kind, and accomplished, who shares my enthusiasm for literature and music and nature, with whom I can converse on any topic at length with spirit and debate—if he be good-looking, all the better—”

“Where are you to find this paragon of virtue?”

“I have no idea—but I have conjured him in my imagination. He must exist.”

“I fear you expect too much, Jane. No one man can be all these things to you.”

“But he must be! For he is the only man I shall ever marry. Were I to meet him tomorrow, I should fall instantly and happily in love with him.” With a deep sigh, I added, “But that can never happen until I am out. Why cannot Mamma and Papa be more liberal-minded on this subject? Can they truly expect me to wait nearly two more years?”

“You reflect a maturity well beyond your years, dearest. Perhaps Mamma will allow you to come out next year, at sixteen. In any case, the time will pass more quickly than you think—and there is much sense in waiting.”

“Do you really think so? I cannot agree. I think a girl ought to be introduced into company in a more gradual manner, so as to slowly become accustomed to the alteration of manners required of her. Was not it difficult, Cassandra, for so many years, to be allowed only to smile and be demure, and say barely a word except to friends and relations, and then suddenly at seventeen to be introduced to society with no real preparation?”

Cassandra coloured slightly; it was a moment before she replied. “I suppose it was unsettling.”

Our discourse was at that moment curtailed by the sight of two friends, Martha and Mary Lloyd, who were just emerging from the Deane Gate Inn with their own daily mail.

Martha and Mary, who resided at Deane parsonage with their widowed mother, had moved to the neighbourhood two years before. Although Mary, at nineteen, was closer in age to me than her sister, it was the kind, intelligent, and sympathetic Martha, ten years my senior, with whom I felt a deep connection, and who had become my own particular friend. Martha had generously finished my new cloak for me the year before, when my fingers had been suffering from chilblains, resulting from a particularly cold winter; and in return, I had dedicated a short story and poem to her.

We exchanged greetings; and upon learning that the Lloyds had no engagements that afternoon, I inquired as to whether they might like to return with us to the rectory.

“We are making clothes for our darling Charles, for the Naval Academy,” explained I.

“Oh! I would be happy to help,” announced Martha with a smile. “The endeavour will be more enjoyable if we work together, and—” (with a twinkle in her eyes) “I am certain your mother will not mind.”

I laughed. My mother, more often than not, embarrassed me by mending clothes and darning stockings when people came to call, insisting that it was an excellent use of her time. Mary also agreed to join us, and while the Lloyd sisters dashed up to the parsonage to get their work-bags, Cassandra and I retrieved our mail. There was only a single letter, addressed to my father, from our brother Edward.

Edward was my second-eldest brother, and he had led a charmed life. At the tender age of twelve, he had so impressed my father’s wealthy cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Knight, with his charm and sunny disposition, that they invited him to accompany them on their wedding trip, and to visit several times at Godmersham Park, their manor home in Kent. When it became clear that they were not to have any children of their own, they expressed their desire to adopt Edward and make him their heir. My father had initially been reticent to the idea, but my mother wisely insisted that Edward should go if he wished it—and wish it he did. The move had elevated Edward’s status into a world of wealth and privilege which he could before have only imagined.

“A letter from our Edward! Why, we are starved for news from him!” cried my mother, when we returned to the rectory. “He is so good, so amiable and sweet-tempered. Any letter from him is always a high point in the day for me. Do read it, Mr. Austen, without delay!”

My father, an intelligent and amiable man of nearly sixty years of age, adjusted the fashionable white wig which curled above his ears, and disappeared into his study. Not long after, he came out to the front parlour, where we ladies were at work, and after calling my brother Charles to join us, said,

“This is a most interesting letter. I see no reason why Mary and Martha should not hear it.” He gave me the letter, then sat down in his favourite chair. “You may do the honours, Jane.”

I opened the letter and read it aloud.

Chapter the Second

Godmersham Park, Kent

11 March, 1791

My dearest father,

I trust you are well. I have news which I had hoped to share sooner, but Mr. Knight has kept me much occupied since my return from the Continent with matters of business on the estate, with a view to furthering my education in such matters—and we have just returned from a brief trip to town. Both you and my mother will be pleased to learn, however, that in my moments of leisure, I have had the opportunity to involve myself again in the social activities of the neighbourhood—which brings me to the purpose of this letter. I have developed a strong regard for a particular young lady: Miss Elizabeth Bridges, the third daughter of Sir Brook William Bridges, 3rd Bt, of Goodnestone Park. She will soon be eighteen years of age and was educated in town. She is an elegant, graceful, accomplished, beautiful young woman.—I am honoured and gratified to say that she returns my affections; for I have asked her to be my wife, and she has accepted.

Here my reading was interrupted by a great cry of thrilled astonishment from my mother. “Engaged! Edward is engaged! Heaven be praised! My first child to be married! I thought it would be James, but no, it is Edward after all, and to the daughter of a baronet!”

“I am so pleased for him,” said Cassandra, beaming.

“Did not I tell you all those years ago, Mr. Austen,” continued my mother, “that it was for the best that we let him go to your cousins? That it should elevate him beyond any expectations we could ever have for him?”

“You did indeed, Cassy my dear.”

“And now I have been proved right! Such a match! It is a great blessing that he is to one day inherit all that property, with Lord knows how many mansions and houses, but to see him happily married, that has always been my greatest wish.”

“Mine as well, my dearest.”

So delighted was I by this news, and so eager was I to read the rest of the letter, that I could yet vouchsafe no comment; but my sister added, “She sounds a most appealing young lady.”

Martha and Mary offered their congratulations, and Charles exclaimed his own excitement; but all were silenced when my father held up a hand and announced in a firm voice, “Let Jane finish the letter, if you please.”

All eyes turned to me in expectant silence, and I read on:

Sir Brook and his lady have approved the match, as have Mr. and Mrs. Knight; and my dearest hope now is that you will be as forthcoming with your good wishes. No date has yet been set for the nuptials, but it is Mr. Knight’s wish that, (in his words) as we are ‘both very young, the event should not take place immediately.’ When we do marry, he thinks to give us his small house at Rowling, where we shall be quite content, although our income will be small.

16 March, 1791

Please forgive the interruption in my writing; I received a summons to Goodnestone Park where I spent the past several days, and I have even more good news to impart: Elizabeth’s eldest sister, Fanny, is now also engaged! She is to marry a Mr. Lewis Cage, a propertied gentleman thirty years of age of excellent character. It has been decided that both weddings should not take place until the end of the year. However, Lady Bridges feels such happiness at the good fortune of her daughters, that she does not wish to wait so long to celebrate the impending unions. There is talk of a fortnight or more of parties at Goodnestone during the month of June, the details of which are not yet final, but which will almost certainly include an engagement ball, a picnic, a strawberry-picking party, and a Midsummer’s Eve bonfire. To these events, a number of relations and neighbours will be invited; and I have been graciously allowed to extend a special invitation to my family at Steventon. I sincerely hope that you, my mother, my sisters, and Charles will be able to attend. Sir Brook generously offers you accommodation at Goodnestone for the length of your stay, and furthermore, invites you all to arrive a few days ahead of the other guests, in order that our families might have time to become acquainted.

Charles, I believe, will particularly enjoy a visit to Goodnestone, as the Bridgeses have three sons still living at home, one of whom is exactly his age; and my sisters will also be in good company with their six amiable daughters. I should mention that Lady Bridges is a woman who, while strictly adhering to the rules of society in general, has somewhat lenient views where her daughters are concerned; as such, and particularly since these festivities are to include only family and close friends, all her children older than ten are to be included in everything (the ball as well); therefore, Jane and Charles are free to do the same.

I could not prevent a little shriek of delight at this last remark; but my mother and father both waved their hands impatiently at me to continue.

Father, I suppose it may be difficult for you to get away in June; indeed, on your account, I would have preferred the festivities to be held in July or August. However the Bridges family leaves for Bath at the end of June, for a stay of many weeks; and I have long been scheduled to take a Scottish tour with Mr. and Mrs. Knight and a few friends, departing 4 July. The timing, however, may prove to be a benefit to you with regard to travel arrangements: for at the end of May, Mr. Knight is obliged to oversee certain matters at his properties at Chawton, and he offers to bring you home with him to Godmersham, where I trust you will be very comfortable for some days until we remove to Goodnestone. This means that you will only incur travel expenses on your return trip. Should it prove possible for you to come, I will put you in touch with both Mr. Knight and Lady Bridges. Please know that all here would be very pleased to have you join us here in Kent in June for what promises to be a very pleasant and memorable summer.

I look forward to hearing from you. Please give my love to my mother, sisters, and Charles. With every good wish, and the greatest affection, I remain your son,

Edward Austen

My spirits, while reading my brother’s letter, can scarcely be described. Two weeks of parties, and an engagement ball—to which I was invited! I would get to see Godmersham Park at last!

“It is a thoughtful invitation,” said my father, leaning back in his chair. “What a shame we cannot go.”

With those words, it seemed as if all the light and energy had drained from the room.

“What do you mean, Papa?” cried I. “Of course we must go. This is an important occasion. Edward is the first person in our family to be engaged.”

“And I have six other children to follow. Let us hope that they will choose partners who live closer to our neighbourhood.”

“Papa,” said Cassandra, “if it is the expense of travel which worries you, it cannot be very great, as we shall only be obliged to travel post on our return.”

“It is not the cost, child. As Edward so astutely points out, I cannot get away in June. School is in session until the first of July. I could never think of leaving a month before my pupils’ studies are finished.”

My mother looked up from her work and sighed. “If they truly wished for us to come, they would be holding all these parties during our holiday from school, instead of gadding off to Bath and Scotland for their own amusement. It is too bad, for I would have truly liked to go. We have not seen Thomas and Catherine Knight these many years, and we had only those few, short days with Edward when he came back from the Continent. It would be gratifying to be in his company for several weeks on end. If only Kent were not so far away.”

“What matters how far away it is?” exclaimed I. “Kent is Edward’s home now! Are not you keen to see where he has been living all this time? Do not you wish to see the great house and lands that he is to inherit?”

I do,” answered Cassandra quietly.

“I have always longed to see them,” said Charles.

“As do I,” admitted my mother, “but may I remind you: duty comes before pleasure.”

“My first duty is to the school,” insisted Papa, “for those boys’ fathers do not pay me to go off on a pleasure trip whenever it suits my fancy.”

“But Mamma, Papa!” cried I. “Edward is engaged to be married! How can you give your approval of the match unless you meet Elizabeth Bridges for yourself?”

“That is a dilemma, Jane,” replied my mother. “But whether or not we approve is of little importance, I fear. Her parents have approved him, and the Knights have approved her. They have all the consequence in this matter; our feelings will not make any difference.”

“Edward is three-and-twenty now. We must trust his judgement and his choice. And you cannot afford to miss a month of school, my boy.” Papa patted Charles’s knee. “Think of the consequences of so many weeks of idleness; you would fall behind in Latin grammar and all your other studies.”

A forlorn look descended on Charles’s countenance. “I suppose I shall never see Godmersham now.” Asking if he might be permitted to join the other boys outside, and receiving permission, he quit the room.

My heart went out to Charles, and when he had gone, I said, “Papa, after all these years under your tutelage, Charles must be far ahead of the boys at the Naval Academy where Latin grammar and his other studies are concerned. To miss these last few weeks of school would surely do him no harm.” I directed a silent, pleading glance at my sister, who took up my cause and added:

“Think how much it would mean to Charles to go.”

“We would be back before he departs for Portsmouth,” added I warmly. “It would be a last hurrah for him before he leaves us for so many years. You saw how dearly he wishes to go to Kent! And oh! So do I! Papa, Mamma, we never go anywhere. Am I doomed to waste all my days of youth in this humble spot? The Knights live in grand style at Godmersham (or so we are told)! I can only imagine the grace and refinement we should find at Goodnestone Park! It would be thrilling to see their houses and to meet the Bridges family and to live amongst them, as one of them, even if only for a short time. I am certain if I were so fortunate as to experience a month in such company and in such surroundings, I should never forget it!”

As I spoke, my mother and father exchanged a discomfited glance. I suddenly felt all the impertinence of my remark; for although it was true that we had rarely travelled, and did not have a great deal of money, we lived comfortably enough. Before I could voice my remorse, however, my mother said solemnly:

“It would be lovely to indulge in that way of life for a little while. We may have given up Edward all those years ago, but he is still our son, and I am still his mother. He has invited us, after all; if I could, I should like to see where he lives, and meet the woman he is to marry.”

My heart leapt with hope and possibility. My father, reaching out and taking my mother’s hand, said:

“Would you, Cassy?”

“I would. But how can I?”

“Just because I am obliged to stay behind, do not let that stop you. If you wish to go, then go; and take the children with you.”

“And be gone for a month entire? Mr. Austen, this Mansion of Learning cannot run without me here to manage it! You do not realise all the work which is required to run a household of this size. There are the meals to plan, the bread to bake, the beer to brew, the cows to milk, and the butter to churn—the work in the poultry-yard is never done—and my vegetable garden is at its most productive in June. Were I to leave, who should supervise all that? Who would make sure all those hungry boys are fed, and that they and their linen stay reasonably clean?”

“You are indeed the indisputable leader of this establishment,” concurred my father, kissing my mother’s hand, “but you would only be gone a month. I feel confident that, for so brief a period, I can find a way to cope. I could perhaps hire a woman from the village to help.”

Martha, who (like her sister) had sat in respectful silence throughout this entire conversation, now spoke. “There is no need for you to go to that expense, Mr. Austen. If you wish, I should be happy to take on Mrs. Austen’s duties in her absence.”

My heart quickened and I sat up on my chair. “Would you truly, Martha?”

“It would be my pleasure—” (adding to my father) “if you and Mrs. Austen are amenable to the notion, sir. I am sure my mother and sister can manage at home without me. I am experienced at supervising a kitchen and poultry-yard. I could stop in every day and do what is needed, and I could look after the boys as well—I do love children, sir—and my sister and I could take care of the vegetable garden—would not you be willing, Mary?”

“I should be glad to oblige,” returned Mary with a nod. “Your garden is always ever so much more bountiful than ours, Mrs. Austen.”

“Oh!” cried my mother, tears dancing in her eyes. “What a generous offer!”

“You are very good and dear friends,” said Cassandra gratefully; and I concurred.

“Martha, Mary, thank you,” said my father with affection and appreciation; and turning to my mother, added, “It seems our friends have made it possible for you to go away after all, Mrs. Austen. What say you? Have you any more reservations?”

“Well—I do not like the idea of being parted from you for so many weeks, Mr. Austen, or travelling all that way without you.”

“You will be so occupied every day in Kent, you will not even miss me,” replied Papa dismissively, “and as you will be conveyed there in the Knights’ own coach, you will be perfectly safe and comfortable.”

“How can you vouch for our comfort and safety?” cried she. “We are to have the benefit of a private carriage in one direction only; and they are as prone to accident and overturns as any other vehicle. The roads in this country are very bad; the turnpikes—as they have the assurance to call them—are such a disgrace, it is a crime to make one pay for them! Some are full of stones as big as one’s horses, and abominable ruts and holes that threaten to swallow one up, particularly at the end of spring, after a hard rain, when they are floating with mud. And there are constant other dangers: highwaymen are everywhere on the long stretches of country-side. Have you forgotten? Did not we read just the other day about a post-chaise which was stopped by a vile criminal, and its passengers robbed of their watches and rings and all their money? Not to mention how prone I am to sickness while travelling—it is such a long journey, I do not know if I should survive it—and the inconvenience of stopping the night at inns which will no doubt be drafty, dirty, have hard beds, and serve bad food.”

During this speech, my sister and friends sat with lowered gazes over their work, but the look on their countenances echoed my own silent amusement and impatience.

My father, whose eyes conveyed similar feelings, adopted a grave expression, and said, “My dear, everything you say is true. It sounds to me as if you have talked yourself out of going.”

“Oh! But I want to go! My heart is set upon it!”

“Well then, if that is so—I cannot guarantee that your journey will be free of incident or mishap—but these are the risks you must be willing to take.”

My mother frowned, then let out a sigh. “All right, then.”

Thrilled, I cried, “Do you mean it? We can go? Oh, Mamma! Papa!”

“Jane,” interrupted my mother, “do not get too excited. Just because I have agreed to go to Kent, do not imagine that I will allow you or your brother to attend every party they mean to hold, particularly that ball.”

A crushing disappointment washed over me. “Not attend the ball? But Mamma—”

“Lady Bridges, it seems to me, has some very strange notions,” continued my mother. “To include children at such events—to allow one’s daughters such liberties before they are out—I know that some people do it, but I cannot approve. Girls should not mix with general company until they are of age.”

“Oh! Mamma!” Tears started in my eyes.

Cassandra, glancing at me, and seeming to gather her courage, said:

“You held me back in just such a way, Mamma, and I cannot think that it did me good.”

“Whatever can you mean?”

“I mean that—for a young lady to be immediately required on the day of coming out to be accomplished at everything, and to converse openly with strangers, when all the years before she was either kept at home or told never to speak—I found it very difficult, and would not wish the same for Jane.”

Silently, I cheered my sister’s remarks, and gave her a grateful look.

My mother looked very surprised. “Well, this is an opinion I have not heard from you before, Cassandra.”

“I never really questioned it before, Mamma; it is just the way things were. But looking back, I think it was too much to expect.”

My mother went quiet for a moment, as she seemed to turn over the matter in her mind. “What do you think, Mr. Austen?”

“Our daughter makes an excellent point,” responded he. “Although I still believe that seventeen is a better age to be introduced to society in general, I see no reason why someone of Jane’s or Charles’s age should not attend the events which Edward described. As for the ball, it is to be held at their house, not an assembly room, and is apparently to include only family and friends; therefore, how is it any different from the dances and parties we hold here at home, with our own family and neighbours?”

After some consideration, my mother nodded. “There is sense in what you say. I suppose we could make an exception, for this one visit to Kent.”

“Oh! Thank you!” I was delighted beyond expression.

“Now pick up your needle and thread, Jane,” continued my mother with resolution. “Some one ought to tell Charles that he is going on holiday with us in June; and if we are to finish all these clothes, we had best stop talking, and apply ourselves to our work.”

Chapter the Third

Since the arrival of Edward’s letter, hardly anything else was talked of or thought of other than our visit to Kent. Charles spoke so often and with such great excitement of every extraordinary thing which he expected to see and do there (conjuring Kent as a golden land of perfect beauty—a veritable Utopia), that the other schoolboys were soon fed up with him, and threatened to box his ears should he mention another word about it.

The next ten weeks were devoted to a fury of sewing and cleaning such as I had never before experienced in my life, for my mother insisted that if she was to turn over her house to Martha Lloyd to run, it should be nothing less than spotless.

An exchange of letters ensued between my brother Edward, Mr. Knight, Lady Bridges, and my mother and father, confirming all the offers made in Edward’s first letter, as well as the travel arrangements. My mother, sister, and I, with kind assistance on numerous occasions from Martha and Mary, completed Charles’s new clothes for the Naval Academy with such remarkable speed that when May arrived, we had time to pause and reflect upon our own wardrobes.

“Mamma,” said I over breakfast one morning, “what do you imagine the ladies will be wearing at Godmersham and Goodnestone? Will they be splendidly dressed?”

“I suppose they will,” replied my mother, as she thickly spread a piece of toast with butter and jam. “I shall never forget the elegance of Mrs. Knight’s gown when first I saw her all those years ago, nor her hat, which was the very height of fashion. I have no doubt the Bridges ladies will all be similarly attired.”

“What should we wear?” asked Cassandra, visibly concerned.

“Our gowns are all so old and worn.” I frowned into my dish of cocoa. “My green one in particular is so washed out as to appear almost gray.”

“I have always admired a gray gown,” commented my father from behind his newspaper.

“I owned a gray gown myself at your age,” said my mother, “a lovely dove gray it was, and very becoming.”

“Mamma!” I set down my cup in its saucer with a violent clink. “Papa! How can we attend all those parties and a ball, wearing our old gowns? We will be looked down on as the poor relations! At least my slippers are in good order, but I have mended my gloves so many times that the fingertips are merely strings.”

“Do not fret, Jane,” returned my mother. “I have given thought to the matter, and although we cannot afford new clothes, if we add some new ornaments to our present apparel, it will freshen them up. Your blue satin gown is still very pretty, and if we add a gold sash, it will do very well for this occasion. I have a piece of white lace from an old gown that will smarten it up even further—and there is a bit of satin ribbon in my work-bag which will be just the thing for your pink gown, Cassandra. We can trim up our best hats and bonnets as well.”

“That sounds lovely, Mamma,” responded my sister.

I nodded, for her ideas pleased me. “What about our hair?”

“Edward wrote that the Bridges ladies will powder theirs for the ball, so we must remember to bring pomatum and powder, Cassandra—we do not want to offend our hosts by appearing less than genteel.”

“Might I powder my hair for the ball as well?” said I hopefully.

“Jane!” My mother frowned at me. “You know better than to ask such a question. Hair powdering is a practice in which you may indulge only after you come out, and not one day before.”

I sighed. For nearly a month entire I should be in a circle of very fashionable people, many of whom were only a few years older than myself, but at the most formal event, I should appear like the merest child. Oh well, thought I with resignation, at least we were going to Kent, and that would be an adventure!

We followed my mother’s suggestions, adding such embellishments to our gowns as we could devise, so that in due order we all felt some semblance of pride in our wardrobe. A week before our departure, my father returned from Basingstoke with a surprise: he had purchased for each of us a new pair of gloves.

“You think to spoil us, Mr. Austen,” cried my mother, kissing him soundly.

Cassandra and I were profuse with our gratitude. He smiled and kissed me on the head, saying, “I could not think of you going with holes in your gloves, Jane.”

As we made the final preparations for our departure, my mother was in a panic, striving, for my father’s sake, to ensure that all would go smoothly in the household while we were gone; but after spending several days with Martha going over all the particulars, and witnessing that good woman’s skill, experience, and good-humoured attitude in managing such affairs, my mother’s anxieties were soon tamed.

The last days of busy activity passed away. On an evening in late May, Mr. Knight arrived as promised in his handsome coach, which was sizeable enough to accommodate all our party, and attended by several liveried servants. I had not seen Mr. Knight in many years, but he lived up to my remembrance as a well-dressed man of fifty-six with a kind smile who, although a bit stooped in stature, yet held himself with a regal bearing. According to the fashion, he wore a gracefully-styled, white powdered wig, like my father’s.

“Such a pleasure to see you, cousin. You are looking very well!” cried he, heartily shaking my father’s hand. After warmly greeting my mother and Charles, he turned to me and Cassandra, saying, “Who are these bewitching young ladies? How you have grown since last we met!” He proclaimed us both to be beauties, an utterance which, had it been made by a youthful rattle, I would have taken as disingenuous; but the look in his eyes was so sincere that I could only blush and laugh.

We were all delighted with Mr. Knight and passed a pleasant evening in his company, during which he and my parents were engrossed in conversation, going over all the minutiae of our lives during the past several years.

“From the moment my Catherine saw your son Edward,” said he to my mother and father, “age eleven I think he was, she fell in love with him, and insisted she must have him. I cannot express my gratitude to you both, for your generosity in allowing him to come to us. Since the very first day, he has been the sunshine in our lives.” Here Mr. Knight’s voice broke, and he wiped away a tear. “We count ourselves blessed by his presence.”

My parents’ eyes welled up as well; and for some time we all were too choked up to speak.

When my mother and I pressed Mr. Knight for information about Miss Elizabeth Bridges and her family, he only smiled and said she was a lovely young lady, and as for the rest of the Bridgeses, they were so numerous, and he felt so unequal to the task of describing them, that he would leave that information to his wife to impart, once we got to Kent.

The next morning, we all rose early to make ready for our departure. With great anticipation I watched our trunks being loaded on board the coach, and then climbed within to take my place beside Charles and Cassandra.

“We shall miss you, George,” Mr. Knight called out the window, “but I promise to take care of your wife and family as if they were my own.”

“I know you will,” agreed my father, “for you have done just so with our Edward; and we could not be happier or more grateful.”

As the vehicle pulled away, and we all waved at Papa one last time, my mother whispered tearfully, “Oh! This is very hard. I do not know what I was thinking, agreeing to go to Kent without your father! I dare say I shall miss him too much to enjoy a single minute of this holiday.”

For the sake of my mother, Mr. Knight planned a three-day journey, so as to spend less hours each day upon the road. Even so, the rigors of travel did not agree with her. Although the first day of our crossing was uneventful, the weather pleasantly cool, and the roads dry, Mamma felt unwell almost the whole way, and was obliged to eat some bread to settle her stomach, and to take bitters whenever we changed horses. The motion of the coach had a very different effect on my other companions, who fell promptly asleep. I was too excited to slumber, my mind occupied both with the prospects we passed by and all the delights which were before us.

On the second day, a heavy shower made the roads dirty and heavy. The rattle of the chaise caused my mother a violent headache and increased the sickness to which she was prone. Upon arrival at the Bull and George at Dartford, she went immediately to bed. Mr. Knight saw to it that the rest of us were well-fed with beef-steaks and boiled fowl; we slept reasonably well, and set off again early in the morning.

Although rain continued intermittently throughout the following day, we were fitted with a famous set of horses who took us speedily from Rochester to Sittingbourne. The final leg of our journey was accomplished with ease, and even my mother’s spirits seemed to revive as we traversed the green Kentish country-side, everyone eager to see those places towards which we were moving. We left the road, and soon crossed a bridge over a slow-moving river suffused with reeds and other vegetation, the length of which was gracefully lined with trees whose leafy limbs bent almost to the water’s edge. Moments later as we rounded a bend, I gained my first sight of Godmersham Park through the drizzle.

“Oh! Mr. Knight!” cried I. “Your house and park are very grand.”

My mother, sister, and Charles were equally enchanted. Green lawns spread in every direction as far as the eye could see, comprising an immense park studded with grazing sheep. Just as impressive was the house itself, a very large and handsome Palladian brick mansion which fronted a rise of wooded downland. The centre block of the building was flanked by two-storeyed wings on either side, and there were all the requisite windows, ornaments, and chimneys one could wish for, to provide a most pleasing aspect to the whole. Mr. Knight spoke with relish regarding the finer points of the house’s construction, including details about the masonry and ashlar window dressings, of which he was particularly fond.

“Is Edward really to inherit all this?” said Charles softly in my ear.

I nodded, and replied in a quiet voice, “This is just one of the many properties in Kent which belong to Mr. Knight. And you know he also owns another great house and an entire village not far from us, at Chawton.”

“I cannot imagine being so rich,” whispered Charles reverently.

Nor could I; but my heart beat with pride and pleasure for Edward and his good fortune. Soon after, we drove up to the house; as if by providence, the rain stopped, the front door opened, and a parade of servants emerged and lined up on the gravel sweep to greet us. The step of the coach was unfolded, the door opened, and when it came my turn to climb down, I caught sight of Edward and Mrs. Knight taking their place at the head of the line. My brother—with his slim but sturdy figure, dressed as he was in a dark, well-tailored coat, satin breeches, perfectly tied white cravat, and shiny black, buckled shoes—looked every bit the charming, aristocratic young gentleman.

“Welcome, Mamma.” Smiling broadly, he came forward to embrace her, and then greeted Mr. Knight and the rest of us in turn. “I cannot tell you how glad I am to see you all.”

Mrs. Knight was equally welcoming. A well-bred gentlewoman who still retained the beauty of her youth, her eyes were quick and intelligent, and her manners composed, friendly, and sincere. “We have so longed for you to visit,” said she, after we exchanged the appropriate courtesies. “I hope your journey was pleasant and free of incident?”

“The only pleasure it afforded me was its object,” said my mother wearily. “I have survived it as best I could, thanks in great part to the solicitous care of your good husband, and I confess I have never been more delighted to arrive anywhere.”

We were all glad, after such a journey, to be released from the confinement of a carriage, and ready to enjoy all the comforts that the house could provide.

Charles, Cassandra, and I looked on in speechless amazement as we entered the mansion. The high ceilings of the hall and drawing-room were splendidly decorated with intricate, white-painted plasterwork and carvings; white columns and other lavish embellishments surrounded the main doorways; and there were superb marble chimney-pieces. There was an excellent library in the east wing, which I looked forward to investigating further. My mother, who tended to find fault more often than to praise, was visibly moved by all she saw and keen to speak of it. We were all warm in our admiration, and I felt all of my brother Edward’s consequence; to be master of Godmersham, I thought, would be truly something!

“It is all so lovely,” said I to my sister when we were left on our own in our bedchamber, the yellow room, appropriately named for the warm colour of its paper and furnishings. “A week hardly seems long enough to explore the pleasures of this place.”

“True,” agreed she, “but the Bridgeses expect us soon at Goodnestone Park—which gives us something else to look forward to. I am sure their house will be very grand as well.”

The next day, I determined to satisfy my curiosity on particular points with regard to my brother’s intended bride. As we all sat down to an early dinner after church, with the butler and two footmen standing at the ready, I said:

“Edward, how did you meet Miss Elizabeth Bridges?”

“We have been acquainted with her family for many years.”

“It is only very recently, however,” put in Mrs. Knight, as she helped herself to a serving of roast goose from the proffered silver platter, “after Edward came home from his Grand Tour, that he and Miss Elizabeth became attached.”

“When I left for the Continent, Elizabeth was just a girl. When I saw her again, at an assembly at Canterbury last November—well.” A gleam came into Edward’s eyes, and his features softened. “Four years had changed her a great deal.” His affection for his fiancée shone plainly on his countenance; it made me smile.

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  • Posted August 5, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    The popularity of Jane Austen has grown exponentially over the d

    The popularity of Jane Austen has grown exponentially over the decades. And it has become a well-known fact that the lady who’s still the undisputed queen of romance has a lot in common with this particular author. Simply put, where both women are concerned, their writing is exemplary.




    Syrie James has long been a ‘giver’ to Austen fans everywhere, and with this new novel she takes them on a fun adventure back to the early days of Austen’s life. A girl not even old enough to come out in society, Jane is just finding that spark of imagination; that lightning rod of creativity, that she would hone over time to become a brilliant author.




    Beginning with a letter found by her sister, Cassandra, Jane’s taken back to the first moment in her life when true love stopped her heart. At fifteen, a letter arrives at her home regarding her brother’s engagement and impending marriage. Edward requests that they all come and meet his future wife’s family. Once there, they will take part in a slew of events, including a ball. After convincing their parents that they must be allowed to go, Jane Austen embarks on the best time of her life: the Summer of 1791.




    The family is walking into an extremely upper-class world and Jane can barely contain herself. Riding toward their destination, the carriage has a slight accident on the muddy roads and a hero suddenly arrives to help. Edward Taylor is an odd knight in shining armor. A handsome boy who loves a challenge, he is not exactly the type to deal with rules and regulations, and has misgivings for what his own future holds. But his interest in young Jane is clear.




    The pomp and circumstance begins when the Austen clan reach their fancy destination, coming face-to-face with three sisters who seem to spend more time thinking about themselves and what they deserve than thinking about anyone else’s happiness. Unfortunately, Jane relies on the words and facades of the rich, and takes on the role of matchmaker to fix some things that may not be broken. Suffice to say, Jane has her hands full with a play, an error of judgment, and a love that fancies her, yet has another girl waiting in the wings.




    This is so well-written that true Austen lovers will find themselves smiling at the ‘nuggets’ of famous works spread throughout the story, for example, the matchmaker who cannot leave well enough alone (Emma, anyone?). And even though Jane is still young, the beauty of emotions combined with a humorous atmosphere featuring a handsome daredevil, would make even the ultimate Austen hero, Mr. Darcy, extremely proud to have ended up being a part of his creator’s popular world.




    And you can bet Jane Austen is somewhere smiling, extremely proud of the woman who sits at a computer and brings her - the woman, the author, and her magic - back to life. Syrie James is magnificent!




    Quill says: ‘Class-A’ writing is what this author always delivers, and this early Austen adventure is truly unforgettable!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 22, 2015

    The summer of 1791 was so firmly fixed in my memory that I belie

    The summer of 1791 was so firmly fixed in my memory that I believe I can never forget it; every detail is as fresh and vivid as if it occurred only yesterday, and looking back, there are times when it seems that my life never really began until that moment- the moment when I first met him. p. 1 Jane of Jane Austen's First Love

    I was utterly enchanted at the idea of reading a story that retells even a portion of Jane Austen's earlier life that all began when the author spotted a curious sentence that Jane Austen penned in a letter to her sister Cassandra. So I picked up this speculative story and began. I hadn't given much thought to Jane in context of her surroundings, activities and her family during that time. I loved meeting her family including her parents, her younger brother Charles, her brother Edward and even her dear friend like a sister Martha Lloyd, but best of all spending good page time with her sister, Cassandra. It was a heady feeling perusing the pages of this story and engaging with Jane in her summer adventure into Kent where I met Jane's first love, but also the first glimmer of Jane Austen the novelist.

    The story begins with the Austen family receiving a letter from second son, Edward, announcing his engagement to Elizabeth Bridges and extending an invitation for the family to journey into Kent to visit Elizabeth's Bridges family at their estate as they celebrate the engagements of their two eldest daughters with house party, ball, and other festivities. Jane is eager as a young girl not quite out in society and rarely traveled can be for this opportunity. Since it is family and friends, Jane is allowed to join all the activities including that of her first ball. This will also be a treat for her younger brother, Charles who will soon be leaving them to join the naval academy.

    So into Kent, Jane goes and soon encounters the distinguished, handsome and accomplished Edward Taylor who impresses her with his lively demeanor, interesting conversation and superiority over the other gentlemen she meets. Edward Taylor has lived on the Continent since he was a small boy, gained knowledge through travel and is very accomplished for a young man of his age as a result. Now he is home to learn how to run the family estate and attend university. Being in Edward's company and even competing as a rival for his interest keeps her occupied, but not so occupied that she entirely oblivious to other goings on.

    Jane sees herself as a student of human nature and observes all around her even as she participates in fun new experiences. She is a lively girl quick to say what is on her mind and impulsively act leaving her family to shake their heads over her. Cass is her closest confidante, but the two sisters see entirely different things when they compare notes about the people around them. Jane is enamored of Edward Taylor while Cassandra finds that his impetuousness is not attractive. Jane sees more than one star-crossed pair of lovers and gets up to a bit of Puckish match-making that has interesting results. Her visit draws to a close and she wonders if Edward Taylor feels as she does even as she prepares to return to her beloved family home with a new energy to write.

    The gently-paced character-driven story is told first person from Jane's point of view and takes place mostly over the course of a month in the summer of her fifteenth year. I enjoyed the in depth work done to immerse the reader in the settings, society, dialogue and the life of Jane Austen in the late Georgian era. The attention to detail could have bogged things down, but it didn't. It is made interesting and sprinkled through the length of the story so it doesn't feel ponderous. For instance, the wearing of hair powder is turned into a humorous learning experience for a Georgian teenager longing to engage in the going fad. Her first ball seems exciting until she has the real fear of not being asked to dance. And daily activities and conversations detail what life was like and what people were thinking.

    Speaking of people, the characters were amazing. The way they were so richly described, talked and acted felt pretty authentic and didn't contradict what is known about them in historical documents. They were three dimensional with heart and depth and not just caricatures. I loved the family moments with the Austens and because of several scenes and conversations, I actually considered what it was like for them to allow a son to be adopted into the upper-class so his future as a man of wealth and stature was secured and to allow two sons to go off as mere boys to the hardened world of the navy. The tender sisterly love and affection between Cass and Jane was so well written. Then there is the young authoress herself on her first venture into society. Jane is not written as this paragon of wit and keen observation that I imagine after reading her novels and letters. She is just a normal young girl- lively and vivacious like a Lydia Bennet sans the spoilt nature. She says things out of turn, does some impetuous things and makes some silly, but grave mistakes that she has to fix.

    There were fun winks and nods to her later novels too. It was amusing to see facets of all her novel heroines in this version of Jane. Just like other characters in the story showed glimpses of other well known novel characters. This was a fun inclusion as were scenes that gave tribute to the novels- the strawberry excursion that could have come out of Emma, the disastrous play and the visit to a neighboring estate reminding me of Mansfield Park - all were familiar and I could imagine that this was how she came up with her ideas to put them in her novels.

    All in all, I found this coming of age story told about a real life historical figure just a delight. I loved the tender hopes and dreams of first love and the engaging descriptions too. I would heartily recommend this one for Historical Romance and Fiction lovers from YA to adult, but particularly those who have a fascination for all things Jane Austen.

    I was given my review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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  • Posted December 8, 2014

    Let me first begin this review with a disclaimer: I usually





    Let me first begin this review with a disclaimer: I usually avoid historical fiction books based on the lives (and through the eyes) of real people, and this especially includes Jane Austen. This weird quirk of mine only became noticeable a few months ago when I was browsing the latest fiction books about the queens of Henry VIII and All Things Austen. To give a disclaimer for my disclaimer in regards to the estimable Jane Austen (and so you don't judge me, not yet at least), I am a proud, unabashed Janeite. I own three copies of Emma (one's annotated, one has Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover, and the other was my mom's gift to me—and introduction to Jane Austen—when I was a wee nine-year old), have read and re-read all of her books, review for a lovely Jane Austen website, have dressed up as her for presentations and talked about her life, novels, and the Regency, read hundreds of novels based on her works and characters, and am currently waiting for my own Mr. Knightley/Mr. Tilney crossover to turn up at my door, snarky comment and side glance included. So yes, reader-who-has-the-misfortune-of-reading-this-particular-review, I am a fan of Jane Austen (in a non-creepy, post-Austenland-experience-Janeite kind of way). 
    During my epiphany about my strange aversion to fiction books about Jane Austen's own life, I realized that the twitch and/or shudders I got when opening each book about her own life happened most often when it involved guesswork on Jane Austen’s personal romances. After doing some thinking and aha-ing--so this was why I had trouble watching ‘Becoming Jane’ (despite darling James McAvoy and the beautiful score)--I realized that it was my love and own particular brand of respect for Jane Austen the person that kept me from reading books with those premises. It wasn't that some of the fiction books about Jane's life were written badly--they weren't--or that the authors didn't write beautifully or do their research--for the most part, they did--no, the problem was that I felt that those books tread on Jane Austen's self-created privacy, something which I would never want to intrude. She never married in real life, and the romances and flirtations she did have were (and still are, in my opinion) her own secrets—carried through life and now death. 
    Now, poor reader (if you are, in fact, still reading this)—all this is to say is that despite my normal knee-jerk reaction to historical fiction books based on real people (especially Jane), I accepted Jane Austen's First Love from a friend and decided to expand my horizons and give it a try. I discovered that it was worth the read. I give this review three stars because I liked it, despite the fact that I had some cringing moments at reading Jane's teenager voice and seeing her infatuation with a typical teenager romantic hero. The cover was gorgeous, the book was well-written and much less jarring to me than other fiction books from Jane's perspective, and above all else, Syrie James dealt skillfully with the knowledge that Jane Austen did not end up with the hero (spoiler, but not really—just Google Jane Austen's life). I was afraid that the romance would be overly dramatic and involve star-crossed lovers destined to be apart (reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet), but no. Syrie James shows Jane's growth through the novel in a truly beautiful way, and her love, while infatuation, didn't make me put down the book because of embarrassment at witnessing the inevitable young love/awkward infatuation every woman experiences at some point in her life. I realized that it was ok to dislike the hero, because he was never meant to be the hero in the first place. Jane's love for the hero seems to be true to life, and while it appears that she was saddened at their parting, she knew that it was a season in her life that was past. And Syrie James portrayed this very natural first-love experience perceptively, sensitively, and refreshingly true to life, all with a powerful ending. Reading Jane Austen's First Love didn't cure me of not generally liking historical fiction books about Jane Austen, but it did show me that I needed to give each one a chance. Thank you, Syrie, for your lovely book, remarkable reading experience, and eye-opening personal lesson!

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  • Posted December 3, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Seventeen-year-old Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons, makes a favor

    Seventeen-year-old Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons, makes a favorable impression on the young Jane when he and his friend Tom Payler stop to rescue Jane, Cassandra, and their brother Charles when their carriage becomes stuck in the mud. Edward is cosmopolitan, cultured, educated, good-natured, and handsome, all qualities perfectly designed to entrance an intelligent, ambitious, and sheltered young woman. Their paths cross frequently with all the fêtes, balls, and visits held in honor of Jane's brother and his fiancée (and her sister and that sister's fiancée, who got unexpectedly engaged....). Jane also sharpens her powers of observation (and her tongue) by observing the self-aggrandizing, unimaginative Lady Bridges and her daughters, the gregarious Sir Brook, various other neighbors, and, frustratingly, Miss Charlotte Payler - Tom Payler's younger sister and Jane's rival for Edward Taylor's affections.

    Syrie James effortlessly captures the sweetness of teenage crushes - the uncertainty, the wish to impress, jealously, and the sudden certainty that, yes, this person above all others is destined to be your one-and-only. But readers know, simply by the introduction to the novel, that this teenage love is destined to be bittersweet. Jane herself tells us that she "once" was fond of Edward Taylor and James does a remarkable job giving the reader an engaging romantic plot while staying true to the biographical history of her very famous protagonist.

    In addition to the marriage plot(s) Janeites and sharp readers will delight in picking out lines, scenes, and characters that James has borrowed from Austen's novels. Sir Brook is an analogue to Sir John Middleton, from Sense and Sensibility. Lady Bridges is a bit like a more-aware version of Lady Bertram from Mansfield Park. Jane horses around by climbing a high wall to impress Edward Taylor, much like Louisa does to impress Captain Wentworth in Persuasion (don't worry, Jane is quite all right). She even suffers from a combination of Elizabeth Bennet's prejudicial first impressions and Emma's blind but well-meant match-making. These are lovely distractions from the separation we know comes at the end of the novel.

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  • Posted November 14, 2014

    3.5 Stars. I have to start out by saying that I'm not too famili

    3.5 Stars.
    I have to start out by saying that I'm not too familiar with Jane Austen, I've only read one book of hers which was 'Pride And Predjudice' which I picked up after enjoying a movie adaptation of said book, however of her personal life I pretty much know nothing, so when the opportunity arose to review this book I was intrigued enough to give it a go, being a fan of historical romance's worked in this book's favor as well.




    While this is fiction it's based on true events, helped along by letters written by Jane all those years ago, I've also come to discover that the author is a Jane Austen officiando, so who better to write a book about her younger years, especially as this is not the first book she's written about Jane.




    We are taken back to 1791, Jane was fifteen and this was the year she would meet and fall in love with Edward Taylor.




    Travelling to Kent with her family to celebrate her older brother's engagement is where she meets Edward for the first time, surrounded by wealth and privilege, her time here will leave a lasting impression that will stay with her for the rest of her life, and just maybe gave her the ideas to come up with the stories she was so famous for.




    This is the story you never knew you wanted to know,




    For all of you Jane Austen buffs this is one book you need to get your hands on.




    Syrie's writing gives you the feeling that you're there with Jane, experiencing everything with her, a fascinating look into the life of one of the greatest authors who ever lived, who still leaves an impression today all these years later of the work she left behind.

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  • Posted August 20, 2014

    In true Austen style, Syrie James weaves together a tale of a fi

    In true Austen style, Syrie James weaves together a tale of a fifteen-year-old Jane in her new story, Jane Austen’s First Love. Inspired by a letter written by Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra, and some true events, Syrie's imagination creates a lovely picture of when Jane first meets Edward Taylor, someone whom just may have been Jane Austen’s First Love. 

    With the news of Edward Austen’s engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane, Cassandra, Charles and Mrs. Austen are off to Kent to join in the celebrations. First to Godmersham Park, the estate Edward is to inherit, and then on to Goodnestone Park, the estate where Elizabeth lives. Numerous activities, house parties and an Engagement Ball are planned for the coming weeks. Jane is very excited about this as she is not out yet, but will be able to attend the ball! And so Jane’s adventure begins…

    On the way to Goodnestone Park, their carriage becomes stuck in the mud, and whom might her rescuer be? Edward Taylor! Jane’s first meeting with him is a swoon-worthy moment indeed! Learning he will also be included in the upcoming activities and Ball, Jane is delighted to find she will frequently be in his company. Not only does Jane fall in love, but she is challenged by Edward to see the world differently, to not be swayed by popular opinion but to be true to herself.

    “He challenged me to try things which I might never otherwise have attempted, helped me to view the world a bit differently, and taught me the importance of thinking for and believing in myself.” p. 378

    I liked seeing how Jane’s life is shaped by this visit. She learns valuable lessons about people and relationships, and that maybe she should not judge people too quickly. I loved seeing people who looked familiar. People from whom Jane might someday use as characters in her stories.

    I found the beginning of the story a bit slow, but once Jane begins her match-making scheme I was all in! I loved it! When the rains began and they were all stuck inside, Jane smoothly convinces everyone into putting on the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She subtly suggests parts for the couples she thought belonged together. Not everything goes as Jane hopes and she finds herself in a spot of trouble. Quite possibly dashing some hopes of her own.

    I really enjoyed Jane Austen’s First Love! It may have been a fictional story of a fifteen-year-old Jane, but she is as inquisitive and adventurous as I imagined her to be! I would highly recommend it to all Jane Austen fans!

    FTC Disclaimer: I received an paperback of the story from the publisher for my honest review.

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  • Posted August 18, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley & Edelweiss

    Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley & Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

    Jane Austen’s first love? Gimme gimme gimme. #GrabbyHands

    Was DYING to read this book and it did not disappoint. Special thanks to the folks at Berkley Trade for FINALLY approving me to read the ARC after much pestering. You guys ROCK!

    I loved the way the story progressed. The buildup to the romance was perfect. I particularly appreciate that this piece felt original. Instead of beating us over the head with Austen tropes (So and So is Mr. Darcy—not that I don’t LOVE that) we saw subtle hints at her future work. This is definitely the first original piece of fiction about Austen’s life I’ve truly enjoyed. It was fun to imagine a young Austen playing matchmaker and making so many mistakes. Jane really grew up that summer—her journey and said growth was delightful.

    "Jane Austen’s First Love" is incredibly romantic without violating the customs from the time period (as so many others often do) and incredibly well researched. I love that Ms. James respected the history and still managed to spin a compelling tale. It’s the buildup and tension that make Austen so timeless and fun to read over and over again. A stolen glance is hands down more romantic and exciting than a kiss—sadly that would’ve ruined a lady of that time. But still… swoon…

    All of that being said I do have one big criticism. I am not familiar enough with Austen’s texts to know if her writing was stylistically accurate or not, but some of the language didn’t always work for me. “Said I” was used a LOT and it constantly felt inconsistent with the rest of her writing and a bit stilted. I think it would have flowed a bit more easily without some of the affectations. Not gonna lie: I found it rather distracting… Sounded like Yoda, it did! ;)

    If you like Austen, I’m pretty confident you’ll enjoy this. Really want to read more Austen stories from Syrie James. She’s good people!

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