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You don't have to be a Jane Austen expert to enjoy this book. You just need
to be in the mood for a page-turning, romantic story filled with warm
characters, great passions, enjoyable language, and a terrific plot. And
it's to James's credit that her novel reads a lot like -- what else? -- a classic
In the novel's foreword, a fictitious editor discloses that Austen's
memoirs have recently been discovered. Jane's memoirs, she says, prove
that Austen had a secret romance of her own in her 30s. In the following
pages, readers are treated to an imaginative rendition of an initial
encounter and subsequent romance between Jane, who longs to be a published
writer but doubts her own abilities, and Mr. Ashford, a man who
both loves and believes in her. Along the way, our fictitious editor offers
suggestions -- in the form of footnotes -- that this love affair inspired many
of Austen's characters and plotlines. And readers can't help but wonder,
Wouldn't it be great to know Jane had such a person in her life?
No, you don't have to be a Jane Austen fan to enjoy The Lost Memoirs of
Jane Austen. But be prepared -- you'll want to read (or reread) all of her
novels once you finish this ingenious and delightful book.
(Spring 2008 Selection)
James speculates in her easy-reading debut on a romance between Austen and a landed British gentleman. The prologue presents the narrative as a long-lost journal Austen kept between 1815 and 1817, recently discovered during a renovation at Chawton Manor House and annotated by Oxford University Austen scholar Mary I. Jesse, whose footnotes appear throughout. The first-person account describes how Mr. Ashford, the son of a baronet, saves the spinster writer from a climbing accident after her father's death. The two meet again in Southampton, and Mr. Ashford encourages Austen to fulfill her dream of becoming a "renowned novelist" and even supplies the name of "Dashwood" when she is working on Sense and Sensibility. Austen and Mr. Ashford seem a perfect match in matters of head and heart (both have read Wordsworth, Walter Scott and Dr. Samuel Johnson), but James portrays them as doomed lovers, and though she hews closely to the historic record, she creates a modicum of will-they-or-won't-they suspense that culminates with a proposal and an "intensely" kissed Austen. It's a pleasant addition to the ever-expanding Austen-revisited genre. (Dec.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
After nearly two centuries of speculation, a hidden memoir by the adored Austen reveals the existence of a romance that was most likely fodder for her novels and the basis for her romantic heroes. Or so novelist James, also a screenwriter, would have us believe. Following the death of her father, Jane and her mother and her sister are relegated to the position of "poor relations," staying intermittently with her brothers and theirfamilies. On a trip to Lyme with her brother Henry, Jane meets Mr. Frederick Ashford, heir to Pembroke Hall in Derby. There is an instant connection, but their acquaintance is cut short when he is suddenly called home. It is quite some time before they meet again, in Southampton, where Jane is now living. And for three weeks, the pair are inseparable, leaving the spinsterish Jane with hopes of marriage to someone who appreciates and encourages her writing. Things don't go as expected, and once again Jane is left hurt and disillusioned. But her feelings roil within her and feed into her characters. This fascinating novel will make readers swear there was such a man as Mr. Ashford and that there is such a memoir. The text includes footnotes and even an editor's foreword and afterword, though, in truth, there is no editor. Tantalizing, tender, and true to the Austen mythos, James's book is highly recommended.
Los Angeles Times
“James creates a life story for Austen that illuminates how her themes and plots may have developed... the reader blindly pulls for the heroine… hoping against history that Austen might yet enjoy the satisfactions of romance... offers a deeper understanding of what Austen’s life might have been like.”
Santa Barbara Independent
“Suspenseful... and filled with surprises... one of the best additions to the current spate of books featuring Jane Austen.”
“James has taken on an enormous task-channel Austen and bring her back to life-and she has done just that ... Talk about a love story. Whether or not it happened, James has created the possibility in an intelligent, historical romance novel. I do believe that Jane would approve.”
Romance Reader At Heart.Com
“Rarely have I read a book that I enjoyed as much ... I honestly believe even Jane herself would have loved this book... It’s written so well, and stays so true to form for the historical period, that it feels uncannily like a real memoir ... utterly delightful!”
“There are not enough accolades i could use to recommend this book ... I read it thinking all the while it was a newly discovered memoir of the famous writer. That is how good the writing is... It is a love affair equal to anything Jane Austen wrote.”
“Captures all that is best and true about Jane Austen … You will find yourself caught and enchanted ... For die-hard Austenites, this is the book you’ve been waiting for; for those of you wishing for knowledge of how to be a writer like Austen, you can find that, too.”
“Readers may find themselves forgetting that the book is fiction… James bases her book on facts from Austen’s life and … clearly depicts Austen’s witty imagination and keen intelligence… Readers may want to pour themselves a cup of tea before settling in with this novel… It’s a delightful read.”
Savvy Verse & Wit.com
“A fantastic addition to all things Jane … one of those books that must go into the pile that I will read again and again … James does a beautiful job weaving together elements of fact, fiction, and imagination, which made this reader believe in the truth of her fiction.”
Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine
“James…[has] a sensitive ear for the Austenian voice and a clear passion for research...a thoughtful, immensely touching romance that does justice to its subject and will delight anyone who feels...that Austen couldn’t have written with such insight without having had a great romance of her own.”
“James’s book imagines a Mr. Ashford for Jane, a man with whom she shares a good deal of passion in the two years preceding the publication of Sense and Sensibility ... And if she didn’t she should have, as it makes for a compelling read.”
The Writer's Road Less Traveled
“The writing style was so effortlessly Austen that I almost felt as if I truly was reading a memoir penned by her own hand. And while these lost memoirs were just a fabrication, Ms. James did a terrific job of melding the historical details from Ms. Austen’s life.
“A story that not only leaves you believing ‘it could have happened,’ but wishing ‘oh… I hope she had this’ ... I was wholly engaged from beginning to end ... When I closed the cover (the very tactilely pleasing cover) … I felt as though I’d made a friend.”
"A delicious novel... comic scenes of hilarity together with love scenes of great emotion, witty dialogue, and well-drawn characters. Jane Austen comes alive from the first page to the last. You truly believe that you are reading her long-lost memoirs, not a historical fiction novel."
“A delicious novel... comic scenes of hilarity together with love scenes of great emotion, witty dialogue, and well-drawn characters. Jane Austen comes alive from the first page to the last. You truly believe that you are reading her long-lost memoirs, not a historical fiction novel.”
Best First Novel of 2008
“This fascinating novel will make readers swear there was such a man as Mr. Ashford and that there is such a memoir... Tantalizing, tender, and true to the Austen mythos, James’s book is highly recommended.”
Read an Excerpt
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen
By Syrie James
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2007 Syrie James
All right reserved.
Why I feel the sudden urge to relate, in pen and ink, a relationship of the most personal nature, which I have never before acknowledged, I cannot say. Perhaps it is this maddening illness which has been troubling me now and again of late—this cunning reminder of my own mortality—that compels me to make some record of what happened, to prevent that memory from vanishing into the recesses of my mind, and from there to disappear for ever from history, as fleeting as a ghost in the mist.
Whatever the reason, I find that I must write it all down; for there may, I think, be speculation when I am gone. People may read what I have written, and wonder: how could this spinster, this woman who, to all appearances, never even courted—who never felt that wondrous connection of mind and spirit between a man and woman, which, inspired by friendship and affection, blooms into something deeper—how could she have had the temerity to write about the revered institutions of love and courtship, having never experienced them herself?
To those few friends and relations who, upon learning of my authorship, have dared to pose a similar question (although, I must admit, in a rather more genteel turn ofphrase), I have given the self-same reply: "Is it not conceivable that an active mind and an observant eye and ear, combined with a vivid imagination, might produce a literary work of some merit and amusement, which may, in turn, evoke sentiments and feelings which resemble life itself?"
There is much truth in this observation.
But there are many levels of veracity, are there not, between that truth which we reveal publicly and that which we silently acknowledge, in the privacy of our own thoughts, and perhaps to one or two of our most intimate acquaintances?
I did attempt to write of love—first, in jest, as a girl; then in a more serious vein, in my early twenties, though I had known only young love then;1 in consequence, those early works were of only passing merit. It was only years later that I met the man who would come to inspire the true depth of that emotion, and who would reawaken my voice, which had long lain dormant.
Of this gentleman—the one, true, great love in my life—I have, for good reason, vowed never to speak; indeed, it was agreed amongst the few close members of my family who knew him, that it was best for all concerned to keep the facts of that affair strictly to ourselves. In consequence, I have relegated my thoughts of him to the farthest reaches of my heart; banished for ever—but not forgotten.
No, never forgotten. For how can one forget that which has become a part of one's very soul? Every word, every thought, every look and feeling that passed between us, is as fresh in my mind now, years later, as if it had occurred only yesterday.
The tale must be told; a tale which will explain all the others.
But I get ahead of myself.
It is a truth (I believe, universally acknowledged) that, with few exceptions, the introduction of the hero in a love-story should never take place in the first chapter, but should, ideally, be deferred to the third; that a brief foundation should initially be laid, acquainting the reader with the principal persons, places, circumstances and emotional content of the story, so as to allow a greater appreciation for the proceedings as they unfold.
Therefore, before we meet the gentleman in question, I must go further back to relate two events which occurred some years earlier—both of which altered my life, suddenly and irrevocably, in a most dreadful and painful way.
In December 1800, shortly before the twenty-fifth anniversary of my birth, I had been away, visiting my dear friend Martha Lloyd. Upon returning home, my mother startled me by announcing, "Well, Jane, it is all settled! We have decided to leave Steventon behind us for good, and go to Bath."
"Leave Steventon?" I stared at her in disbelief. "You cannot mean it."
"Oh, but I do," said my mother as she bustled happily about the small parlour, pausing to study the pictures on the wall with a look of fond farewell, as if making peace with the thought of leaving them all behind. "Your father and I talked it over while you were gone. He will be seventy in May. It is high time he retired, after nearly forty years as the rector of this parish, not to mention Deane.2 Giving up the post, you know, means giving up the house, but your brother James will benefit by it, as it will go to him; and as your father has always longed to travel, we thought, what better time than the present? Let us go, while we still have our health! But where we should go, that was a matter of great debate, and we have at last come to conclusion that it should be Bath!"
My head began to swim; my legs crumpled under me, and I sank heavily into the nearest chair, wishing that my beloved sister was there to share the burden of this distressing news. Cassandra, who is three years older than I, and far more beautiful, is possessed of a calm and gentle disposition; I can always depend on her to rally my spirits in even the worst of situations. But she was away at the time, visiting our brother Edward and his family in Kent.
"Jane!" I heard my mother cry. "Why, I believe the poor girl has fainted. Mr. Austen! Do come help! Where are the smelling-salts?"
I had been born at Steventon, and had passed all the happy days of my life there. I could no more imagine leaving that beloved place than I could sprout wings and fly. I loved the trellised front porch of the parsonage house, the perfectly balanced arrangement of sash windows in its flat front façade, and the unadorned, white-washed walls and open-beam ceilings within. I had grown to cherish every elm, chestnut and fir which towered above its roof, and every plant and shrub in the back garden, where I strolled almost daily along the turf walk, bordered by strawberry beds.
Excerpted from The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James Copyright © 2007 by Syrie James. Excerpted by permission.
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