The Man Who Loved Jane Austen


What if you found a 200-year-old love letter written from a fictional character to the writer who created him? And what if, next to that letter, was another addressed to this character . . . from the author herself? Truth may be stranger than fiction, but one woman is about to find out what happens when fiction becomes truth. . .

New York artist Eliza Knight certainly did not realize it at the time, but her life changed when she bought the old, beat-up vanity table one lazy ...

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What if you found a 200-year-old love letter written from a fictional character to the writer who created him? And what if, next to that letter, was another addressed to this character . . . from the author herself? Truth may be stranger than fiction, but one woman is about to find out what happens when fiction becomes truth. . .

New York artist Eliza Knight certainly did not realize it at the time, but her life changed when she bought the old, beat-up vanity table one lazy Sunday afternoon. Tucked away behind the mirror she found two letters, one sealed, but one already opened:

"May 12th, 1810. Dearest Jane, the Captain has found me out. I am being forced to go into hiding immediately. But if I am able, I shall still be waiting at the same spot tonight. Then you will know everything you wish to know. F. Darcy."

F. Darcy? Fitzwilliam Darcy, the fictional hero of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice? Even more mysterious was the other letter, sealed and never read--from Jane to Darcy. Could this man, possibly the most romantic character ever written and the hero of Eliza's favorite novel, have been a real person? Eliza's initial guarded curiosity turns to astonishment as scientific testing confirms the sealed letter was indeed addressed by Jane Austen. But she is completely baffled by the revelation that the other letter, though proven to be from the same time period--was written by an American.

Caught between the routine of her present life and the intrigue of these incredible discoveries from the past, Eliza decides to look deeper. Her research leads to a majestic, 200-year-old estate in Virginia's breathtaking Shenandoah Valley where she meets the one man who may hold theanswer. But he also has a secret, one he has kept hidden for years. Now, as the real story of Fitzwilliam Darcy unfolds, Eliza finds her life has become a modern-day romance, one that perhaps only Jane Austen herself could have so eloquently written.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780758210371
  • Publisher: Kensington
  • Publication date: 4/1/2006
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,508,799
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Sally Smith O'Rourke lives in Monrovia, California, where she is working on her next novel.
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Read an Excerpt

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen

Copyright © 2006

Sally Smith O'Rourke and Michael O'Rourke
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-1038-8

Chapter One New York City Present day

"Oh, now I do like this!" Eliza Knight exclaimed, though there was no one within earshot.

She brushed a thick layer of dust from the mirror of the scarred little vanity table and peered into the silvery glass. The sudden appearance of her own reflection startled her and she paused for a moment to regard the hazy image. The familiar face looking back at her was, she thought, if not exactly beautiful, then slightly exotic, with its high cheekbones, straight if somewhat narrow nose and full lips. Her dark eyes were, she confirmed, still her best feature, though she also liked her glossy black hair, despite the longish, flyaway cut she'd let her hairdresser talk her into a couple of weeks before.

Grimacing at the hair, Eliza stepped back to take a better look at the old-fashioned rosewood dressing table. In the hour or so that she had been poking through the clutter of the shabby West Side antiques warehouse that was allegedly open only to the "Trade," the vanity was the only thing that had caught her eye. She had spied it just moments earlier, crammed between an art deco floor lamp and a Jetsons pink 1950s Formica coffee table, and had immediately felt herself drawn to it.

Taking her eyes from the dulled mirror, Eliza scanned the rows of dusty merchandise stretching in every direction like a bad Cubist painting. She finally spotted Jerry Shelburn three aisles away. He appeared to be taking stock of an ancient gasoline pump with a cracked glass top.

"Jerry," she called excitedly, "I want your opinion. Come over here and take a look at this!"

Jerry had gotten them admitted to the wholesaler's warehouse through one of his clients, who ran a small freight-forwarding business. Now he smiled good-naturedly and waved back. He carefully replaced the brass nozzle on the gas pump before starting toward her, the round lenses of his wire-framed glasses glittering like little moons beneath the cold fluorescents of the overhead fixtures.

Eliza sighed inwardly as she watched him picking his way through the maze of old furniture, noting the extraordinary care he took not to soil his Old Navy khakis and spotless cotton pullover. They had met two years earlier, through an artist friend of hers, when Eliza had been looking for someone to manage the small investment portfolio her father had left her. Jerry had turned out to be an excellent manager, increasing the value of her stocks by nearly thirty percent in the first year and then shrewdly using the capital to secure the down payment on the condo that also served as her studio, thus eliminating more than half the taxes she'd been paying as a renter.

Somehow while all of that was going on they had started dating and then, occasionally, sleeping together. It was marginally comfortable and definitely low maintenance on both sides. There had been a few times in recent months when she had felt as though the relationship was either going to progress into something more serious or end altogether, and had to admit that it wouldn't really bother her that much if it did end. Feeling slightly mercenary, she consoled herself with the thought that at least her net worth had never been higher.

Turning her attention back to the vanity table, Eliza dragged it out into the aisle and slowly ran her strong artist's hands over the marred top. Despite its numerous scratches, the old wood felt comfortably warm to her touch. The slightly formal, squared-off design vaguely reminded her of a Georgian piece she'd seen in one of her antique guidebooks, and she wondered how old it really was.

"So, what rare treasure have you uncovered?"

Eliza raised her eyes to the mirror and saw Jerry adjusting his glasses to peer over her shoulder.

"Look," she said, stepping away to afford him a clear view of the vanity, "isn't it adorable?"

"I thought you were looking for a floor lamp," he said, barely glancing at the table.

"I was," Eliza replied peevishly, "but I really like this. It's kind of charming, don't you think?"

"Hmmm ..." Frowning as if he'd just been served a piece of tainted fish, Jerry leaned over and examined a tiny pink sticker that Eliza hadn't noticed adhering to the side of the vanity. "At six hundred dollars it's not that charming," he sniffed. "Besides, the mirror's a mess." Jerry straightened and gave her a patronizing wink. "As your investment counselor, I heartily recommend going with a lamp."

Chapter Two Fresh from a scalding shower, swaddled in her threadbare, old terry robe with her hair wrapped in a towel, Eliza stepped barefoot into her bedroom and regarded the prized vanity, which looked right at home among the mismatched collection of antique furniture filling the room.

"I really want your honest opinion now," she said, turning to look at the figure sprawled carelessly across the colorful patchwork quilt covering her Victorian-era four-poster bed. "Do you think I made an awful mistake?"

Wickham, an overweight gray tabby with a severe personality disorder, spread his considerable jaws wide and yawned to demonstrate his complete indifference to her question.

Not to be so easily deterred, Eliza scooped up the cat in her arms and crossed to the corner by the window, where Jerry had somewhat sullenly deposited the antique dressing table two hours earlier. The hazed rectangular mirror stood on the floor beside the table, leaning against the wall. After admiring the newly acquired pieces for a moment Eliza sank cross-legged onto the carpet before them, cradling the squirming cat in her lap.

"I think the whole problem with Jerry and our relationship," she explained to Wickham, "can be summed up in this table. Because when I look at it I see something warm and beautiful. But all Jerry sees is a piece of used furniture. You're a creature of discerning taste. What do you see, Wickham?"

Eliza smiled and scratched the special spot between Wickham's ears. The cat's yellow eyes rolled back in his head and he stiffened and moaned in ecstasy.

"My point exactly!" Eliza gloated. "Because, unlike you and me, Jerry has no soul, just a bottom line." She released her grip on Wickham, who leaped out of her lap and settled himself comfortably on the carpet.

"It really is a lovely piece," she said, gently reaching to stroke the satiny finish of an unscarred table leg. It needed major cleaning and some linseed oil but she was pretty sure that it was very old.

As Eliza carefully removed the single drawer from the table, setting it on the floor before her, she noticed that it was lined with now-faded pink wallpaper that still retained a floral pattern. Ignoring the liner, she turned the drawer around and examined the outside corners, which had been fitted together without nails.

The slightly irregular dovetails holding the sides of the drawer together meant they were obviously cut by hand, reinforcing her belief that the table was old, crafted before the age of machine-made, mass-produced furniture.

Eliza smiled ruefully, for though she was entirely correct about the dovetails, she had also exhausted virtually the entire store of knowledge she remembered from the NYU evening extension class she'd taken two years earlier on appraising antique furniture.

Nevertheless, she turned the drawer over to inspect the bottom, vaguely recalling something about being sure the wood colors matched or didn't match or something. The pink liner fluttered to the floor, coming to rest upside down on the carpet.

Interested at last, Wickham swatted at the crumbling paper. Eliza shooed him away and then stared in surprise at the liner. For adhering to its underside was another strip of yellowing paper densely covered in cramped black type.

"Look, Wickham, it's a piece of ... old newspaper!" she exclaimed, squinting to read the oddly shaped and embellished letters. "Listen to this," she breathed, tracing with her index finger a heavier line of print bannered across the top of the sheet: "THE HAMPSHIRE CHRONICLE, 7 APRIL, 1810 ... My God, that was almost two hundred years ago!"

Her attention now riveted by the partial sheet of ancient newsprint, Eliza carefully lifted it onto the top of the vanity and spent the next few minutes curiously poring over several tightly packed columns of ads for "Gentlemen's best quality silk cravats," "beneficial beef extracts," "drayage and forwarding" (whatever they might be), and a host of other mysterious products with names like Gerlich's Female Potion, calibrated boiling thermometers and India rubber goods.

When finally her eyes tired of squinting at the strange, old-fashioned print she gave the sturdy little table another cursory inspection. Then she knelt beside the mirror and stood it upright, noticing again with some dismay that the silvered surface was, as Jerry had pointed out in the warehouse, badly worn.

Cheerfully dismissing the hazing as enhancing the overall charm of the piece, she experimentally tilted the mirror toward her and was distressed to see that the wood backing on one side was pulling away from the frame. "Oh, great! The backing seems to be warped," she murmured to the cat. "Now give me some support here, Wickham. I'd hate to have to admit that Jerry might have been right after all."

Wickham stretched and meowed.

"Thanks," Eliza grinned. "I needed that."

She pulled the mirror to her and turned it around to get a better look at the damaged backing. To her relief, though, the visible gap appeared to be no more than six inches long. "Well, it's not as bad as I thought," she said. "I think it only needs to be reglued." With her fingernail she experimentally lifted the edge of the backing from the mirror frame in an attempt to determine how far the separation extended. As she did so, something fell out of the mirror and landed on the carpet with a soft plop.

Attracted by the sudden motion, Wickham leaped onto the fallen object and hissed menacingly. Eliza pushed him away and stared at the thing in surprise. She slowly leaned the mirror back against the wall, then reached down and lifted the fallen object into the light.

She remained frozen on her knees for several seconds, gazing at her hand while she tried to reconstruct what had just happened. For she was holding a slim packet of thick, sepia-toned paper tied together like a Christmas package with a crisscross of bright green ribbon.

"Good Lord," she whispered, letting her eyes dart back to the mirror and glimpsing her own puzzled expression.

Something swatted against her hand and she looked down to see Wickham resolutely batting at the end of the bright ribbon. Snatching her hand away from him, she got to her feet and examined the packet more closely. Held together by the broad ribbon, she saw, were two rectangles of folded paper. The one on top was smaller than the other and had been written across in reddish brown ink, the words obscured by the ribbon covering them.

"Letters!" she exclaimed.

Eliza turned the packet over and saw that the larger of the two letters had been sealed with a blob of shiny red material that she guessed must be sealing wax, though it looked like no other wax she had ever seen, having more the consistency of brittle plastic. Intrigued, she carefully untied the ribbon securing the packet, so that she could read the address on the top envelope.

"'Miss Jane Austen, Chawton Cottage' ... Jane Austen!"

Stunned by the name of the famous nineteenth-century author, Eliza paused and took a deep breath before she could read the remainder of the address on the letter. Jane Austen! Again she had to pause as her eyes raced ahead of her trembling lips. "'Jane Austen ~ Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Chawton Great House,'" she squeaked.

Eliza stood there on her bedroom carpet for several more seconds, silently reading and rereading the words inscribed neatly across the front of the smaller envelope.

The thoughts racing through Eliza's head at that moment were somewhat difficult to define. For although she would not have classified herself as a voracious reader, she was well-enough read, her tastes running largely to popular fiction with a smattering of respectable old favorites, ranging from the works of Agatha Christie and Damon Runyon to a few major poets and several classical novelists.

And, like many women, one of Eliza's very favorite novels, numbered among half a dozen well-worn books occupying the small shelf beneath her bedside table, was Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's timeless story of Miss Elizabeth Bennet's uncompromising quest for a perfect love.

Which is only to say that Eliza Knight knew precisely who Jane Austen was, and she certainly knew who Fitzwilliam Darcy, the purported recipient of the letter she now held in her hand, was, or at least who he was supposed to be.

With the letters in her hand she went to the bed and sat down. Gazing at the window, her reflection surrounded by a moonlit halo, Eliza's imagination swirled with what ifs and could it bes. She smiled to herself. Jerry would be laughing and berating her for such romantic notions and, in truth, as wildly romantic as the idea was, it was ludicrous, patently absurd; because the relationship suggested by the enigmatic address on the letter was flatly impossible. Darcy was, after all, a fictitious character, wasn't he?

Looking down at Wickham, who had followed her to the bed, she said, "Well, there's only one way to find out: read the letters."

In spite of her well-founded skepticism as to the authenticity of the letters, Eliza felt her heart trip-hammer in her chest and her hands tremble as she opened the larger of the two letters: the one that was addressed to Jane Austen from Fitzwilliam Darcy with the broad, scrawled pen strokes of a man's hand. She read aloud:

12 May, 1810

Dearest Jane,

The Captain has found me out. I am being forced to go into hiding immediately. But if I am able, I shall still be waiting at the same spot tonight. Then you will know everything you wish to know. F. Darcy

Eliza paused to consider the meaning of those few sparse sentences. And when she began to read it over again there was a slight quaver in her voice. For this was not at all what she had expected. Though, on momentary reflection, she was not quite sure exactly what she had expected to find in Darcy's letter-some flowery romantic tribute, perhaps, or a poetic declaration of undying love to a lady fair. How odd ... being found out, going into hiding. What did that mean? Maybe the other letter was Austen's reply and so held the answers.

Slipping the first letter behind the other in her hand, she examined it with awe. The lovely feminine handwriting flowed across the page and, turning it over in her hands, she saw that the sealing wax was still intact, a fanciful letter A impressed into it. This one had never been read, maybe never sent. Why? Tracing the curves of the seal with the tip of her finger, she curiously experienced a tingling sensation that shot like a jolt of electricity through her body.

"Wickham, can you imagine what it would mean if the letter really was written by Jane Austen?" She looked at the cat, who was unconcernedly applying his long pink tongue to one of his wickedly clawed front paws. Eliza sighed, "No, of course you can't, you poor thing, you have no forehead."

Looking at the letter she turned it over and over again in her hands. If it was genuine and she opened it, she would forever be known as the stupid artist who ruined a historic document.

Before she burned her bridges, Eliza decided she needed to try and find out something about the fictitious Mr. Darcy. Maybe the Internet would give her the answers she sought.

Chapter Three In sharp contrast to Eliza's bedroom-which, with its eclectic collection of old wooden furniture, framed prints and warm fabric accents, could only be described as cozy-the living room of her small condo (actually the workroom and studio where she created her art and operated her Internet gallery) was all twenty-first-century business.

In front of the large window that allowed her to look directly into the wheelhouses of passing freighters on the East River were arrayed her white IKEA computer desk and drawing board, and beside them the wide steel filing cabinets, airbrush, paints and other equipment necessary to her work.

Hanging on the otherwise bare walls were several meticulous illustrations of the idyllic, flower-filled country landscapes and other natural and whimsical subjects in which she specialized.


Excerpted from The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by SALLY SMITH O'ROURKE Copyright © 2006 by Sally Smith O'Rourke and Michael O'Rourke. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2006

    I enjoyed it, ending was ok (don't worry I don't tell)

    I thought the premise was a great idea, and Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of all time, so that's why I was immediately attracted to this book. The writing was not what I would call great writing, but I enjoyed the book. Was a quick read. Ending was satisfactory, but I really felt the book ended abruptly. Like the author either ran out of ideas or was rushing to end it. A little bit of a disappointment compared to how much I enjoyed the rest of the book, but still overall it was a great idea and story. No worries about explicit content, which was nice. Would recommend it!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2013

    This novel is a skillfully written fantasy of time travel. Throu

    This novel is a skillfully written fantasy of time travel. Through the accidental passage of a time portal, an injured Fitz Darcy of Pemberley Farms, Virginia, awakens to find himself in the care of Jane Austen, year 1810. Recovering from his injuries and confused over what has transpired Mr. Darcy struggles to adapt to a possible life threatening situation. His fascination with the author and her diligent care of the handsome young stranger create a bond of friendship and closeness that will change the lives of both forever.

    Present Day:  Eliza Knight, a young artist from New York falls in love with an antique vanity and mirror. After bringing the purchase home, she works to restore its natural beauty. In doing so, a rare find sets her on a path of discovery for truth. 

    It has been three years since Fitz Darcy’s unexplained disappearance and return. He is obsessed with Jane Austen, her life and memorabilia. Through all his research and studies he has become somewhat of a Jane Austen scholar.  

    This sets the course for the meeting of Eliza and Fitz, both in search of answers. For Fitz Darcy…was his encounter with Jane Austen real? For Eliza Knight…was Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pride and Prejudice real?  The story that unfolds answers both questions in a magical and fulfilling tale!

    As the author wrote of Jane Austen’s life and dialog, it seemed so real. I felt that I knew her and understood her feelings, often experiencing them with her. A little history, tender romance and pure fantasy all combine to make this book well worth reading for any Jane Austen fan.  

    Ms. O’Rourke acknowledges that this book was co-written with her husband. On the dedication page she says, “This is our dream, the ultimate valentine. As you said, it came out of the love we had for each other and will live in my heart forever…” I, for one, am thankful that you decided to share your ultimate valentine.  It has touched me deeply.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2006

    wonderful easy read

    easy read very exciting and intresting I dont have time to read alot so I really enjoyed this book it drew you in and was hard to set down. After I read this book I purchased the complete collection written by Jane Austen and I am now reading Pride and Prejudice.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    delightful modern day romantic mystery

    In New York antiques furniture collector Eliza Knight purchases a two century old vanity. However, as she looks over and gently cleans her treasure, she finds an incredible cache, if authenticated, behind the mirror. She has found two letters between Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Miss Jane Austen. The correspondence from Fitz to Jane is open and dated 1810, but the return note remains sealed. A Jane Austen expert not only verifies the find as authentic, she learns that a Darcy living in Virginia possesses a similar letter written by Jane to Fitz. --- Eliza travels to the Shenandoah Valley to meet Fitz and show what she has and see what he possesses. He invites her to attend his family¿s annual Rose Ball honoring a nineteenth century ancestor, Rose Darcy. Though she enjoys the gala especially the costumes, she finally asks her host whether one of his ancestors was in deed Jane¿s lover and the model for her renowned lead male in Pride and Prejudice. --- This novel combines the awe of whether Jane Austen¿s Fitz was real with a delightful modern day romantic mystery containing a fascinating twist that if revealed here would give away too much of the plot. The story line is character driven by Eliza, Fitz and Jane. Eliza seeks the truth which she believes Fitz has while Jane serves as the focus of her inquiry. Fans will appreciate this contemporary tale that looks closely at the life of Jane Austen while determining based on historical facts whether her Fitz truly lived. --- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Story!

    I loved this story! This is a great story that will maintain your interest and keep you reading until the end.

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  • Posted August 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    It could've been better

    I thought this book was good. It would've been even better if it was all about Jane in her times, than about Eliza and the present day. I thought that the first part of this book went slow and was a bit dull. It was all about Eliza's journey to discover the authenticity of letters, an email to search for the truth of Mr. Darcy, a Jane Austen exhibit at a library and an auction that never happened.
    I absolutely loved the back story of Jane and how she encounters this F. Darcy. How they showed affection for each other and what F. Darcy shared with her in these few days. If Sally Smith O'Rourke had stuck with these ideas for the entire book, it would've been perfect.

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  • Posted January 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A good beach read, a mild Jane Austen fan fiction.

    I came across this book because I have been on a Jane Austen binge lately¿Rather than a use of her characters this book uses Jane as a character herself in a bit of time travel twist. It is an easy read that holds your attention without straining any mental muscle. A ¿beach read¿ (that really should be a category under detailed ratings) I do agree with the reviewer who says the book rushes to an abrupt ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2007


    I hate to write a negative review, but I hope to spare as many readers as possible. Simply put, this book was the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. The writing was amateurish, using the sort of overly-descriptive language one would expect of a 9th grade creative writing student. The premise was just plain silly. And the author obviously did not have the benefit of an editor. If the writer thought she was writing an homage to Jane Austen, she either has a fundamental misconception of Austen's style or lacks the technical skills to honor that style. Either way, I cannot imagine Austen approving. Please save your money. This was truly a painful read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2006


    I was intrigued by this book's premise a guy from the 21st century travells backwards in time and falls in love with Jane Austen. Subsequently, he supplies the model for her most famous hero, Mr. Darcy. Unfortunately, the whole thing reads like a long piece of fan fiction. The prose isn't spectacular by any means. There are cliches aplenty, and worst of all nothing really happens at all that's particularly exciting. The modern-day Miss Bingley equivalent is at one point described as gazing out her window at the modern Mr. Darcy with her arms folded across her naked chest. Why? Is she in the habit of sleeping in the nude? There isn't much gratuitous sex, much to this reader's relief, but there are moments like the above that make you go, 'Huh?'. It was a nice try, but rent this from the library before buying it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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