Friday, July 2, 2010
Review: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen
Syrie James has taken on the task of filling in the mysterious history of Jane Austen's love life. No, not a youthful romance such as Tom Lefroy of Becoming Jane but one that was briefly mentioned by Jane's sister Cassandra to their niece.
James sets up the story as with a scholarly preface and adds footnotes to create a convincing illusion of an actual historical document that has been discovered and released for public perusal (I know, if only...). This was a nice touch, helping you to lose yourself in the fantasy a bit more. However, my expectations for anyone attempting to write as Jane Austen herself are incredibly high. Her voice is so distinctive and so many attempt to emulate her style and fail miserably that I must admit I'm a bit stubborn about the idea. James did better than I expected though I did hope for a little more of Jane's biting wit in her observations of people and situations. Though I understand that it is supposed to be her confessions about a lost love, it was a little sentimental at moments. I'm not sure if Jane would have allowed herself the indulgence, at least not without a little sarcasm as sauce to it.
There are a few funny moments of course, especially where James weaves in characters that Jane will later adapt into her famous novels (the Mr. Collins figure for example), that I enjoyed. She also made the romantic plot surrounding Jane reflect Sense and Sensibility. That I must applaud her for- I love Pride and Prejudice, but the way pop-culture treats it, you'd think that was the only novel she wrote. Too many sequels, adaptations, and biopics use the P&P structure and it bores me to death after a while. It was refreshing to see her first published novel receive some attention and it is completely plausible that she would use inspiration from real people and events in her stories.
Though not perfect, the novel was a quick read and engaging tale for any Janeite to enjoy. James also gives an interesting thought for her audience to ponder: "Do you mean to say, that if I believe in your story as you have told it, then it is as good as if it were true?" A message that perhaps echoes the importance of literature throughout history and Jane Austen's own feelings about fiction. (Just look a Henry Tilney's defence of novels in Northanger Abbey). Just because a story is made up doesn't mean it's less important or that we feel differently about it, nor does it mean that it isn't truthful. This question is also perhaps a self conscious nod to the novel itself, though it is almost entirely without factual support, it doesn't mean readers should enjoy it less, they should revel in the possibility of what might have been.
I'll give it a B+, a valiant effort, but doesn't quite hit the perfect chord when it comes to voicing Miss Austen.
1/6 for my Everything Austen Challenge