Tuesday, December 21, 2010
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James. 2007. HarperCollins. 352 pages.
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.
Last year, I LOVED Syrie James' The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte. I didn't love, love, love The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. I'm not even sure I liked it. But. I found it an entertaining read. The book is a fictionalized autobiography, the supposed "last writing project" of a dying Jane. In her "memoir" she reveals her true love. How her brief relationship with him changed her--for the better. (For the record, this relationship is NOT physical or intimate.)
This love is Mr. Ashford. And he seems to be Jane's perfect match in many, many ways. He's able to hold his own in conversation with her. He is intelligent and handsome and seems to genuinely care for Jane. But Jane's true love, well, he's got a few secrets. And his behavior, well, that "inspires" the messy romances of Sense & Sensibility. For Jane's Mr. Ashford is one part Edward, one part Willoughby.
And Mr. Ashford isn't the only person "inspiring" Austen's fiction. (For example, Mr. Collins is inspired by Mr. Morton.) These "inspirational" scenes can be a bit risky. How many are really needed? How much is too much? I'm not one of those that think every single character in every single book needs to have been "inspired" by a real person. (One of the reasons I hated--yes, HATED, Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen.)
This memoir blends truth with fiction. We do know some things about Austen's life, for example, especially about her family life. And James does a nice job in adding a bit of romance to that life. And for most of the novel--the second half at least--readers get the chance to see Austen hard at work writing and revising.
I liked to see Austen writing. I liked to see her close friendship with her sister. But. I didn't love the romance. Not really. Because even though Mr. Ashford isn't Tom Lefroy, it still felt similar enough to Becoming Jane for me to not quite like it. Not to the same degree, perhaps, which is good. And I did like this book better than Miss Austen Regrets.
Would reading The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen make readers want to read more Austen? I'm not sure. The only Austen I've not read (or reviewed) is Mansfield Park. I've read Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Emma, Lady Susan, Pride and Prejudice. Have you read this one? What did you think?
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews