The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (2008)

by Syrie James

How could the never-married Jane Austen write so perceptively about courtship and love? is a question often pondered. In this book Syrie James imagines that Austen did in fact know firsthand of what she wrote. The premise is that a trunk discovered in a home once owned by Austen's brother contained memoirs that the beloved author wrote several years after the events described. In this particular volume, Austen relates how she met, won, and then gave up the love of her life.

When the charming, kind, intelligent, and wealthy Frederick Ashford supposedly came into Austen's life, she was 33, well past the age when Anne Elliott (Persuasion) had resigned herself to spinsterhood, and she had put her writing away for years. Before Frederick ever declares his love, he has discovered Jane's secret desire (to be a published author) and inspires her to pick up her pen.

Among the many spinoffs of Jane Austen's work and life, this is one of the best. It is both fact and fiction. It places Austen where she actually lived and among real relatives and friends. The fiction part is the invented romance. In a witty style that admirably imitates Austen's own, James very cleverly inserts pieces of the novels into the life she imagines for Austen. Ashford has a dilemma like Edward Ferrars's (Sense and Sensibility), an estate as grand as Mr. Darcy's (Pride and Prejudice), and the bearing of Mr. Knightly (Emma).

Where The Lost Memoirs diverges from an Austen novel is the conclusion: Jane does not live happily ever after with her Frederick. James devises a plausible reason for the lovers' parting, giving readers a bittersweet ending that still wallows in romance.



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