It’s hard to imagine why anyone would read this book before reading Jane Austen’s novels, but for admirers of the famed writer and her works, The Jane Austen Society will be a treat.
Set in post–World War II Chawton, the town where Austen spent her last eight years, the novel details a fictional account of seven Austen enthusiasts coming together to preserve her residence — an effort that brings healing to each of their troubled spirits.
The group includes Frances Knight, the last descendant of Austen’s brother living on his estate; her father’s lawyer, whom she once loved; a teenager who had to quit school to work in the Knight household; the widowed town doctor; a young war widow and former schoolteacher; a somber farmer who lost his father and two brothers in the war; and an American actress with the money to support the project. Keeping track of the large cast gets easier as Jenner builds each into a credible, likable character with an interesting backstory.
Austen fans will be tickled by recognizing parallels to some conversations and events in her novels. The project succeeds and, unsurprisingly, there is a happy ending for each character and more than one marriage.
Jenner’s tale of saving the Austen house is fictional, but there really was a Jane Austen Society that was formed during World War II to save the house. Its efforts attracted a benefactor who purchased the house and endowed it to the UK as a memorial to his son, who was killed in the war. The house was opened as a museum in 1949 and has drawn visitors since.
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