The Jane Austen Society (2020)

by Natalie Jenner

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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