First Impressions – ‘Miss Austen’ by Gill Hornby

Author: Gill Hornby
Genre: Historical fiction, biographical fiction
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Historical fiction, biographical fiction
Publisher: Century, Penguin Random House UK
Publication date: 23 January 2020

This is another book that I did not buy, but got as a part of a book box. I wasn’t quite sure what this book was about, even after reading the cover. But, ten chapters in, I’m really enjoying this book.

Set 23 years after Jane Austen’s death, we follow the story of Cassandra Austen, Jane Austen’s sister and best friend, who has arrived at the home of the Fowles, the family friends of the Austens, at Kintbury. Upon the death of Fulwar Craven Fowle, the Vicar of Kintbury, Cassandra pays a visit to the Vicarage and to Isabella, the spinster daughter of the late Vicar. Cassandra’s visit is for more than just paying her condolences – within the house is the correspondence between her sister Jane, and Mary Fowle, Isabella’s mother, and a dear friend to both Jane and Cass. Cass intends to go through the letters exchanged, under the intention to destroy any stories damaging to her late sister’s reputation, before those letters are taken away.

Cassandra’s own past comes to light – her romance with and engagement to Tom Fowle during her youth, the interactions between the witty Austens and the more sober Fowles, and Cassandra’s deep love and affection towards her sister, Jane. The narrative switches between the past – during Cassandra’s youth – and the present, where Cassandra comes face to face with elements of her past she tried to bury within herself, or had forgotten with the passage of time. She interacts with the living members of both families, and realises how the memories of the same incident varies from person to person, and how her biggest challenge was to contend with the narrative that would incriminate Jane’s character.

This is one of those books that I could honestly read forever.

The language of this book is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s own writing, and, honestly, is my favourite part of this book. As someone who was intensely passionate about classics for the longest time (before I stopped reading storybooks), the language, the flow of words, and the words itself are a balm to my restless mind. The pacing is perfect, according to me – while there isn’t a lot happening, there is still a lot to say, and the story takes its time to go through every detail of every incident.

The best part of the story itself, is Jane’s and Cassandra’s relationship – the love that the sisters feel for each other is real, their friendship is untainted by envy or any negativity, and their relationship is all about uplifting one another. Cassandra wants the best for her sister, even after her death, and Jane love for her sister is shown in her decisions throughout her life. It’s one of the most wholesome sibling/sister relationships to be described in any story, and beholding it leaves one with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

This book is for one of those days one sets aside to do nothing but enjoy quietly, in the company of a great book. The book has honestly been so soothing for my mind, especially during a really stressful time in my life. There were moments when I would pick up this book to de-stress, read a few pages and feel relaxed and calm again. For someone who loves literary classics, this book is definitely one for the shelf.

First Impressions: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The language is almost poetic and the interactions between the characters are fleshed out really well. The relationship to look out for is between Cassandra and Jane – it’s the one that stands out the brightest.

My recommendation: If you enjoy literary classics, and want the company of a book that makes you feel good from the inside, then this it the book for you. I highly recommend this book to all English Literature lovers, especially to those who enjoy Jane Austen’s books.

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