The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

Jane Austen is a writer whose stories I love, whose writing a find alluring and romantic, and yet, is a writer who I rarely read. I regularly remark that I want to read of all of her work, but years go by and her work remains unread by me, with the minimal exception of books I read in a British Literature course in college. Well, for those who gobble up Jane Austen works and those who, like me, hold a certain fascination with her but are terrible at committing to reading her work, I’ve found the perfect book for you. Add in estate drama, legal battles, the grouping of unlikely characters, and you have the perfect book for me. 

SYNOPSIS (from @Goodreads): “Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.”

This book is a character-driven love letter to Jane Austen that doesn’t require a devotion to the renowned writer. You can have read all of her books or none of them and you’ll still appreciate this story. Every character is well-developed and I was sad to say goodbye to them by the end, particularly because each character has unique challenges that they come to terms with through their shared love of Austen. This story gave me serious nostalgia for the moments when you mention a book you love deeply, and suddenly someone says they love it, too and you become absorbed in a conversation about it. This story goes one step further, however, and the characters come together to protect Austen’s home, preserving her legacy. I am a sucker for estate issues, so this story really excited me.

Jenner’s writing is complex – her sentences read as though Austen haunts the contours of each letter, but are distinct as a new literary voice, while also capturing the sharp commentary and the modern edge so often found in Austen’s work. For example, Jenner writes “He was becoming quite worried for Mr. Darcy,” which I think could become as canonical as “You have bewitched me, body and soul.” Jenner’s writing is particularly commendable because she manages to write a story that takes place in WWII with language that feels genuine for the setting and also give a perspective that whispers of Jane.

I just adored this story and it renewed my idea that I need to read all of Austen’s work. My best friend, who specialized in Victorian history, always says I won’t get better at reading Victorian literature unless I just do it. So, I’m going to take the plunge and try to finish all of Austen’s work within one year from today. *insert panicked face because if I set a goal, I will do everything in my power to meet it*

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