Jane Austen’s life is recounted in her many correspondences as well as by relatives and scholars, but even with so much information available there are gaps, questions. Speculation abounds regarding the letters Jane’s sister Cassandra burned, and then there are those things which Jane herself must have deemed too personal to share.
Given the enduring nature of her novels, the portrayal of characters within the realm of believable existence and situations which are not so overwrought with coincidence as to be impossible, Jane Austen is credited with a keen wit and observance of human behavior. Her work demonstrates understanding of the nuances of relationships from acquaintances to friendships from familial to romantic. Her imagination may have been vivid, but could she really have written with such fidelity to real possibility had she not participated in life and experienced many things for herself?
Syrie James takes this very idea and weaves a tale of fiction that actually postulates a believable life for Jane Austen that blends factual information with imagination. Elements from Austen’s novels, particularly Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, are reverse engineered to become believable experiences of inspiration for this alternate Jane in The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.
I was thoroughly caught up in James’s tale in spite of my knowledge of its fictitious nature. Suspending my disbelief happened with such ease that I was unaware of doing so. Even knowing how it must end, I found myself tearing up and hoping for a different outcome.
In all of Jane Austen’s novels there is a hint of darkness, parts where happiness seems out of reach and melancholy cling to the heart. All of us who have experienced affection and love to any degree understand this feeling when events take place that seem to prevent us from pursuing the path we believe to lead to our happiness with another. Moments where we feel betrayed or disillusioned.
“Do you not think it a brilliant and inspired touch?”
“I do,” agreed Cassandra, “but it is so–“
“Sad? Infuriating? Familiar? A case of life begetting art?”
“I was going to say dark. Your story is much darker than before.”
“Darker fits my mood,” I replied. [page 159]
Those words may never have been uttered by either sister, but here I see how they might have. I feel the power of them.
Jane Austen gave her stories realism with both happy and sad events and characters that reacted to these experiences, but for all that transpired she always saw them to happy endings. Or at least leaving them with the prospect of a life filled with as much happiness as anyone can reasonably expect. She found joy in her own life, her family, her writing. But Jane Austen was human, and as such she must have also experienced sadness, sorrow, melancholy, and perhaps even heartbreak.
Within the pages of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, Syrie James gives us a very human Jane Austen.
*Photo: ink jar and quills by studentofrhythm obtained through Flickr Creative Commons.