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Review: The Jane Austen Society: A Novel by Natalie Jenner

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I lucked out on this book. I won it in a giveaway I’d forgotten I’d entered, and I was given a copy to read on Net Galley–both in exchange for an honest review. And, yes, I gave the print copy to another reader for yet another review!

4.0

My Interest

Everything about this book drew my attention! Throw in a decently-on-target comparison to the Gurnsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society and I knew I’d like it!

The Story

Adam felt as if he could hardly save himself, let alone anyone else. Yet on his loneliest days, he sometimes felt as if he was being saved by Jane Austen.”

In Jane Austen’s hometown, Chawton, in Hampshire, a lonely farmer reads and rereads the novels of Jane Austen. A descendant of Jane’s lives a lonely spinster life with her demanding elderly father. The town doctor, a widower, is in love with Austen’s Emma. A lawyer, a teacher-turned-war-widow, her former student, and a Hollywood movie star all love Jane Austen’s books–all feel pretty much like Adam does in the quote above–that they are being “saved” by her. So, why not save HER?  You get the story, don’t you?

“Reading, she now understood, had been her own choice of rebellion.”

These people are so wonderful! Their lives are pretty dreary with the war just over and rationing getting even worse, but Jane Austen sustains them. The war has given them the fortitude and courage to work together, to want to make change, and to want that change to be lasting and purposeful.

“Something about her favorite books gave her tremendous comfort, and even a strange feeling of control…”

“Reading is wonderful, but it does keep us in our heads. It’s why I can’t read certain authors when I am in low spirits.”

“They say that certain books can really help patients with trauma, and for some reason Jane Austen is one of the ones they recommend.”

(All quotes are from the  Net Galley Kindle version of the book)

My Thoughts

I ADORED IT

BUT….

It was clear that no matter how truly wonderful her writing is, (and it is wonderful) that the author was very young. I’m guessing her editor–if she truly was assigned to a real editor in the traditional sense of guiding, and forming the book, and not merely spell-checking it, was as young or younger.

Later this week I’m doing a post on a book with problems that I still loved and one I did not love. This book could be added to that post–admittedly as one I truly loved.

The Problems From Not Researching the Period Well Enough or Ignoring What The Author Learned in Her Research

  1. How the heck did they get all the stuff to do all that baking?? Minced pies and sugar buns and….for a whole VILLAGE? Every part of that was so severely rationed! Even if every village had donated their butter, margarine, bacon fat, egg (1 per week unless they raised their own) it wouldn’t have been enough! And where did the get the dried fruit for those pies? The war ended, but rationing only got worse.
  2. It was war-time. How did they not have people billeted with them? Hampshire isn’t very close to bombed-out London.
  3. I really do not think Miss Knight, who was 50-something, the child of the “big house,” her father the town aristocrat, would have ever gone to the local school except possibly for a prize-giving in which she was the honored guest giving the prizes.
  4. #metoo didn’t exist in 1945. It was called “business as usual” then. Many women truly and sadly believed they “earned” this behavior while others were just as furious as modern women but knew they’d be blamed in court if they pressed charges. Why? Women’s liberation was way into the future yet. Empowerment hadn’t yet been thought up.
  5. Extremely old” pictures from the Edwardian era. I snorted tea here. Most of the characters were ALIVE then since the Edwardian Era was 1901 to 1910–or even up to WWI starting in 1914.

There are more…

It is fiction–the author can write whatever she wants, but a REAL EDITOR would have caught this stuff. This happens so often in historical fiction today–they ignore essential details. I see that the author has degrees in literature and law from one of Canada’s finest universities, but neither she nor her editor spotted these problems.

Then there is the other problem of historical fiction today: Modernizing attitudes, speech, and behavior.

  1. No, she was not a “house girl” (whatever THAT is?).  Evie Stone was a MAID. This is not profane, it’s a job title. That was silly.
  2.  I don’t think anyone, anywhere looked at literature or anything else “through the lens of X”.
  3. It was POSSIBLE to fly from the U.S.A. to the U.K. in September 1945 and a Hollywood studio likely had the pull to get tickets, but it would have been nearly impossible for a woman to just buy one at that moment.
  4.  Like with “lens” I don’t think in 1945 people outside of the few psychologists spoke of “projecting” on to others.
  5. It’s all good,” I can promise you, MIGHT, have been uttered somewhere, but it was not common usage back then. Way too slangish, and way too American for a British story.
  6. No one was “informed by” anything back then except the radio and the newspaper. Their choices were not “informed” by things in their past or whatever.
  7.  I can’t believe anyone would say “This God-awful war” even in October 1945 to anyone outside the immediate family. Why? They’ve just gone through a war in which uttering things like that could be heard and reported as “defeatist” though reporting in England wasn’t that big. Still.
  8. I truly laughed out loud at the idea of someone sending “holiday” cards then!
  9. Please! NO ONE in the Western world of 1945 had a “mantra.”

Sadly, this is just from the earliest part of the book. I won’t list them all. This is becoming such a problem in historical fiction that I want to scream.

My Rating

Nevertheless, I LOVED IT!

The characters were wonderful, the town had the right stuff going for it, and Jane Austen would be smiling.  I can’t wait for the author’s next book and for the movie of this one.

4.0

The Jane Austen Society: A Novel by Natalie Jenner

 

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19 thoughts on “Review: The Jane Austen Society: A Novel by Natalie Jenner

  1. Lisa, I loved reading your catches. I would have enjoyed more of them. I get that the story is good enough to have been a joy to read with all those anachronisms. I’m not great at catching them, but I admit some modern stories set in older times that I’ve read, have a wrong language feel. Even though The Buried Giant is not my favorite Ishiguro, I admit that it doesn’t throw you out of the time of the story and brings you to the present.

    Even Belgravia, by Julian Fellows, while I doubt it’d have anachronisms, -though who knows?-, felt different in the attitudes of the characters. But it was an interesting exercise in ‘imitating’ Trollope style novels.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh that sounds too annoying. People might not have been billetted in Kent as it was right under the Battle of Britain, but Chawton is in Hampshire (does the author claim it’s in Kent?) and they would have had. I would have had to set it aside for these reasons! Even Girl with a Pearl Earring annoyed me with this modern-sounding narrator, so this would have been unbearable!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See why editors are needed? Kent was my bad! I corrected both mentions–it clearly says Hampshire on the first page–thank you for speaking up. FYI–I struggled with Girl With the Pearl Earring and Chevalier is a favorite author of mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I don’t think I enjoyed the overall story as much as you did, and maybe because of that, I let the details just sort of slide on by. But yes, there are things that don’t add up — and thinking about it, maybe that was part of my disconnect. I didn’t feel drawn into the time and setting the way I’d expect to be in great historical fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am always bothered by modernization of thinking and behaviors! Especially feminist agendas. I hadn’t noticed all the anachronisms but I had a feeling they were there! Thanks for pointing them out in detail! Aside from all that, it was a lovely read in many respects.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. To be fair I have heard of a ‘house girl’ it was just a more generic term for a young female servant who came in to help around the house, and by this time we had had the suffragette movement and Hampshire has a lot of naval ports so maybe you might not of billeted too many people there; but yeah… they wouldn’t have been doing all that baking or living by ‘mantras’ or talking of ‘extremely old’ Edwardian photos 😅

    You have left me in two minds about reading this book now! Maybe I will have to put off till I forget about your review?! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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