I have recently found myself getting once again caught up in all things Austen, so what better way to satisfy my cravings than to read an intriguing sounding story about Cassandra Austen.
A wonderfully original, emotionally complex ‘reading-group’ novel that delves into why Cassandra burned a treasure trove of letters written by her sister, Jane Austen – an act of destruction that has troubled academics for centuries.
It’s 1840, twenty-three years after the death of her famous sister Jane, and Cassandra Austen – alone and unwed – returns to the vicarage in the village of Kintbury.
There, in a dusty corner of the sprawling vicarage, she discovers a treasure trove of family letters – and within them secrets that she feels certain must not be revealed.
She resolves to burn the letters, even those written by Jane herself.
But why destroy so much of her sister’s legacy?
As Cassandra casts an eye back on her youth and the life of her brilliant yet complex sister, she pieces together long-buried truths from both her and Jane’s pasts, and knows she must make a terrible choice: let the contents of the letters colour Jane’s memory for ever – or protect her reputation no matter the cost.
It’s not often that when you read Miss Austen that your mind jumps to anyone but Jane Austen but in this case, it is, in fact, Cassandra Austen who is the main feature of this story. To be honest until recently I didn’t really know much about the Austen family and had no idea that Cassandra had destroyed some of Jane’s letters, so I found it a really interesting concept to delve into a possible scenario for her actions.
What surprised me most of all was how much I loved reading about Cassandra. Like a lot of people might do, I entered into this story with more of a mind to Jane, but actually, in this instance, I am glad that she was not the focus. Personally, I quite enjoyed getting to know more about the Austen family, as someone coming into this book with very little previous knowledge of them it was a treat to be so entertained whilst discovering the history.
Admittedly at the start I did find the book a little slow and whilst my attention didn’t wander, I didn’t find it as captivating as I had hoped. However, as I got more drawn into the story and became fascinated by Cassandra’s character I suddenly was engrossed in what was happening.
Miss Austen is told between two timelines, 1840 when she arrives in Kintbury where she finds the letters and then as she starts to go through them we get a glimpse into the past at different stages of Cassandra’s life. The more I read I was both desperate to discover the contents of the letters and what snippet of the past that would lead us to, but also the intrigue of what was going to happen with Isabella and why Dinah seemed to hover around as much as she did.
I feel that even though it was a little slow to start I have to commend the author for taking the time to set the scene so well, it was easy to experience all the different settings and dynamics between the family, and had that not been so well laid out I don’t think I would have been able to appreciate this book as much as I do.
I think what really shines through in this book and what I ended up enjoying the most about the story is the bond between the two sisters, in a time when it would not be so commonplace it was nice to see how devoted they were to each other and how they thrived even though they were unmarried and in a time when it was very difficult to be so.
It was a pleasure to discover Miss Austen and its reasons for Cassandra’s actions, it is a beautiful and entertaining book and if you are a fan of Jane Austen or historical fiction then you will love it.