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Sunday, 9 August 2015

Jane by the Sea by Carolyn V Murray

Book cover: Jane by the Sea by Carolyn V Murray
Jane Austen is possibly the world’s best known romantic novelist (not that I would call her a romantic novelist, but that label is often applied to her). We know that she didn’t marry but that she did have some brushes with romance herself. There was an attraction towards Tom Lefroy, who was the nephew of Jane’s close friend and neighbour, Madame Lefroy which came to nothing after his family intervened, wanting him to marry higher.  There was a seaside romance that again came to nothing. I have read such different accounts of this as to puzzle me exceedingly :) The gentleman in question is either said to be a sea captain, or a Reverend Blackall, and the reason for the romance not ending in marriage differs too.  A couple of years later there was a marriage proposal from a family friend that Austen accepted and then drew back from, presumably because she didn’t love the gentleman. Marrying only for love was a big theme of Austen’s novels, and so it seems safe to assume that it was something she personally believed.

Unfortunately, many of the letters and other documents that Jane Austen wrote were destroyed by her sister Cassandra. However, if you read what are remaining of Jane Austen’s letters you get a sense of her quick wit and mischievous, acerbic sense of humour (think Elizabeth Bennet’s humour, but with more of a bite to it!). This story is loosely based on the seaside romance that Jane Austen is said to have had around 1800, before she moved to Bath, where her writing ceased for some years. Some of the details are changed from what I had read previously of that seaside romance, which surprised me a little when I realised it, but the flip side of the changes was that I had less idea of where the story was going. I learned afterwards that there appears to be more than one interpretation of the truth of it and I am not sure whether the real truth of the episode has been established.

We first meet with Jane here in the heyday of her romance with Tom Lefroy. I always feel a little melancholy when reading books based on Austen’s life as we know where they are headed, so you know straight away that this romance is doomed and I just had to wait for the hammer to fall. I thought the author did a nice job of capturing her wit and cheekiness, though I wonder if Austen was ever as naive as she seems here. Although a romantic, I think Jane Austen was also a realist, and such a keen observer that she would have known very well how the world of marriage worked at the age of 21. So although she might have hoped for a different outcome I don’t think she would have been as surprised by it as is shown here. When themes like this are discussed in Austen’s novels the only character who seems surprised by the general customs around marriage appears to be the ├╝ber-romantic Marianne Dashwood, and I got the impression when I read that story that Austen wasn’t that sympathetic towards her, though of course that could have been just the bitterness of looking back. Once Jane has gone through this, and other, painful experiences, she resolves to learn from them, and not to be hurt again.
‘If only it had been explained to me from an early age... my lack of value in the marriage economy. Then I should be quite reconciled by now to a long, unending, solitary future.’
But then she goes to the seaside, where there is both a clergyman and a seaman, and she will find her resolve tested...

I very much enjoyed this book. I have my doubts whether Austen’s speech was so shocking in real life, though I am confident she was capable of thinking every one of the cheeky thoughts attributed to her here! One thing that I found particularly enjoyable in this book was spotting the inspiration for many of the characters and situations that found their way into her books (all of which were yet to be published at this time of her life). There is a clear Mr Collins, lines from her books, a situation reminiscent of Louisa Musgrove’s behaviour on the Cobb at Lyme and so on.
“And do these compliments spring from the moment?” I inquired. “Or are they the work of previous rehearsal?”
Jane is working on more than one book during this novel, and we see her passing on the lessons she has learned to her characters Elinor, Marianne, Elizabeth and Jane. The melodrama of the situations she puts them in are more in the line of her juvenilia than the finished articles, but it’s worth bearing in mind that they were a decade off being fully polished.

The language usage in this book was pretty good on the whole, although there were some American and modern words that I noticed, but I am particularly distractable by such things so other readers might not notice them too much.

As I said above I usually find books about Austen’s life melancholy as we know they are heading toward spinsterhood and a premature death but this book is saved from that by the amount of humour in it. There were some real laugh out loud moments, and the end particularly is pretty funny, which is quite an achievement! The below quote is Jane’s plan to get her dear friend Martha (potentially the model for Charlotte in ‘Pride & Prejudice’) invited to live with the Austens if Martha’s mother should die:
‘I laid out my plan. Mama was already fond of Martha, and with just a little exertion, Martha could make herself even more agreeable. During her visits, she could offer cheerful assistance with chores. Humour Mama’s medical complaints. Make herself indispensible. When Cassie was called away to play nursemaid to our expectant sister-in-laws, Martha would be there to fill the void. I should do my own part by becoming more and more useless, so that Martha’s assistance would grow to be essential.’
I’d certainly recommend this book to people who like books based on Jane Austen’s life. I felt it had a real flavour of the author’s wit and character, and managed not to be too sad a read. This is Carolyn V Murray’s debut book and I hope she writes more. I’d rate this as a 4 star read.



If my review has whetted your appetite to read this book, there is still time to enter the international giveaway for an ebook copy! Comment on the giveaway post to enter, and comment on this post for a bonus entry.

16 comments:

  1. I always appreciate the candour and context you bring to your reviews, Ceri! This one is quite intriguing to me, and I hope to read it!

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    1. Thank you Abigail, what a lovely comment! I only wish I had your way with words.

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  2. This looks really good, and you did a great job with your review (as always!). I've only read a couple stories featuring Jane Austen as a character - and those were mostly showing her as a cheeky spirit/fairy godmother.

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    1. Thanks Monica. I've read a few books with Austen as a character and they've been quite mixed in how they've portrayed her, it's interesting when I think back to consider how differently her character has been approached in the different books.

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  3. Great review! I tend to avoid books based on Jane Austen's life because as you said we know it doesn't end with a marriage. Sounds like the author did a good job keeping the book upbeat :)

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    1. Yes, that is what I always worry about when Austen is a character, I know things won't end how I want them to! But I thought the author did a good job here of picking things up at the end, I finished off smiling :)

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  4. Thank you for the review. Even though I know the outcome for Jane, I am still fascinated by what could have been for her.

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    1. Thanks schilds! So little is known about this seaside episode that there is definite scope for an author to fill in the gaps.

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  5. Sounds quite interesting! I, too, am a little sad when I think about how Jane's life could have been, if things had been different. But I'm glad we all have the chance to read this kind of stories! Though they're not real, they make us dream... till the book ends! Sounds good to me all in all! :)

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    1. It makes me feel a bit sad when I think how her life could have been different, but on the other hand her life being as it was allowed her to write some of my best-loved stories, so I console myself with that thought, because if her life had been different her stories might never have been published, or even written!

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  6. That feeling of knowing the ending is exactly how I feel about stories with Jane Austen as the heroine, but it doesn't stop me from picking them up and reading them. :)

    I like the idea of her wit, humor, and story ideas weaving through the story. Thanks for sharing about this one.

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    1. Thanks Sophia. Yes, it doesn't stop me reading them either, though I approach them hoping for an ending I know they won't have!

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  7. I have added this to my Wish List which just keeps getting longer and longer! Thanks for the review.

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    1. Mine too, Sheila. It's a blessing and a curse to have so much you want to read!

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