Jane Austen. A name most readers and movie viewers are familiar with. Who is not associated with her works? Very few I would imagine. If you have only watched the movies – Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park amongst others, I strongly encourage you to obtain Austen’s original novels. Her writing is rich, intricate and incorporates a far broader vocabulary than most modern titles. As such, author Nancy Moser has taken on a task that would cause a lesser author to tremble, producing a “bio-novel”, a biographical novel of Jane Austen’s life.
Austen is arguably one of the most renowned female authors, her books are continuously in print and several film adaptations have been made; to flesh out her life through a novelization is a dangerous task. When an author is so beloved passions are certain to run high, and it will be impossible to please everyone. Each lover of Jane’s work will hold an imagined sketch of her character in his/her heart. Moser must certainly count her blessings for the letters that remain from Austen’s prolific correspondence with family and friends, as well as the biographies that have been written which provided Moser with a basic framework upon which to build.
Written in the first person, Jane begins telling us her story as an adult. This choice of narrative provides a deeply personal feel to the story. Readers who have been been reluctant to read formal biographies of Jane Austen by imagining dry, impersonal recitations of dates and details have nothing to fear here. Very little is described of her childhood (which would have made for fascinating reading), allowing the focus to dwell upon the details of her adult years.
Austen is already in the habit of writing for her own delight and that of her family as a young woman though her work will not be published until much later in her life. The reader is introduced to the large Austen clan fairly promptly, much like some of Jane’s own works where many of the characters are related in some way. Thankfully a cast of characters, their spouses and number of children, is provided at the beginning of the book in the case of confusion. I utilized this ready resource on several occasions to sort out all of the relations while I was coming to know the family characters. A similar epilogue is provided, detailing the historically accurate fates of other characters that we have become familiar with over the course of the novel.
As I began reading of Jane’s years as a young woman I felt that I was entering familiar waters. Though Moser has not aimed to emulate Austen’s distinct writing voice there is a shade of her style to be found in the text. Moser chooses to use some of the now obsolete spellings that Jane was familiar with, as well as words no longer commonly in use that Austen deftly employed in her own work. Moser manages to keep this historical writing style firmly in place throughout the book. I do wonder though, if the word “wannabe” was in use during the nineteenth century. This one word is the only instance I can point to and wonder if it is out of time, I commend Moser on maintaining this level of consistency.