Review: I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend

I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend
Cora Harrison
2010
Macmillan
978-0-330-50953-4

Told in diary format, this is story of Jane Austen’s cousin, Jenny Cooper. The novel begins with the two girls away at boarding school. Jane is deathly ill, so Jenny sneaks out in the middle of the night, something considered quite scandalous at the time, to send word to her aunt. Wandering the streets of Southampton alone and terrified, she meets Captain Thomas Williams, who is kind enough to escort her to the post office. Upon hearing of Jane’s illness, Mrs. Austen arrives and brings both girls home to Steventon. There, Jenny meets Jane’s family and attends her first ball. Everything is going well until Captain Williams shows up. Will he reveal her secret and thus ruin her reputation?

I am a huge Jane Austen fan, so I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I didn’t know anything about Jenny Cooper or many of Jane’s brothers, so this novel, based on facts learned from the author’s research, including family letters, was quite intriguing. Jane comes across as quite witty and full of life, and it is easy to imagine this Jane as the author of such novels as Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I think telling the story from Jenny’s perspective gives us an interesting perspective since, like Jenny, the reader is an outsider getting to know the Austen family. A light tale recommended to Austen fans who want more Jane without having to stoop to reading “sequels” written by impostors. Side note: The BBC has done some excellent adaptations of Austen’s novels in recent years as part of their Masterpiece Theatre series. I particularly enjoy Emma. Harriet Smith’s ringlets alone make this worth a watch.

 

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