Book Review: Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James
Jane Austen's First Love took me a very long time to read. I very nearly gave it up. But my love for all things Austen kept me going, and I'm so glad it did! Admittedly, when I first began to read this book, I was also reading Austen's Emma. Reading a book by Austen herself, and one written about her at the same time is unfair to the author of the latter. No one can write like Jane Austen, so to compare the two is an error. However, for the sake of this review, I will say that no one that I have read before has been able to capture the essence of Jane Austen as well as Syrie James. When I began to look at this book as it's own work and not as a continuation of Austen's works, I enjoyed it much more.
In Jane Austen's First Love, Jane is fifteen years old, and still many years away from writing any of her famous novels. She is outspoken, lively and daring--qualities not appreciated in women of her day. The Austen family has just received word that Jane's brother Edward (who was adopted by another family member, and is being raised as his son) is to be married. They have been invited to attend a ball and other summer parties celebrating the happy couple's engagement. After much deliberation it is decided that Jane, Cassandra, Mrs. Austen and Jane's youngest brother, Charles will attend the celebrations. They will gone from home for over a fortnight. Since Jane is not "out" yet, her mother at first refuses to let her attend the ball, but later relents.
On their way to the home of their brother's intended, Cassandra, Jane and Charles meet with a mishap on the muddy road and are rescued by two passersby, Thomas Payler and Edward Taylor. Jane is instantly drawn to Edward Taylor. Over the next few weeks they grow closer, and Jane realizes she is in love with him. She isn't sure if he returns her feelings, as there is another young lady present to whom he also gives attention. Since she has no control over her own destiny in love, Jane looks around at the other loving couples around her. She believes that some of them are very ill-suited and need her help to break their current attachments, and form new ones. Jane uses her wits, and situations around her to manipulate the couples as she sees fit. She believes the perfect way to do this is through the performance of a play on Midsummer's Eve. The company agrees, and rehearsals begin for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. As Midsummer's Eve approaches it begins to look like Jane's plan has been successful, but it may just backfire on her in the end!
This story seemed to have a bit of a slow start for me, but once it really got going, it was awesome! It resembled a true Austen novel in so many ways. Even through the "romance" there was plenty of comedy to go around. Jane is marvelously written, and behaved just as you might imagine the real Austen did. Ms. James used several events and phrases in the book, that were used in Austen's own books. This made it seem as though Jane was drawing from her personal experiences in her novels. The parts about the play reminded me of Mansfield Park. Jane herself is so much like Elizabeth Bennett. The ball scenes were straight from Pride and Prejudice. Other characters seemed to come from the pages of Emma or Sense and Sensibility. The way that Jane viewed the world and those around her was also reminiscent of the real Austen. The theme of all of Jane Austen's novels is finding true love. Jane obviously feels the same way in Jane Austen's First Love as she is determined to help those around her find love, and not just marriage.
All Austen fans should read this book. If it bogs you down at first, like it did me, just keep going. I promise it gets better. It is almost (ALMOST) like reading a brand new Austen novel. The characters were so much like Austen's characters. Jane Austen had way of seeing the comedy in people and making them like caricatures of themselves in her novels. Ms. James has definitely achieved that same quality with the characters in First Love. The situations were relevant and funny, and very Austen-esque. I highly recommend this book to long-time Austen readers, fans of Austen movies, or anyone who has never read Austen's works at all. I think you'll want to after you read this story.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go read Persuasion. Again.
I was given an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.