Just Jane by Nancy Moser, September 2007
Just Jane is a fictionalized novel of Jane Austen's life. Not her whole life, mind you. But most of her adult life and definitely focusing in on her writing years. The novel begins with her struggling to find the perfect opening line for First Impressions--the working title of Pride and Prejudice--and closes with her receiving her copy of the newly published Emma. In between, the book focuses on a lot of family drama. This book presents the Austen family in a very close, personal, intimate way. You'll see the friendship between Jane and Cassandra firsthand. And you'll notice the tension and discomfort between Jane and two of her sisters-in-laws especially. The book doesn't paint Jane as a saint. A woman without flaws. A sweet-tempered woman who hid herself away and wrote contentedly while the world passed her by. Jane is opinionated. She's smart. She's witty. She's content to let the world thinks what it wants about her. In the end, she comes to realize that you've just got to be true to yourself if you want to be happy.
The book opens when she is young, perhaps 22. And the novel does have her interested in the opposite sex. Interested in finding a suitor. Interested in marriage. But for whatever reasons, the right man never seems to come along. They'll be a brief flirtation here or there, but no man of substance pays her court. And the book addresses how Jane deals with this. At this time, in this society spinsterhood had a stigma. A definite stigma. To be single at 26 or 29 or 33 was in some respects 'beyond all hope' of a happy and contented life. To be a spinster meant you would be burdening someone your entire life--your parents, your sisters, a distant relation. And Jane's parents did want her--and her sister--to find eligible men and get married. They wanted their daughters to be taken care of. They wanted a good match. So in her youth, Jane, was a bit disappointed in her singleness. She was interested in a match--but a match on her own terms. She didn't want to throw herself at a man. She didn't want to be seen as desperate. She didn't want her parents--her aunt or uncle--her family to pursue and chase down a man for her to marry. She wanted to marry for love. She didn't want to marry for wealth. Or marry for convenience. She wanted love or nothing at all. As she matures, she comes to the realization that being single has been a gift. That being single has allowed her the time and energy to write and focus on what brings her pleasure. (After all, she has several brothers who have eleven kids apiece and she knows their wives must never have time for any peace and quiet!) Once she realizes that, she begins to embrace all of who she is.
It is a book about knowing yourself, loving yourself for who you are and not hating yourself for who you're not, a book about realizing your greatest hopes and dreams.
I really enjoyed that Moser included several pages explaining what was true and what was fiction in the back of the book. It also has a "what happened next" feature that provides closure to what happened to all of the Austen clan.