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Miss Austen: Book summary and reviews of Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

Miss Austen

by Gill Hornby

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby X
Miss Austen by Gill Hornby
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  • Published in USA  Apr 2020
    288 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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About this book

Book Summary

For fans of Jo Baker's Longbourn, a witty, poignant novel about Cassandra Austen and her famous sister, Jane.

Whoever looked at an elderly lady and saw the young heroine she once was?

England, 1840. For the two decades following the death of her beloved sister, Jane, Cassandra Austen has lived alone, spending her days visiting friends and relations and quietly, purposefully working to preserve her sister's reputation. Now in her sixties and increasingly frail, Cassandra goes to stay with the Fowles of Kintbury, family of her long-dead fiancé, in search of a trove of Jane's letters. Dodging her hostess and a meddlesome housemaid, Cassandra eventually hunts down the letters and confronts the secrets they hold, secrets not only about Jane but about Cassandra herself. Will Cassandra bare the most private details of her life to the world, or commit her sister's legacy to the flames?

Moving back and forth between the vicarage and Cassandra's vibrant memories of her years with Jane, interwoven with Jane's brilliantly reimagined lost letters, Miss Austen is the untold story of the most important person in Jane's life. With extraordinary empathy, emotional complexity, and wit, Gill Hornby finally gives Cassandra her due, bringing to life a woman as captivating as any Austen heroine.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Hornby's Cassy is convincingly sympathetic in her effort to preserve her sister's reputation, and a focus on female relationships and mutual support adds unexpected tenderness. Echoing Austen's sardonic wit and crisp prose without falling into pastiche, Hornby succeeds with a vivid homage to the Austens and their world." - Publishers Weekly

"Cassy herself never quite convinces and the business of the book can seem scattered, but the evocation of the sisters' closeness is solid. A nicely judged fictional resurrection joins the tribute library accumulating around a literary icon." - Kirkus Reviews

"Hornby's gift to the world of Austen lovers is to return to Cassandra her rightful recognition as Jane's most intimate and sustaining relationship, her greatest love. This is a deeply imagined and deeply moving novel. Reading it made me happy and weepy in equally copious amounts." - Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

"Unputdownable. So good, so intelligent, so clever, so entertaining―I adored it." - Claire Tomalin, author of Jane Austen: A Life

"Extraordinary and heart-wrenching, Miss Austen transported me from page one. A remarkable novel that is wholly original, deeply moving, and emotionally complex. A gift to all Austen lovers." - Lara Prescott, author of The Secrets We Kept

"Gill Hornby places Cassandra center stage and ingeniously imagines what her own life might have been like―an approach which casts a different light on the familiar biographical picture without in any way distorting it." - Deirdre Le Faye, editor of Jane Austen's Letters

"I've seldom enjoyed any Austen-centered book so much as this. Affecting and thought-provoking, it makes you think about both the Miss Austens in a new light." - Helena Kelly, author of Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

"A joy from the prologue to the author's note. Rich in historical detail, family lore, and heart, Miss Austen will wow Janeites and enchant the uninitiated. Upon her sister's death, Cassandra claimed that she was 'the sun of my life.' Now we know why." - Laurel Ann Nattress, editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It

"Fans of Austen will rejoice in the chance to enter this fictional world and spend time with the extended Austen family as Cassandra and Jane navigate the demands of her genius and temperament in the face of the many pressures single women have endured throughout history." - Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society

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Reader Reviews

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AT Mc, Madison, WI

Sisters
Very few relationships come close to the intensity of sisters. If close, there is nothing that can come between them. Such was the case with Cassandra and Jane Austen. Though more of a supporting character in a family with some very colorful personalities, Cassandra Austen proved her love and loyalty to Jane throughout their lives and after. This book focuses on the after, and the preservation of Jane's good name, though on its own it is a delightful window into Cassandra's reimagined life. This is more than a good read; it is as entertaining as one of Jane's own novels, and gives Jane's beloved Cassandra the depth and independence she has always deserved!

Patricia G. (Dyer, IN)

Walk Into an Austen Novel
Reading this book is like taking a step back in time to Jane Austen's England. As her beloved sister, Cassandra, now an elderly spinster, tries to retrieve old letters to protect Jane's legacy, we follow her into a world with all of the personalities, romantic intrigue, near tragic events, and brilliant caricature that fans of Austen novels enjoy. I would highly recommend this book for all who have experienced that world and all who have not yet met Miss Austen--Cassandra or Jane.

Kathleen B. (Las Vegas, NV)

Great Read
If you are a fan of Jane Austin, I'm sure you will enjoy this book. This book starts out in March of 1840. A family friend has died and his belonging need to be gone through so the house can be emptied. Cassandra Austin shows up uninvited and proceeds to search the house top to bottom to find the letters. Eliza was Jane's close friend and they had written to each other for many years. While reading the letters Cassandra's mind would go back to the early 1800's and that is were the chapters went also. I always enjoy that back and forth with between time. This books really touches on Women's place in society. How restricted it was, How unmarried woman were women were considered a burden on the family. I enjoyed the book and recommend it.

Melissa S. (Rowland, NC)

The lost art of letters. An entire novel devoted to past letters and their significance to the present.
“Let us take that path.” The first words of Gill Hornby’s "Miss. Austen" provide a foreshadow of the “path” Cassandra ends up taking on her journey to preserve her sister’s reputation posthumously. As an avid Jane Austen fan, I admit I have never given much thought to her family and the effects of her talent and notoriety within their lives. Hornby beautifully reveals Jane’s devoted sister, Cassandra, who is ironically, still living for her beloved sister. As a never married woman in the early 1800’s, Cassandra should be spending her remaining days in peace and reflection. However, in true “Austen” fashion, the ever-doting older sister is determined to ensure, through any means possible, the preservation of Jane’s upstanding reputation.

Hornby’s ability to stay true to the setting, customs, and fashion of the 1800’s gives this historical fiction a definite believability. The switching from past letters to present life guides the reader to a better understanding of the context in which Cassandra is so desperately pulling from and why she is determined to make sure Jane’s reputation remains intact. As with most families, there is always that one relative who would love nothing more than to create strife and watch while others try to hold it together. The Austen family is no exception. Cassandra not only must find and destroy the potentially damaging letters, but she also must contend with an ornery relative who is itching to retrieve the letters. Cassandra is in the race of her life with many obstacles lying in wait.

Much like most of Jane Austen’s novels, Hornby weaves relationships between the proper, sarcastic, noble, and eccentric characters to form a beautiful tapestry of life and customs during the 1800s. The secondary plot of forbidden love finally allowed to flourish adds an unexpected twist the reader will not see coming.

Margaret R. (Claremont, CA)

A Great Read
I loved this book and not only because it made me guffaw. Hornby has written this little masterpiece in a slightly edgy 21st century Jane Austen voice to create a new perspective on the Austen family story. Needless to say, all the themes are there: financial vicissitudes, spinsters and wives, the power of the male, too much sense and too much sensibility, bad judgment, hubris, and enlightenment. What Hornby has added and what is especially fresh and delightful is a more contemporary voice. We hear it through Cassandra for most of the novel but we also delight in it through the beautifully composed letters and lesser characters, my favorite being the maid, Dinah, who add a great deal to the narrative.
A triumphant novelty in this story? No happy denouement with wedded bliss the highest achievement. No, Reader, Cassandra does not marry and, as she says, "A patch of earth of one's own, to tend as one wishes; one small corner of the glory that is an English country village: It is the most we can wish for in this life of ours." And "…with the true bonds of sisterhood…the happiest of all possible happy endings"

Gail Brooks

Miss Austen
This novel will appeal to Jane Austen fans, of which there are multitudes over 200 years later. Aside from insight into romance in Georgian England, MISS AUSTEN gives an interesting glimpse into the Austen family dynamics. Cassandra, older sister of Jane, stands as the backbone of the family, supporting Jane through highs and lows, success and disappointment. This was a time when middle class women had few choices: marriage and many children or spinsterhood dependent upon the kindness of others to survive. Careers outside the home were limited. It was a real breakthrough when Jane's work was published anonymously, then under her own name. The brief bios at the beginning of the book were essential to keep track of these large intertwined families.

...17 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Gill Hornby

Gill Hornby is the author of the novels The Hive and All Together Now, as well as The Story of Jane Austen, a biography of Austen for young readers. She lives in Kintbury, England, with her husband and their four children.

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