Summary and book 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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  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2021, 304 pages

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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.

1
Kintbury, March 1840


Cassandra managed a smile but stayed where she was on the vicarage doorstep. She would dearly like to be more effusive—she felt the distant, familiar stirrings of effusiveness somewhere deep down—but was simply too tired to move. Her old bones had been shaken apart by the coach ride from her home in Chawton, and the chill wind off the river was piercing her joints. She stood by her bags and watched Isabella approach.

"I had to go up to the vestry," Isabella called as she came down from the churchyard. She had always cut a small, colorless figure, and was now, of course—poor dear—in unhelpful, ill-fitting black. "There are still duties…" Against a backdrop of green bank dotted with primrose, she moved like a shadow. "So many duties to perform." The only distinguishing feature about her person was the hound by her side. And while her voice was all apology, her step was remarkably unhurried. Even Pyramus, now advancing across the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Cassandra Austen is perhaps most famous (or infamous) for having destroyed many of her sister Jane's personal papers, including letters and manuscripts, after her death. After reading this novel, do you sympathize with Cassandra's actions? Do you believe, like her, that personal details about her sister are "none of posterity's business," or do readers and scholars have a right to know more about the lives of famous figures like Jane Austen?
  2. The epigraph of Miss Austen is from Persuasion: "Men have had every advantage over us in telling their own story…The pen has been in their hands." How does this novel rewrite the story? Would you consider it to be feminist?
  3. Jane's (and other characters') letters are sprinkled throughout...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about Miss Austen.
You can see the full discussion here.


"A single woman should never outlive her usefulness." What challenges do the single women in this novel face? Are any of those challenges still present today?
Single women were at the mercy of not only men, but married women, If the family did not leave them money, they did not have many choices. Mainly, family members used them as unpaid labor. If they did not have this, they did not have many options,... - nancyh

"Men have had every advantage over us in telling their own story..." How does this novel rewrite the story? Would you consider it to be feminist?
I guess I have to agree that this is a feminist work, if only because it does present the feminine view of the situation and the strength of several of the female characters, but I'm not sure. Is that what makes a work feminist? I don&#... - susiej

After reading this novel, do you sympathize with Cassandra's actions?
I think that Cassandra was so close to Jane that she knew what Jane would have wanted. She was acting in what she thought was Jane's best interests. Things were very different back then, and what was a big concern then would not be a big deal ... - jeann

Being true to history
I agree that it cannot be a complete history if some of it is destroyed and part of Jane's history will always remain a mystery. I similar thing happened in our family when an aunt decided to burn some items. - nancyh

Can you see aspects of the older Cassandra in Cassy? How about remnants of the younger Cassy in Cassandra?
Based on the split narrative, can you believe that Cassy grows up to be Cassandra and that Cassandra was once Cassy, or do the younger and older versions seem like two different characters to you? - sbmohler

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 (Anne M). Those familiar with Jane's novels will enjoy the prose style, reminiscent of Austen's own, which transports the reader into the life of the early 19th-century spinsters. The story has parallels to Austen's novels, perhaps especially Persuasion. Highly recommended for Austen lovers (Rebecca H)!..continued

Full Review (640 words).

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
The great joy of Miss Austen is that the reader feels immersed in a world that is convincingly Jane’s from the first page…It’s also extremely funny…Miss Austen is a novel of great kindness, often unexpectedly moving, with much to say about the status of ‘invisible’ older women. Above all, it’s concerned with the triumph of small acts of goodness; you can’t help feeling that Jane would have approved.

New York Journal of Books
In Miss Austen, Gill Hornby has created an exceptionally entertaining addition to the Jane Austen legacy. In this exciting new interpretation of historical fiction, fans of the genre will not be disappointed and undoubtably cheer the opportunity to revisit the grandeur and anguish of the extended Austen family. With poignant intricacy and unique perspective, Hornby gives a voice to and brings to life an extraordinarily charming adaptation of one the most overlooked and most important people in Jane Austen’s life, her older sister Cassandra.

Publishers Weekly
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.

Kirkus Reviews
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.

Booklist
Austen fans will enjoy Hornby’s nuanced, fresh portrayal of Jane…Cassandra herself is similarly fascinating, a woman who never ceases her efforts to carve out a life of her own in a world that is not kind to unmarried women…A worthy addition to most collections.

Library Journal (starred review)
For readers who enjoy Austen’s novels and wish to know more about her life and for those seeking excellent English historical fiction.

Author Blurb Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
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.

Author Blurb Lara Prescott, author of The Secrets We Kept
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.

Author Blurb Helena Kelly, author of Jane Austen, the Secret Radical
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.

Author Blurb Laurel Ann Nattress, editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It
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.

Author Blurb Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society
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.

Author Blurb Claire Tomalin, author of Jane Austen: A Life
Unputdownable. So good, so intelligent, so clever, so entertaining—I adored it.

Author Blurb Deirdre Le Faye, editor of Jane Austen's Letters
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.

Reader Reviews

LinZ

Miss Cassandra
I enjoyed this book very much! It was like reading a Jane Austen novel! The language and characters were very much in Austen's style. That made it easier to get into Cassandra's mind set of not revealing her true thoughts and doing what society ...   Read More
Charla Wilson

Loved the way this book was written
I loved that this book was written from Jane's sister Cassandra's perspective. It included information from prior to Jane's death, the circumstances leading up to Jane's death and after Jane's death. I loved that the plot was centered around ...   Read More
Djcminor

A Must-Read
When I have an opportunity, I enter to win books—single books and books for a whole book club. I am sometimes lucky. Recently, I won a copy of Miss Austen: A Novel of the Austen Sisters by Gill Hornby from BookBrowse. In exchange for receiving the ...   Read More
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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Cassandra Austen (1773-1845)

Silhouette of Cassandra Austen Gill Hornby's novel Miss Austen explores Jane Austen's life through the point of view of her beloved older sister, Cassandra. Cassandra is thought to have been Jane's closest companion and confidante. The two were inseparable to the extent that their mother reportedly once commented, "If Cassandra's head had been going to be cut off, Jane would have hers cut off too." While Cassandra clearly had interests and a life of her own, her relationship with her now-famous sister was of great importance to her, and she had a significant influence on Jane's work and legacy.

Cassandra Elizabeth Austen was born on January 9, 1773 to Reverend George Austen and Mrs. Cassandra Leigh Austen. Her sister Jane was born two years later, and the ...

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