A Jane Austen Daydream: A Review
“It is only a novel... or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”
When Scott Southard set out to write a novel about Jane Austen, he purposefully avoided reading any of the recent spate of biographical fiction. This was to be an un-biography—the life he wished Jane might have led—a Jane Austen daydream. His goal, as stated in the dedication, was to make his wife laugh.
As a male writer, writing fiction featuring perhaps the most famous female writer of all time, Southard was in a class, if not by himself, then with very few to compete with. Certainly, he brings a new spin to the Austen oeuvre. His Jane is unlike any I’ve ever read—“a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice”
if you will. A sharply tongued Marianne to Cassandra’s Elinor. Indeed, the world he has created for Jane, beginning with her life in Steventon, is full of characters that would later appear in one form or another in her works. Her dear friend Harriet, for instance, is a duplicate of Harriet Smith, in Emma
Some may find this to lack creativity, they might assume that the author is indicating that Jane was unable to create realistic characters on her own, for the Jane in this novel is a writer, and does, over the course of the book, complete several of her now famous works. Others might look on it with the delight of discovering an old friend in an unexpected place. I prefer to think of it as the latter. After all, this is not
a biography (as those familiar with the life of Jane Austen will quickly note) and it was
written to make his wife laugh. How better to do that, you might ask, than to create a Lady Catherine De Bourgh imbued with the spirit of Mrs. Jennings? This is only one of the "sightings" which fill the book, adding to a diverse cast of characters, both real and imagined.
While shielding himself from recent publications, Southard saturated himself, instead, in Jane Austen’s own writings, reading through her works several times throughout the development of this novel. This familiarity with the entire Austen canon shines through, with much of the dialogue taken directly from her novels and letters (but with a twist). Lines are spoken “out of context”, combined with conversations from other works, and placed back into the mouths of Austen’s own friends and family.
The novel opens with Jane and Cassandra taking a walk in the countryside, only to discover a band of gypsies. The girls stop to have their fortunes told and when Jane asks after the future of her heart she is told,
“…you will have love…It will take you by surprise. When you least suspect it, when you are not looking for it. Remember…you will be surprised.”
With this, the scene is set and the “surprises” unfold.
If asked to sum up this book in one word, I would have to choose “unpredictable”. Going into it, all I knew was that it was not
a biography, and its purpose was to satisfy the author by giving Jane the happy future he would have chosen for her. Safe to say, even for the advanced Austen scholar, it will be impossible to predict where the tale will twist and turn. For those of you who are exhausted by the innumerable retellings of Austen’s novels, this is a style entirely new.
This Jane resembles the “official” J.E.A.L.’s “Aunt” Jane as little “as the
first of May doth the last of December”, however this
Jane is quite capable of creating the riotously funny juvenilia we all love so much. This Jane painfully comes to learn the lessons of love that she teaches through characters, and if the course of true love never did run smooth, then at least, like Southard’s wife, and perhaps even the “real” Jane Austen, herself, we can smile, and even laugh at where that course will lead. After all, “For what do we live
, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn
A purist will not like this novel. They will toss it aside (if not against the wall) and cry, “But George Austen Jr. did NOT have children!” They may grumble a bit at the setting the author has created with his modern American ideas about Regency England. They might even quote Jane back to him, suggesting that it was written “by a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian”. Would it be so hard, after all, to stick to the few facts that we do
know? To do so, however, would be to limit the imagination.
If you are looking for something new this summer—something light, for reading at the beach, perhaps—and can, like a purveyor of fine fiction, willingly suspend your disbelief, you will, in the end, be rewarded by a quick paced novel unlike any you can ever have read, which injects new ideas and possibilities into the world of Jane Austen.
Southard never says whether or not he was successful in making his wife laugh. He does, however note, “with all its liberties, I cannot help but believe that Jane would have been amused by this book. For me, when I think of my time writing the book, it was a lovely daydream….”
A Jane Austen Daydream
is available from Amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats. Click here to read An Interview with Scott D. Southard, of A Jane Austen Daydream
List Price: $14.95
Kindle Price: $3.99
Paperback: 410 pages
Publisher: Madison Street Publishing (April 2, 2013)
Laura Boyle is the author of Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends. She is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Her greatest joy is the opportunity she has to teach her 3 children from home-- an unending adventure, better than any novel.