Monday, March 22, 2010

Cassandra and Jane: A Jane Austen Novel by Jill Pitkeathley

Meh.

I love Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility as much as the next bibliophile. But this book was boring.

Austen has claimed so much pop culture attention lately - from full novels about Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice fame (you can seduce him, turn him into a vampire, or read his diary) to Zombies (twice over) and Sea Monsters to new BBC releases of Emma, Austen remains in the public eye. So the idea of a fictionalized version of the life of Jane and her sister Cassandra seems like a realistic and engaging idea.

Maybe it is because Hollywood has told us too much about Austen. Maybe it is because her novels have long been touted as being semi-autobiographical, but Pitkeathley's novel does not offer anything that an Austen fan does not already know. To suggest that Jane had a short-term affair that turned sour or turned down an offer of marriage because she did not love the prospective groom should not surprise many.

Moreover, Cassandra is sniveling and co-dependent. Anytime Jane gets happiness Cassandra complains because her sister is not at her side day and night. To suggest that Cassandra Austen spent 20+ years after Jane Austen's death sitting around remembering her sister and reading her novels day in and day out is a sad caricature of any individual. I sure hope that Cassandra mourned her sister but moved on and continued to live her life.

I did find the family tree and the expectations of the maiden aunts interesting. The Austens had, if I remember correctly, three different sister-in-laws who had at least eleven children! Although not unusual in past history, it is not something that appears in the Austen novels so I hadn't thought about it concretely. I did think Pitkeathley did a good job portraying how unmarried women felt both distanced from and relieved by the burden of continual childbirth.

The discussions of women not involving themselves in business were also intriguing. Imagine being an author and not even having the rights or expectations to talk to the publisher yourself because it is unseemly?

If you're an Austen lover and you want to learn more about her and her relationships, you might enjoy Cassandra and Jane. But for the most part I would say, don't bother. Go watch Emma instead.

2 comments:

Laurel Ann said...

I appreciate many of your points in opposition of this book. They obviously come from a well studied perspective of Austen & her life.

I read this a year or more ago and liked it. It did irritate though, like you, that Cassandra was portrayed as manipulative and needy. She may well have been, though I haven't gotten as strong of an impression as Pitkeathley portrayed from the bios I have read on Austen.

I had to remind myself several times while reading it that it was a bio-fic and this was the authors way of making the story more intriging. I would not discourage anyone from reading it. Just don't take it all too seriously. It is fiction.

Of the bio-fic available on Austen, this is one of the better ones. I also liked The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, by Syrie James. Others had the same objections to it that you have to C&J. The author needed to embellish the story to make it interesting and that irritated them. This seems to be where bio-fics loose their way in some eyes.

Thanks for your thoughful, honest and insightful review.

g.n.a.t. said...

Oh as an obvious lover of Jane Austen I really appreciate your feedback. I have not read much bio-fic about her. I've read all her original books and seen many of the films - the BBC being my eternal favorites.

I think it must be very difficult at this point to find something original and yet still intriguing to say about Austen. She has been soooo studied in the recent past that I do applaud Pitkeathley for trying something different rather than another rehash of the exact same material.