Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Review: Cassandra and Jane

Summary: They were beloved sisters and the best of friends. But Jane and Cassandra Austen suffered the same fate as many of the women of their era. Forced to spend their lives dependent on relatives, both financially and emotionally, the sisters spent their time together trading secrets, challenging each other's opinions, and rehearsing in myriad other ways the domestic dramas that Jane would later bring to fruition in her popular novels. For each sister suffered through painful romantic disappointments—tasting passion, knowing great love, and then losing it—while the other stood witness. Upon Jane's death, Cassandra deliberately destroyed her personal letters, thereby closing the door to the private life of the renowned novelist . . . until now.

In Cassandra & Jane, author Jill Pitkeathley ingeniously reimagines the unique and intimate relationship between two extraordinary siblings, reintroducing readers to one of the most intriguing figures in the world of literature, as seen through the eyes of the one person who knew her best. -- Harper

I know this might be hard for some of you to belive, but I have not read many Jane Austen books. I always have them on my list of must-reads and I even own quite a few; but for some reason, I end up not getting around to them. (I'm thinking that I should pick one for a future book club meeting because that way I know I'll read it.) Despite my lack of knowledge about "all things Jane," I still thought the description of CASSANDRA AND JANE: A JANE AUSTEN NOVEL by Jill Pitkeathley sounded intriguing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this fictional account of Jane's life told by her sister (and closest confidant) Cassandra. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I found this story about two sisters to be beautiful and very heartwarming. I loved how Ms. Pitkeathley was able to capture the strength of their relationship and how much they meant to each other. The scenes at the end of the book where Jane is ill and eventually dies were extremely touching. I have no doubt that these two women had a very special (and dependent) relationship with each other.

One thing I really appreciated about this book was how Ms. Pitkeathly wrote this novel from Cassandra's point of view. I think this narrative method definitely gave the reader more insight into Jane's character. While Cassandra positively adored her sister, she was still honest about Jane concerning both her positive and negative traits. I especially liked how Cassandra pointed out Jane's sharp and witty sense of humor.

Another thing that I found fascinating about CASSANDRA AND JANE were the historical aspects of the novel. I thought the author did a remarkable job of capturing the essence of the time period. Neither Jane nor Cassandra ever married, and this situation eventually caused them much turmoil -- they always felt like their future wasn't in their hands and they had to be dependent on others. This novel really demonstrated the lack of social standing that women had in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

I think Ms. Pitkeathley did a wonderful job with this novel. I found the book very interesting, yet also easy-to-read; and her descriptions of the time period seemed quite authentic. I appreciated how she took the small amount of information known about Jane (rumor has it that Cassandra actually destroyed all of Jane's letters) and was able to merge it with a fictional account of her life. The blend between facts and fiction were seamless. If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Pitkeathley and this novel, there is a great interview with the author.

I highly recommend CASSANDRA AND JANE for a future book club meeting, especially if your group is a fan of Jane Austen. There are a great many issues to discuss such as sisterly love, family dynamics, friendship, women and their social status, loss of loved ones, etc. In fact, there is a terrific discussion guide available. I have a feeling that your group could talk for hours about the themes in this novel.

Make sure you come back tomorrow because Ms. Pitkeathley will be stopping by with a wonderful guest post about her long time interest with Jane Austen.


S. Krishna said...

Thanks for the review! This is one I want to read.

Anna said...

This one sounds good. I've only read 3 of Austen's books, but for some reason, the sequels and modern-day retellings intrigue me. I'm looking forward to the guest post!

Diary of an Eccentric