The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

I’ve watched a lot of Jane Austen movies and miniseries and loved all the adaptations I’ve seen, but I honestly can’t remember reading a Jane Austen book. But from what I’ve seen and enjoyed, I know why she’s a beloved author. That’s why The Jane Austen Society (Amazon) (AbeBooks) intrigued me.

From the publisher: “Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.”

Just after the end of World War II, Chawton farmer Adam Berwick wants to honor the legacy of Jane Austen, who lived in the village more than one hundred years before. With the help of the local doctor, he hopes to buy the cottage where Austen lived and turn it into a museum because of the continued interest of tourists coming to the town.

The men form the Jane Austen Society, along with like-minded townspeople like Frances Knight, a distant relation to Austen through her 6th great grandfather, a young woman named Evie Stone, who is a maid and has catalogued the books at the Great House, a former schoolteacher Adeline Grove, solicitor Andrew Forrester and the above mentioned doctor, Benjamin Gray.

There are so many characters in the book that it takes a while to get to know them well. Once that’s established, the story takes off. There’s a fair amount of discussion about Austen’s books, so I think that adds to the book’s appeal.

Frances’ father dies, and his will leaves the big house to a male heir if one can be found. The Jane Austen Society tries to purchase the cottage from an American movie star, who is also enamored with Austen and convinced her producer boyfriend to buy it. There’s a completely unnecessary part where the actress is threatened and sexually abused by a director that seems out-of-place in an otherwise quaint novel.

You do not have to be a fan of Jane Austen in order to find this heartwarming book, filled with rich characters who have nothing in common other than their love of Austen and good literature, and giving Austen tourists a place to pay homage to their beloved author.

Now I’ll definitely have to pick up some of her work and actually read it, not just watch the adaptations!

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