I definitely didn’t expect to meet a governess who was a willing ally for Jane Austen’s mischievous ploys in this piece of fan fiction. What a lovely surprise! And it was so well-expressed by the voice of narrator Bessie Carter.
Anne Sharpe’s Early Life
The first half of the novel is well-written, if not exactly riveting. We see protagonist Anne Sharpe as a spoiled young miss, the only child of a doting father, who has a shining life ahead of her as a married lady to a life of privilege.
Unfortunately, the suitors that her father chooses for her don’t suit. There are various older men in states of ill health. There is a widower with nine children. Finally, there is the reptilian Mr. Jamieson – her father’s especial friend.
When Anne’s mother dies, Anne expects her father to take care of her. After all, she had been brought up to be a Lady, which entails a certain amount of feminine helplessness.
So imagine her surprise when her father declines to see her, in effect showing her the door with a paltry 35 pounds a year to live on.
Fortunately, Anne is not quite alone. She has her nurse and the nurse’s friend (both of whom have known her since she was a baby) so at least she has somewhere to live. Mr. Jamieson – on behalf of her absent father – does manage to find her a post at Godmersham Park as governess to 11-year-old Fanny Knight, the eldest daughter of Edward Austen Knight and his wife Elizabeth Bridges.
Anne arrives at Godmersham Park
We follow Anne to this rather forbidding edifice, on a freezing January day (it is January 21, 1804) and up into the attic where she must attempt to make herself comfortable.
Author Gill Hornby writes with a great deal of empathy about the situation of the governess in these large family homes.
Those of you familiar with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre know that the governess is not exactly a servant. But she is not part of the family either.
The governess is encouraged to form a strong emotional bond with her charge. But she can be dismissed at any moment.
She is vicariously allowed to partake in the luxury around her, unless the cook takes a dislike to her and sends up inedible scraps.
And to top it off, in this tale, poor Anne Sharpe suffers from the migraine.
So far, so good. This was a moderately interesting novel,, set during one of my favorite historical periods (the world of Jane Austen during the Napoleonic Wars). It provided a pleasant murmuring background as I did my chores (I listened to this via audiobook, so please forgive my spelling as I have not seen the text).
The Appearance of Miss Jane
Then–Jane Austen appeared and like magic, the novel went from being merely pleasant to absolutely thrilling. For Jane’s character brought Godmersham Park to life as governess Anne Sharpe became a willing ally for Jane Austen’s mischievous ploys.
I knew, of course, that Jane Austen was wickedly funny.
I knew she described herself as a “wild creature” whom she has trouble containing. But the character that Ms. Hornby created was all this and so much more.
Because the character of Jane was so wonderful, I really think this novel could have benefitted from having more of her. IMHO, the novel should have started with the arrival of Jane, sprinkling the rest of the material from the first half of the novel as judicious flashbacks.
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