cover image The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

Rebecca Kai Dotlich, . . Avon A, $13.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-06-144369-5

James speculates in her easy-reading debut on a romance between Austen and a landed British gentleman. The prologue presents the narrative as a long-lost journal Austen kept between 1815 and 1817, recently discovered during a renovation at Chawton Manor House and annotated by Oxford University Austen scholar Mary I. Jesse, whose footnotes appear throughout. The first-person account describes how Mr. Ashford, the son of a baronet, saves the spinster writer from a climbing accident after her father's death. The two meet again in Southampton, and Mr. Ashford encourages Austen to fulfill her dream of becoming a “renowned novelist” and even supplies the name of “Dashwood” when she is working on Sense and Sensibility . Austen and Mr. Ashford seem a perfect match in matters of head and heart (both have read Wordsworth, Walter Scott and Dr. Samuel Johnson), but James portrays them as doomed lovers, and though she hews closely to the historic record, she creates a modicum of will-they-or-won't-they suspense that culminates with a proposal and an “intensely” kissed Austen. It's a pleasant addition to the ever-expanding Austen-revisited genre. (Dec.)