The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner (2020) – Fiction
I tend to reread books and rewatch movies a lot. I have always been like that. I rewatched The Lion King so often when I was a kid that I soon learned all the lines, saying them out loud while I would watch the movie.
I used to reread the Harry Potter series almost every year. As I have gotten older, this has lessened in frequency, but I still manage a run through every few years or so, when I am feeling particularly nostalgic. As for movies, the general rewatch lists consists of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Sound of Music, and of course Pride and Prejudice (the Kiera Knightley version) and Pride and Prejudice, the BBC series. Why do we reread or rewatch something? Comfort.
Part of the comfort they derived from rereading was the satisfaction of knowing there would be closure – of feeling each time, an inexplicable anxiety over whether the main characters would find love and happiness, while all the while knowing, on some different parallel interior track, that is was all going to work out in the end. Of being both one step ahead of the characters and one step behind Austen on every single reading.
The Jane Austen Society is about individuals who share my same habit, and same material for rereading. Jane Austen’s novels are over a hundred and fifty years old. Like many “classics” they are still taught and read in high schools and college English classes, but in my opinion, not nearly as often as they should be. The 2005 movie and the BBC version may have convinced many people that these books are only for women. They certainly are not. They are about love sure, but men also desire love and experience all the hardships and joys that come with it. Austen’s writing is also incredibly witty and funny. Her books transcend time, as many classic movies and books are greatly influenced by her plots and characters.
In The Jane Austen Society, local villagers in the village of Chawton and a few unique outsiders, come together for the love of Austen and to try to save the great house where Austen spent her last years of her life writing and where she eventually died. All the characters are going through life, experiencing trauma and heartbreak. Dr. Gray is the local doctor and widower, forever haunted by his past mistakes and the loss of his wife. Adeline is also a young widow, with her husband perishing in WWII, leaving her alone and pregnant. Adam Berwick is the local farm hand, alone, lost, and misunderstood in a world that does not understand him. Mimi Harrison is a famous American movie actress, crossing the pond to help save her favorite author and establish a museum in her honor so that the world and Austen fans have a place to celebrate the great writer.
All the characters are fictional, but the setting and places are real. Jenner is able to capture the idyllic atmosphere of a country English village but brings feeling and realness to it by providing characters and backstories that are human and relatable. The Jane Austen Society is an easy read. Any Austen fans should read it, just for the pure comfort it brings by reading about people who love something as much as you do. In a way, reading this novel brought the same emotions that I feel when I rewatch the same movie or reread the same book – I know where I am headed and I know the ending.
For my Austen lovers out there, Pride and Prejudice is the book that I have consistently read once each year for a while now. It is everything I could ever want in a book. Elizabeth, to me, is the greatest female character that has ever been written.
“And that’s exactly what Austen gives us. A world so a part of our own, yet so separate, that entering it is like some kind of tonic. Even with so many flawed and even silly characters, it all makes sense in the end. It may be the most sense we’ll ever get to make out of our own messed-up world. That’s why she lasts, like Shakespeare. It’s all in there, all of life, all the stuff that counts, and keeps counting, all the way to here, to you.”
Natalie Jenner graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English literature and law. The Jane Austen Society is her first published novel.
Lover of the written word.