BT REVIEW: Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James

Berkley | E-ARC via Net Galley
Publication Date: August 5th, 2014
Adult Fiction | Historical
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

For someone who practically devoured every single Jane Austen novels in record time, I’ve never really been interested in reading her biography. My knowledge of her background is pretty much limited to her choice to be a single woman until she died. I did, however, see Becoming Jane; a movie about Jane Austen’s supposed love affair with the consummate bad boy, Tom Lefroy. I’ve always considered her to be a feminist way ahead of the times. And this is based on her characterization of Elizabeth Bennet. I also thought that if anyone would know what she wants in a man, Ms. Austen would be the type of person who would not shy away from voicing her desires.

Syrie James’ book – which, coincidentally is based on true events – tells the story of a pubescent Jane who fell in love with one Edward Taylor. But when you’re an intellect and quite set in your ways (like Jane), you’ll begin to question the authenticity of your feelings. And in so doing, you’ll then try to distract yourself by playing the matchmaking Cupid to those around you. I’d say hilarity ensues, but as in the case of another Austen character, Emma, you would be left feeling a bit annoyed; though generally amused.

As you dive into this story, you will notice several parallels to her novels. Art imitating life; imitating art. It’s not that hard to follow. Some events sound eerily familiar, especially to those who’ve read her novels. But if there’s one thing that made me feel like standing up in a huff of objection, it’s the way Jane seemed to be easily taken in by the splendour of the riches. She also complained (a bit too much for my taste),  of not being able to join in the festivities – balls, if I may – simply because she wasn’t “out” in the society yet. However, I soon realize that I’m reading about Jane herself and not Elizabeth Bennet; that I’ve entrapped myself in a confusion of my own doing.

This Jane Austen is fearless, fierce and adventurous. Tomboy-like, almost, but only when a challenge is put upon her. This Jane Austen is also boy-crazy! But only for one particular boy; this Jane Austen speaks her mind, to the point that she’s sometimes offensive. Her frankness, though admirable for the era, needed some finesse. Blame it on the innocence of her youth, or the building block of a strong-headed (okay, stubborn) personality, but her candour sometimes made me twitch.

It is so nice to see this Jane Austen, though. She’s so young, and yet a very determined woman already. She doesn’t back away from anything (see fierce). Edward Taylor is no Mr. Darcy – in such a way that he wasn’t cantankerous when he first met Jane. Edward is actually, the opposite of Darcy. He returns her affection. If there’s one thing you could take from this book review, it’s to try and separate Austen’s characters from Austen’s real-life relations. Otherwise, you might find yourself a bit out of sorts.

Despite the initial pitfalls, Syrie James showed us exactly why she’s the resident expert on everything Jane Austen. This woman lives and breathes lost journals and publications relating to Austen. It is no wonder that she continues to make an almost perfect recount in every single Austenesque novels. If you’re a fan, you must check out all the books that she’s written so far.

Thank you Syrie and Nita of Berkley for letting me be a part of the tour.

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