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I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend by Cora Harrison

It seems to me there are books and authors guaranteed to resonate with each new generation of readers. Jane Austen surely belongs in that category. Author Cora Harrison dedicates I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend: A Secret Diary to her daughter who has been a fan of Austen’s novels since her early teens. That claim could probably be made a million times over as Austen continues to sell well in every generation, as do books about her.

Miss Austen has been the protagonist of mysteries, romances, and even the paranormal in the fiction world. Her books have been analyzed and studied for years for what they tell us about the time period in which she lived and wrote. Many of the books are light reads, some of heavier weight.

This take is a light read for teens and a totally enjoyable one. As the story opens, Jane and her cousin Jenny Cooper are going to boarding school and Jane has fallen seriously ill. Jenny has become convinced that her cousin is going to die unless she gets word to Jane’s mother. Jenny risks her reputation and her life to post a letter to Mrs. Austen, braving dark and dangerous city streets. It is that night that Jenny meets Capt. Thomas Williams who offers her his protection and helps her post the letter.

By the time Mrs. Austen arrives at the school, both Jenny and Jane are seriously ill and she immediately removes them from the school, taking both girls home with her.

When Jenny goes to stay with the Austens, she knows nothing of the world of beautiful dresses, dances, secret gossip, and romance that Jane inhabits. An only child, Jenny basks in the comfort and acceptance of the Austen’s large family. At 15, Jane is already a sharp observer of life around her and is constantly writing her feelings down.

Jenny lives in fear that her uptight brother and his snooty wife will learn of her midnight trip to post the letter, and is equally certain she would be socially ruined for life if the escapade became known. Imagine her consternation when Capt. Williams shows up at dance she’s attending. The gallant captain promises to keep her secret and Jenny realizes she’s more than a little in love with the naval officer. When her midnight journey is revealed, Jenny believes it is the Captain who has betrayed her.

In this dance between truth and fiction, Harrison has crafted Jenny’s secret diary by reading everything Jane Austen wrote as a child and as an adult, and by researching biographies, critical studies, and family letters. Jenny’s diary makes the past spring vividly to life and provides insight into the Austen family.

A must read for young Austen fans.



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