We all have that one hobby, activity, or guilty pleasure — whatever it may be — that we use to escape the difficulties of reality and the constant challenges in our lives. For the main characters of The Jane Austen Society, it is their shared love for the collective works of Jane Austen.
The novel is set in 1945, right after the end of World War II, and takes place in Chawton — a small and lovely village in the Hampshire district of England — where Austen wrote and revised six books. A group of dissimilar individuals comes together to form the Jane Austen Society with one goal in mind: preserving both Austen’s legacy and her home.
The society consists of “a country doctor, an old maid, a schoolmarm, a bachelor farmer, a fey auctioneer, a conflict-averse solicitor, a scullery maid and one Hollywood movie star,” who all set aside their personal troubles and traumas that had followed the war. A shared love of Austen is the only thing they need to spark the forming of heartwarming friendships, leading to a good deal of heartfelt moments.
It is important to note that to enjoy The Jane Austen Society, you do not have to be familiar with Austen’s works, but if you are, you can appreciate it all the better.
Natalie Jenner, a U of T law and English alum, made her debut with this novel, granting her a place in the spotlight. The book received recognition by winning Goodreads Choice Awards Best Debut Novel and Goodreads Choice Awards Best Historical Fiction. It was also a commercial success, ranking number one on the national bestseller list for three months straight.
Thanks to clean prose and a fascinating theme and setting, Jenner has created a true page turner. She built up the side storylines without wasting any time, preventing the story from turning dull, and the connection of the side storylines to the main story has been done masterfully with engaging pacing.
All in all, this piece of historical fiction resembles a love letter not only to Austen, but also to the world of literature itself, alluding to many of the greats like Charlotte Brontë and Virginia Woolf, bringing forward their contributions to society. Plenty of times, Jenner highlights the connections that all her characters have developed with the creations of Austen, even if they simply remain pieces of fiction.
Jenner acknowledges the place that literature — and Austen particularly — has in our hearts, with the help of three-dimensional and complex characters the reader will love to cheer for.
The Jane Austen Society is a unique and captivating piece of historical fiction with a dash of romance that Austen readers will already be familiar with and drawn to.