The significant aspect of any novel begins with its core idea which can be understood from the title of the book. When you read Mrs. Dalloway you understand that Virginia Woolf is trying to tell you a story of a woman who is Wife to Mr. Dalloway. Similarly when you pick up The Austen girls by Lucy Worsley understand that this one is a story of strong women from the Austen family. When I finished reading this book I had mixed feelings about it.
The book is a fictionalised account of Jane Austen’s life. It is a story of Fanny Austen and Anna Austen who are Jane’s neices and it’s time that Austen family gets them married in a rich household. There are balls that these ladies are supposed to attend, as was the tradition during the regency era, and find a suitable match for themselves. But this quest is much deeper rooted.
At first glance you will find the story quite lukewarm. It is just another story you might say. And while it is so, what I loved the most about it is the underlying or rather neatly layered aspects from the regency era. The plight of women is carefully folded between the words and presented to the readers.
Upon finishing this book I called up my friend Neelam and discussed the book with her. Even she was of the opinion that it was an okayish story. And though I don’t differ on that bit, I believe that the author has done a good job bringing out the treatment of women during that time. We see how the Austen family wants their daughters to be married in a rich house, the pressure that keeps building on the two sisters makes one of them pick a man who is older than her. Then we see how their ambitions are curtailed, be it Jane Austen or Fanny. Fanny knows that her idea of working as a thief-taker will send her house into a tizzy! Jane Austen is an established author but she keeps this hidden from her family because they won’t approve of it. The character of Elizabeth Austen, Fanny’s mother, dies during her delivery, her eleventh child! After her death Mr. Austen asks Fanny to focus on her siblings rather than marriage. Women are shown as mere means to an end succinctly in this novel.
Initially I assumed that this book would be a retelling of Pride and Prejudice but the twists it gave to the groom hunting quest by venturing into a small criminal investigation in midst, that was a good surprise. The author skillfully brings out the regency ambiance with mentions of balls, dresses, proposals etc. And primarily we see the author focusing on money, status and class as themes throughout the novel. While everything is done well, what didn’t go down well with me was it’s climax. But looking back I think it was imperative to the story.
Overall, this book is regency era feels and much more. Do give it a read if you like reading Jane Austen.
Rating – ⭐⭐⭐.5
Publisher – Bloomsbury India
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