Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cassandra and Jane: A Jane Austen Novel by Jill Pitkeathley

::Spoiler Alert:: Rated: 3 stars
Ever since I read "Just Jane" by Nancy Moser and watched "Becoming Jane" starring Anne Hathaway, I’ve come to adore Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra. There is so little known about her yet her story still fascinates me. The older sister of a well-known author, an amateur artist, a woman who never looked at another man because her one true love died at a young age. So when I discovered "Cassandra and Jane: A Jane Austen Novel," by Jill Pitkeathley, I was eagerly expecting a book about the Austen sisters’ unique relationship. No two sisters could be closer (with the exception of my sister and I). I won’t outline the story; any Jane Austen nut already knows what it is. And if you don’t, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.
There is nothing objectionable in the story’s content. Sex is referred to as a woman’s duty to her husband and whenever the topic is brought up, they characters are vague about it. Faith in God and prayer is held in high esteem; in fact two of the Austen sisters’ suitors believe they are called of God to serve Him rather than just viewing the church as a means of making a living. As a Christian who is pretty picky about what she reads, I think that this is a novel that could easily be sold in the Christian market or at a religious bookstore.
However, as an avid Austen-ite, I was disappointed. From the multiple biographies out there about the author, it is believed that the characters Jane Bennet and Elinore Dashwood are loosely based on Cassandra, yet this portrayal of her in no way resembled those characters. She comes across as bland and boring, with no references to her own personal interests or passions.
As a first person narrative told in Cassandra’s perspective, Cassandra herself isn’t really given much of a personality, just observations of the events in her life. When reminiscing about her relationship with Tom Fowle, the author doesn’t go in-depth about Cassandra’s feelings. In this book, he is rarely ever mentioned. I can understand that she mourned for him on her own, but this being a book from her point of view, I expected that because of her steadfast devotion to Tom that the author should have at least depicted it more than she did.
Truth be told, this story focuses mostly on Jane Austen; her characterization is another disappointment for me. Before her fling with Lefroy, Jane behaves almost as ridiculous as Lydia Bennet and afterwards she is more like Marianne Dashwood. I had imagined Jane Austen to be a vast deal more mature and reserved. What bothered me the most was that Jane relied heavily on Cassandra’s opinions, even when it came to writing. Instead of applauding Jane’s own creative genius, Cassandra is credited with assisting her sister in naming the Dashwood sisters and for titling "Persuasion." Often enough in the book, Jane is unable to think for herself and goes running to Cassandra to work out troubles for her.
Maybe I’m just being nit picky; perhaps if you read it you’ll like it better.

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