Monday 1 June 2020


When I started my own Jane Austen Book Club online back in 2010 it was because I couldn’t find like-minded fellows to create a real one in my little hometown in Italy. But thanks to the web and the Internet,  I could discover how many lovely, devoted, enthusiastic Janeites are there all over the world.

While reading the newly released The Jane Austen Society, the charming debut novel by Natalie Jenner, I was brought back to that initial passionate desire to spread the love for Jane Austen and to be part of a community. I enjoyed it so much! I  was brought back to Hampshire and Chawton, which I visited only once in my life, but whose touching memories will stay with me forever. 

Here are 10 reasons why you should read The Jane Austen Society.

1.       A  great set of relatable, well written characters

In the years following the Second World War in Chawton  eight completely different like-minded people gather together with a remarkable purpose: to save the legacy of Jane Austen, one of the finest English writers,  who had made their little village her final home. They are an improbable  band of  people with different backgrounds and life experiences,  but their common interest in Austen will  help them form unexpected bonds and will lead them to found the Jane Austen Society. Their dream is to acquire the cottage where Jane spent the last years of her life and make it a museum.

Are they historical or fictional?  Natalie Jenner said: “In wanting to write about a group of people traumatized to varying degrees … I chose not to base the characters on anyone real in order to enjoy full artistic freedom.”

2.       Vivid narrating style

All the characters are so thoroughly  written and given their own personal world that it is easy to figure them out in their distinctive uniqueness. The narration shifts from one to the other,  and from past to present, smoothly and clearly, creating, page after page,  a group portrait set in lyrical surroundings. 
I started imagining the story as if on a screen with no effort and dreamcasting some of my favourite actors. I believe this book would work rather well on screen.  

3.        The healing power of books

I’ve always liked books about reading and book lovers. I’ve also always believed in the healing power of reading poetry and fiction. Bibliotherapy is the new trend,  but this is old news among Janeites, since Austen’s novels were used in the treatment of shell-shocked soldiers during and after WW1 and have given solace and comfort through times of loss, sadness and suffering to so many all over the years.

That happens to  some of the protagonists of the novel too. They will find comfort and a refuge in their favourite Austen’s novels and, in the end, even a  reason to fight and live for

4.        Jane Austen’s homeplace

In the novel Chawton House, the grand residence of Jane Austen’s brother Edward -   adopted  as a boy by the wealthy but childless Knight family -  is  both a character and the setting of many crucial scenes. If you’ve visited the place, you’ll recognize it in the detailed descriptions in the book.
In the story, Frances Knight and her dying father live there. Mr Knight has changed his will and excluded his own daughter from the possibility of inheriting their house.   
Frances passively and obediently accepts her father’s will,  though it will leave her in reduced financial circumstances and without a home.
Ironically enough, Frances prefers reading the Brontes, but will join The Jane Austen Society and try to save her own and her illustrious ancestor's legacy. 
Chawton Cottage, the small house Edward Knight granted his mother and his two sisters, Cassandra and Jane, is often mentioned and becomes the treasure to conquer in our heroines and  heroes'  quest. The Jane Austen Society is founded with the aim of buying and tranforming it into a museum.

5.        Love for Jane Austen and her world

A Jane Austen fan feels at home in the pages of this novel, where Pride and Prejudice, Emma or one of the other major novels often become the focus of lovely conversations between the characters or food for their thoughts, memories and reflections.
There’s  so much gratitude and appreciation for Austen, her stories, her characters and her own life in the book that while reading it Janeites will feel  and breath their own love.

6.        Romance

I don’t want to give away major spoilers here, but … could love and  romance lack in a book inspired to Jane Austen’s world?

7.        Strong female characters

I mentioned Frances Knight before, but there are other female characters that you will love in the story:   Adeline Lewis, the committed and stubborn ex teacher turned into a mourning young widow by the war,  Evie Stone the sixteen-year-old maid who catalagues the books in Chawton House neglected library at night just to satisfy her own curiosity and love for knowledge, Mimi Andrews, Hollywood star and committed Janeite. Their strong, lively personalities  are certainly indebted to Jane Austen’s own heroines. 

8.        Men  who love Jane Austen

You’ll be surprised to find male characters who are really fond of reading Jane Austen, and no, they aren’t academics or scholars, they are just men who happen to be very appreciative of her style and her stories. Among them,  romantic and  fascinating Dr Gray and touching, tender Adam Berwick.

9.        Austen-worthy happy ending 

Natalie Jenner agrees with Jane Austen and gives her characters and her readers the happy ending Jane Austen would be proud of. 

"My characters shall have, after a little trouble, all that they desire" (Jane Austen)

10.   Last but not least … Richard Armitage!

This was a lucky coincidence! I have been a great fan of Mr Armitage for many years and I really appreciate him as a narrator of audiobooks. It's been a delightful surprise to discover he had read The Jane Austen Society, an honour to receive a review copy prior publication and a very special treat to listen to it. 

Curiously enough, Natalie Jenner admitted she wrote her Dr Gray figuring him out as  Richard Armitage, so when she heard he had accepted reading her book, she was extremely happy. She revealed:

"Because I write without any kind of an outline or idea of what lies ahead, I get to know my characters over time. But with The Jane Austen Society, one particular actor and his performances directly influenced one of my characters right from the start. Benjamin Gray is the widowed village doctor in my story, as well as the keeper of everyone's secrets. When I was writing, I kept imagining this pillar of the town who was so handsome and tall and comforting in tone, but also so inwardly tormented. In that respect the character called to mind the performance by British actor Richard Armitage in the 2004 BBC drama North and South where he played John Thornton, who has always struck me as the ultimate romantic period drama hero."   

Hence, when I started listening to the audiobook, it was inevitable  to imagine the fascinating doctor as tall, dark, blue-eyed and very handsome. 

About the Book

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists. Now it's home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen's legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen's home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

A powerful and moving novel that explores the tragedies and triumphs of life, both large and small, and the universal humanity in us all, Natalie Jenner's The Jane Austen Society is destined to resonate with readers for years to come.

Audiobook narrated by Richard Armitage
The full unabridged text of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was read by the distinguished English film, television, theatre and voice actor Richard Armitage for the audiobook recording. Best known by many period drama fans for his outstanding performance as John Thornton in the BBC television adaptation of North and South (2004), Armitage also portrayed Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson's film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit (2012 – 2014).


About the Author

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.


The Reading Frenzy said...

I loved your 10 reasons especially the healing from books. I was not an Austen fan before I listened to this novel but am right now listening to all her novels in order. Great review!!

Maria Grazia said...

Glad to hear you've got to read (or listen to) all Jane Austen's works thanks to this novel. That's because it is a real testament of love to Jane Austen.
Thanks for dropping by and sharing with us!

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) said...

I commend you, Maria, for limiting your reasons to 10! Thanks for the clever review. I loved this book too! Best, LA

Maria Grazia said...

Well Laurel Ann, I tried with 5 but that was really impossible! ;-)
Thanks for your support and your precious work in our international online Austen community ;-)
Bless you.

dstoutholcomb said...

pure joy to read the book!


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