Saturday, 13 August 2011

Cassandra's Sister - Veronica Bennett

Because we were rushed off our feet on my holiday and doing lots of different things which meant I was SO tired in the evening, I didn't actually read that much as I normally do so only got through this book while in America.

I have read this book before and from what I could remember I found it interesting and was one of the first books I read about Jane Austen herself and her family. This book is a lot like the movie starring Anne Hathaway, Becoming Jane as it is set around that time, although not in so much detail as the movie. 

Synopsis: Young Jane — or Jenny, as she is called — is a girl with a head full of questions. Surrounded by her busy parents and brothers, Jenny finds a place for her thoughts in the companionship of her older sister, Cassandra. Theirs is a country life full of balls and visits, at which conversation inevitably evolves on one topic: marriage. But the arrival of their worldly-wise cousin disrupts Jenny’s world, bringing answers to some of her questions and providing a gem of an idea. 

Review: This book follows Jane Austen inventing and writing two of her most popular novels, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility as well as some events that we know happens to her in her life, like the idea of falling in love. Sadly and perhaps unexpectedly, Jane Austen never married. She was offered one proposal by the brother of one of her friends who she accepted and then changing her mind the next day. As portrayed in Becoming Jane and mentioned in numerous novels about Jane Austen's life, Jane fell in love with the Irish, Tom Lefroy, the nephew of a family known to the Austen's. If anything ever happened between them, we shall never know, but I like to think they did, mostly for Jane's sake. They could never marry, and they knew that, as he had no money, training to be a lawyer and Jane Austen had to marry for money as her family were quite poor. Jane Austen lived her life with her parents and her also unmarried sister, Cassandra who's fiancĂ©e died on a trip to the West Indies. She lived off the money from her books that were published in her lifetime and from money from four of her five brothers. Jane Austen didn't live an extravagant lifestyle and  was never truly rich, she may have been unhappy to write about all her heroines falling deeply in love and marrying, yet she never did. However, maybe this made her loveless life bearable...again, it is something we shall never know for real.

This book follows the relationship with Cassandra and Jane Austen and of how their love lives affect both their relationship and themselves, which is a very different way to other novels like this that I have read which I liked. Other normally go for the romance. 
The only problem with this is that for me there wasn't enough romance, and I don't say this often. I know it's about Cassandra mostly in Jane's life but reading the blurb, you wouldn't think this, you'd think it's the novel that Becoming Jane was made from. The beginning is very slow with Jane starting and stopping many novels like Lady Susan. This is fine, but it did get a bit tedious and boring after a while with this pace. Then, when Tom Lefroy did come into it which is about half way through, we see him once for a chapter and then anything that happened between him and Jane was told after it happened and in not much detail. I have no idea what happened the second time they met, they never say! They just talk about it without giving any information. This annoyed me.

The characters were all likeable and behaved like they were from the 1700's, although there were times when sentences sounded more at home in my living room than at a ball, although this wasn't too often. I liked the friendship and sisterly love between Cassandra and Jane, it seemed like they were confidants in each other but still had that sisterly understanding, which is nice to see. Cassandra seems to be the one to calm Jane down and Jane brings out a rebellious side to Cassandra, this, to me, is the best relationship to have with one another. You both get things out of it.
My favourite scenes were the balls with the amount of detail of who was dancing with who, the dresses, the dances, the small things. These are the things that make me want to be transported now to England 1790 and join in, they were admittedly done very well. 
Mrs Austen, as always, reminded me SO much of Mrs Bennet and Jane of Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. This part made me laugh of Jane's cynicism and her quick wit: 

'"Mrs Fowle, seems very pleased that Charles is going to be a lawyer," said Mama (Mrs Austen). She consulted the letter again, then laid it in her lap. "Now, Jenny, what profession would you have predicted he would follow? I must confess that when he was a boy I always rather saw him as a soldier."
"I remember that he used to march around with a stick over his shoulder for a rifle," said Jenny (Jane). "But then, if you recall, my own favourite pastime at that age was playing with model animals, yet now I have no inclination even to own a pet cat."'

As you can see in that extract, Jane is referred to, until about 75% of the way through, as Jenny instead of Jane. I have never heard of this before for Jane Austen being nicknamed, and it got really annoying after a while. To me, she is Jane. Jenny is not even a shortening of the name Jane. Stick with Jane! I think I know why it was done, but it didn't add anything really.
The other thing that confused me was the passing of time. The book would suddenly jump to three years later without much warning or ending to whatever had happened before. The book was trying to cover a huge period of time, instead of just a small amount in great detail.

I did enjoy this book eventually nearer the end and this book does give information about the only proposal known for her to receive which most Jane Austen-esque books leave out. There are faults in this book but I think it is a good book for those that don't know much about the writer and just want to find out a bit more about her life. It would be the ideal accomplice to writing a essay on one of her books, to reference it to events in her writing. However if, like me, you know a lot about Austen, I would read this knowing you may not enjoy it. It's a lovely little book, but could be better.
Verdict: Recommend to anyone who knows nothing about Jane Austen. 

I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Author's Website:
Pages: 231
Publisher: Walker Books
Challenges: BBC, Historical Fiction

If you want are interested in finding out more about Jane Austen herself, have a look at these reviews for other books I have read about her:
I was Jane Austen's Best Friend - Cora Harrison
Love, Lies and Lizzie - Rosie Rushton


  1. Love, Love, Love the movie Becoming Jane, but hadn't heard of this book. Thanks for the rec, its a good one to pass on to my girls!

  2. I know I love the movie too, one of my favourites. Yeah, it is like Becoming Jane in a book really with some added bits.


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