Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison

I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison and illustrated by Susan Hellard (March 2010, Macmillan Children's Books, ISBN: 0230743528)

First Line:
My Journal
Monday, 7 February 1791

Jane looks like she could die.

Review: At sixteen, Jenny Cooper is a year older than her cousin Jane Austen. The book opens with both of them in an unspeakably awful boarding school in Bristol and Jane is seriously ill with a fever. Jenny knows that the only way to save her friend is to write to Jane's mum. To do so she must venture out at night, unaccompanied and risk ruin and scandal if she's discovered, to deliver a letter to the post-inn. When she does so, she meets the handsome Captain Thomas Williams who looks after her and sees her back to school safely. Thomas holds Jenny's future in his hands but promises not to tell anyone that he has seen her out, alone.

The action then shifts to Jane's home at Steventon to which Jane is returned, along with Jenny for recuperation. The girls are then allowed to stay on there and take lessons. The remainder of the book is devoted to Jenny's experiences with the Austen family and her attending balls and the return into her life of a dashing young Captain.

The story is told by way of lengthy journal entries, written in a clear language which makes this story suitable for younger readers as well. Jenny is the main character but Jane's personality is also well evoked and may lead readers to seek out more about Jane herself as well as her novels and possibly the film Becoming Jane which portrays a relationship between Jane and Tom Lefroy - who briefly appears in this novel.

I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend is a stately paced novel which takes the reader into the eighteenth century with ease and there is intrigue aplenty in the last 50 pages. I found this a quick read and though I thought the romance element a little improbable due to Jenny's youth and naivety it is in fact based on true life events, though the real Jenny was a bit older. I appreciated the illustrations by Susan Hellard which added another level of charm to this book.

Cover: This is an exceptionally pretty cover which caught my attention.


  1. Thanks for the review.

    I think that we are bringing our modern sensibilities to bear when we think that Jenny, at sixteen, was too young for romance.

    Mary Goodwin, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and a contemporary of Jane Austen, ran away with the poet Shelley, at the age of sixteen and her step-sister, Claire Clairmont, did the same with Byron. She, I think, was only fifteen at the time.

  2. I really LOVED that book! I read it in less than a day on Christams of 2010! It was so enthralling!