Happy November, y’all!
I hope you had a fantastic Halloween weekend and got lots of yummy treats! We certainly did!
I am thrilled to participating in the blog tour for Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby. As soon as I heard about this book, I was hoping to be a part of this tour! Focusing on the life of Anne Sharp, governess to Fanny Austen, this novel is a beautiful account of life inside the family of the beloved author, Jane Austen. The writing is incredibly beautiful and you can’t help cheering on Anne along her journey.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.
This book came out in the US today, November 1st from Pegasus Books.
Book Summary: “On 21 January 1804, Anne Sharpe arrives at Godmersham Park in Kent to take up the position of governess. At 31 years old, she has no previous experience of either teaching or fine country houses. Her mother has died, and she has nowhere else to go. Anne is left with no choice. For her new charge – twelve-year-old Fanny Austen – Anne’s arrival is all novelty and excitement.
The governess role is a uniquely awkward one. Anne is neither one of the servants, nor one of the family, and to balance a position between the ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ members of the household is a diplomatic chess game. One wrong move may result in instant dismissal. Anne knows that she must never let down her guard.
When Mr Edward Austen’s family comes to stay, Anne forms an immediate attachment to Jane. They write plays together, and enjoy long discussions. However, in the process, Anne reveals herself as not merely pretty, charming and competent; she is clever too. Even her sleepy, complacent mistress can hardly fail to notice. Meanwhile Jane’s brother, Henry, begins to take an unusually strong interest in the lovely young governess . . .
And from now on, Anne’s days at Godmersham Park are numbered.”
I loved all the historical details in this novel as Hornby takes us inside the homes of the Austen family. I love historical fiction that is so strongly based in fact. Hornby completed meticulous research and the details were fascinating. Fanny starting her journal, adopting canaries, Anne’s headaches and surgery, Henry Austen’s visits, Jane Austen’s friendship with Anne, and the private plays. I love that Jane and Anne had a true friendship and really wrote letters to each other! I felt transported to the Regency Era and to Godmersham Park where I felt the complexity of Anne’s position in the household. The details about life as a governess seemed almost paradoxical. Anne is neither completely a member of the upstairs family nor of the servant community downstairs. She is expected to help with all the children, teach only certain things, and even shares her room with Fanny quite frequently. These details all added to the overall charm and strong setting of the novel.
Anne is a fascinating character with depth and surprises throughout the story. While her childhood history is fabricated from accounts of the time, I found her entire story quite intriguing. Her courage and determination are admirable. When she learns of her changed circumstances, she doesn’t despair for long. Instead, she goes to work and finds she has talent for and enjoyment in teaching children including Fanny, some of her cousins and friends, village boys, and others. I admired her clear talent with children and her patience with different abilities and skills. While her teaching talent is considerable, Anne sadly suffers from painful cluster headaches that hinder her performance. The journey she goes on to find relief is extensive. I couldn’t believe some of the things she endures in the name of a cure! I felt we get to know her better through her trials and how she handles the many that come her way.
The characters and relationships are so well developed especially among the family. Anne is one of several beautifully developed characters. My favorites were Anne herself, Henry Austen, Harriott Bridges and — of course — Jane Austen. Each of these characters are more complex than I initially thought. Seeing how Henry lives is interesting but he is also not just a sterotypical rake. Harriott’s changes are more subtle — the different ways she talks to Anne, her marriage and maturing personality. And I believe the crowning jewel of this novel is Jane Austen. I absolutely love her books, and it was such a delight to get a window into the author behind the words. Her character is delightful, witty, fiercely loyal, and wonderfully talented. I enjoyed seeing how she interacts with her sister, Cassandra, her mother, Anne, and the many Austens at Godmersham Park. The Austens are a loving and large family. The differences in rank and situation were interesting to see within the story. Not all of them have the wealth and privilege of the Godmersham Austens. Seeing those contrasts amidst the events of the novel was intriguing and well done.
There were just a few things that hindered my experiences reading the novel in small ways. At times, the story was a bit slow for me. While I appreciate that the plot wasn’t overly fast paced, the slowness hindered me getting into the story at a few different points. It made the book feel longer. Also, be aware of several surprisingly violent moments including a surgery with pretty graphic detail.
Overall, this was a fascinating and well researched historical novel about the Austen family. The writing is beautiful and the character development is well done. I enjoyed getting to know Jane Austen and her family from a new perspective.
What are your favorite historical novels about famous people?
Which are your favorite Jane Austen novels? Or novels with her as a character?
Gill Hornby is the author of the novels Miss Austen, The Hive, and All Together Now, as well as The Story of Jane Austen, a biography of Austen for young readers. She lives in Kintbury, England, with her husband and their four children.