How much would you give to gain a husband? That is the question surely floating around in many readers’ minds while they embark on the adventure of budding romances, false accusations, and rigidly unmoving expectations forced upon the main characters in Lucy Worsley’s original novel, The Austen Girls.
Upon first glance, I wasn’t entirely sure about the book. How could a modern author capture the essence of the renowned Austen? Initially, I was slightly wary as I sat down to read it. But after only one chapter, I was sucked into the compelling story of Jane Austen’s nieces’ search for love and happiness.
The story follows Fanny and Anna Austen, cousins and close friends, who are starkly different in personality and lifestyle. Fanny is quiet, timid, and always follows the rules set by her almost-rich parents. Anna, on the other hand, is loud, bubbly, and absolutely hates living poor and in the country with her father and stepmother. But the two young women both have equally important and stressful duties—to find a suitor who is ideal to their wants and needs, kind and loving, and most importantly: rich and respectable enough to hold up the Austen legacy.
While going to balls and dancing with all of the eligible young men in the county may sound fun to many girls, it is also very tedious and troublesome. Will I ever be able to find love? What if I don’t want to? What is real love, anyway? These are the questions constantly asked by Fanny and Anna. And there is only one person they can go to for answers.
Their stern, knowledgeable, and mysterious Aunt Jane knows more about love than anyone, and she is unmarried and perfectly happy. But not marrying doesn’t seem like an option for either of the Austens, does it? When catastrophe strikes, it's up to the girls to figure out for themselves what they want for their future.
Worsley’s vivid novel captures the essence and message of all of Jane Austen’s works beautifully, and masterfully weaves striking and important life lessons into the tapestry of the plot. Discussion-provoking topics such as women’s roles and treatment in old and modern society and the idea that we can all choose our own destinies spring up in the book. The book also manages to seamlessly include historical facts about people and lifestyles of the time period. The often forgotten family tree of Jane Austen is revealed to those who know little or nothing about it, and the lifestyles of both aristocrats and their polar opposites are described in rich detail.
The book is quick, but jam-packed with important and intriguing details and facts. Not only is the book original and well thought out, but it is also a great starting point for readers interested in learning more about the Victorian era and seeking to read some of Jane Austen’s lifeworks. I would highly recommend this impactful book to anybody willing to go on a romantic and imaginative journey. Worsley’s The Austen Girls is a wonderful tribute to feminism, history, and the one question we should all ask ourselves: what do we truly want out of our lives?
The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020.