Dear Jane by Allie Cresswell

In the village of Highbury, family counts. Emma Woodhouse, the rich, spoiled daughter of the first family and Jane Fairfax, orphan, are two young girls whose futures will play out over the course of the novel.

While Emma remains ensconced at the pinnacle of Highbury society, Jane is taken in charge by the Campbells, friends of her late father. Jane is given all the advantages of the Campbell family except one. There is no money for a dowry for Jane and she knows that her destiny lies in becoming a governess to a wealthy family.

The novel follows Jane’s life with the Campbells, her meeting with Frank Churchill, her loves and disappointments.

Theme of the Book

Like its inspiration, Jane Austen’s Emma, this is an examination of the social strictures placed on women in early 19th century England. Characters are motivated by pride, by social restraint, and finally by love.

What I Liked About the Story

Dear Jane provides the backstory for characters and events from Emma. While the latter focuses on Emma Woodhouse, this novel tells the story of Jane Fairfax, a much more sympathetic character.

The author has deftly drawn a comparison between women such as Emma and Rowena Campbell, who are able to depend on family financial support, and Jane. Jane is a stand-in for all women not a part of the social elite. Although she has a loving grandmother and aunt, they are unable to provide for her future and so she is dependent on the kindness of the Campbells. With no financial support, she is unable to consider marriage and knows she must earn her own livelihood as a governess, a position that, while respected, is little more than a servant.

The influence of family status on an individual’s future is not confined to women. Readers will see the same effects on the lives of two male characters, Frank Churchill and Mr. Mosley. The first is tied to a demanding, selfish aunt and the second forced into a loveless marriage.

Ms. Cresswell has given readers portraits of kindness in Mrs. Bates, the Campbells, and Jane herself. She has also drawn portraits of pride, selfishness, and even cruelty in the persons of Emma, of Aunt Churchill, and especially of Lady Sowerby who freely announces her belief that a woman without either money or family is worthless.

There are moments of humor, especially with Miss Bates, and pathos. There is devotion, love, happiness and sadness. Characters who played a minor role in Jane Austen’s Emma are brought to life and given their own stories here.

The author has done a wonderful job in using a style similar to Austen’s own. Readers who love Austen’s books will feel they are reading a recently discovered manuscript.

What I Didn’t Like About the Story

There is very little to dislike about Dear Jane. There are sections of the book that move too slowly and are longer than they need to be. As a dedicated reader of Jane Austen, I found the plot line concerning Mr. Mosley to be more pathos than social commentary. I felt the author spent far too much time on this particular arc of the plot.

Final Say

This is yet another wonderful book from Allie Cresswell. To take on Jane Austen as an inspiration and to write in a similar style must have been a challenge, yet the book is beautifully written. Any Austen fan will greatly enjoy this series and it comes highly recommended. 

Dear Jane is the winner of our One Stop Fiction Book Award.

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