Often a journey is more pleasant if one slows down and savors it. I had hoped to review Lori Smith’s book, A Walk With Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love & Faith, in one fell swoop, but my busy summer schedule would not allow it. This was to my benefit. Everywhere I went I took Lori’s manuscript with me, like a comfortable friend. I discovered that this is no facile book to be read quickly, for Lori investigates such important concepts as faith, morality, and the decisions that change one’s life and set one on a different path.
In fact, this book resonated deeply with me, a fallen Catholic girl. Like Lori, I stayed in a monastery. Last week I was a guest of the Benedictine nuns for two nights, and experienced the same sense of peace that Lori describes in Alton Abbey, the monastery she stayed in when she visited Steventon (above) and Chawton Cottage. But unlike Lori’s silent monks, my nuns chattered like magpies and lived in the moment, working in the real world to bring home the bacon.
Lori describes her visits to Jane’s homes vividly, including Edward Austen-Knight’s Wedgewood china (above) with its geometric pattern of purple and gold around the edge, which he chose in London when Jane was with him. In fact, Lori weaves the personal details of Jane’s life and the details of her own past and present seamlessly in her exquisitely crafted journal.
We learn about the love the two elder Austens had for each other, and what a close-knit family they had created; how Henry championed Jane’s career and bragged about his sister’s authorship; how Edward waited just a tad long to invite his mother and sisters to live in Chawton Cottage; how close Jane felt to Anne Lefroy, who was 27 years her senior; and which character flaws Jane might have had in common with the spoilt and indulged Emma, whose picnic at Box Hill (below) resulted in Mr. Knightley scolding her for humiliating poor Miss Bates.
My favorite section in Part II is Lori’s description of the British Library. Its fascinating contents were a revelation on her part (See the previous post), especially the variety of rare and original manuscripts. This section of the books ends with Lori’s visit to Godmersham Park (below). She describes a horrendous journey on the A road that ended with the kind gesture of a cabby and a breathtaking view of Edward’s fabulous mansion. Lori’s next stop is Winchester, which begins the last part of the book. I can’t wait to read it.