Gentle readers, One lucky U.S. reader is eligible to win a copy of Syrie James’s latest book, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen! (See below) Contest Closed: The winner is - Lilyane Soltz. Congratulations!
The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, Syrie James
In the Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, author Syrie James attempts a plot device that often trips up even the most experienced authors -a novel within a novel. Samantha McDonough, librarian and Jane Austen scholar, stumbles upon a clue in an old book of poetry she purchased while on a visit to England.
The minute I saw the letter, I knew it was hers. There was no mistaking it: the salutation, the tiny, precise handwriting, the date, the content itself, all confirmed its ancient status and authorship…
This letter leads her on a quest to find a missing manuscript by Jane Austen. Her journey lands her on the doorstep of handsome Anthony Whitaker, who has just inherited his estranged father’s rundown estate. By virtue of her charm, grit, and determination, Samantha persuades a skeptical Anthony to rummage around dusty rooms, cupboards, and closets and his attic until, voilà, they miraculously find a manuscript entitled The Stanhopes and that consists of 41 tiny hand-cut and bound booklets. (The Watsons, Jane’s unfinished manuscript, is made of 11 similarly bound booklets.)
Anthony and Samantha immediately begin to read Jane’s long lost words, and, like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, the pair are instantly swept into the story of Rebecca Stanhope and her father, a rector with a propensity for mild gambling over a friendly game of cards. His vice sets off the plot, which is based on Jane’s hilarious Plan of a Novel. In short order, the rector loses a great deal of money with which he has been entrusted and then is forcibly retired from his living. Now destitute, Mr. Stanhope and Rebecca (a sweet heroine in the vein of a slightly feistier Jane Bennet or more mature Catherine Morland) must move from place to place – from the rectory to a married daughter’s cramped house, to an elegant abode in Bath, to a seedy inn, and so forth. Along the way, Rebecca receives three proposals, one that is almost as ridiculous as Mr. Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth, and two more serious ones from two suitors who are as different from each other in temperament and intent as, well, Henry Crawford and Edmund Bertram or Willoughby and Colonel Brandon. The road to a romantic union is rocky, and along the way both heroines (Rebecca and Samantha) must learn some harsh truths about themselves and others before they can be united with their heroes.
As the story develops, the reader will recognize a number of plot developments and characters based on those in Austen’s novels. Since the missing manuscript was written early (1802) and before Jane published her books and rewrote Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice for publication, one can assume that this manuscript is meant to be a foreshadowing of the mature novels. Syrie James, a strong writer in her own right, is smart in setting Jane’s lost manuscript so early in Jane’s writing career. Austen’s Juvinilia includes melodramatic twists and turns, evident in Northanger Abbey (when Catherine Morland is forced to leave the Abbey alone in the middle of the night) and in The Stanhopes, when Rebecca must find employment in the most unusual and creative way in order to feed herself and her father. The reader should also assume that the manuscript, having been lost before Jane could fully edit and revise it, was found in its “raw” stage. This would explain any stylistic differences between the lost manuscript and Jane’s later works (and, more practically, between Syrie’s and Jane’s writing styles as well).
I won’t give too much of the plot away, except to say that I was more interested in the Stanhopes than the modern Samantha and Anthony story line. (I believe I had the same preference with Jane Odiwe’s Searching for Captain Wentworth, in which I liked the time travel to the past more than the contemporary narrative.) Syrie’s novel is filled with historically and geographically correct details, which I always appreciate in a novel set in a foreign country or in the past. As an interesting aside, one of Samantha’s friends in the modern world is Laurel Ann, a bookseller. Who could it be, I wonder? (Hint: Austenprose.)
Insights into Jane Austen’s World
Syrie, who I met at the Brooklyn AGM meeting and whose Regency costumes are varied and fabulous, graciously sent me some interesting details about one of Jane’s letters to Cassandra, and how one should handle an old manuscript:
I don’t know if it’s strange or funny, but while re-reading Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra, I was fascinated to find the following mention of a “shut-up bed”:
Martha kindly made room for me in her bed, which was the shut-up one in the new nursery. Nurse and the child slept upon the floor, and there we all were in some confusion and great comfort. The bed did exceedingly well for us, both to lie awake in and talk till two o’clock, and to sleep in the rest of the night.
I take this to mean that a “shut-up bed” is what we now call a Murphy bed, or a bed that folds up and away by day into a piece of furniture. I happily put this information to use in The Stanhopes.
Here’s one fact that surprised me: I presumed that when my modern day characters found Jane Austen’s centuries-old manuscript, they’d have to wear latex gloves while handling it. (That was previous my experience when reviewing precious, old documents.) However, Christine Megowan, the Special Collections Librarian at Loyola Marymount University, explained that none of the conservators she knows wear gloves to handle old books and paper, because they don’t fit well and are clumsy. As long as your hands are clean and you work gently, she said, the oils on your fingers don’t do all that much damage to paper—you’d do far more mechanical damage by fumbling with latex gloves. I put that quote directly into the novel.
If you are interesting in reading similar insights from Syrie, click on the links to her blog tour!
About Syrie James:
Syrie James is the bestselling author of eight critically acclaimed novels, including The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, Dracula My Love, Nocturne, Forbidden, and The Harrison Duet: Songbird and Propositions. Her books have been translated into eighteen foreign languages. In addition to her work as a novelist, she is a screenwriter, a member of the Writers Guild of America, and a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She lives with her family in Los Angeles, California. Connect with her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
Follow Syrie’s Blog tour in these links:
- Austenprose: The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen Book Launch
- Jane Austen in Vermont: Guest Post and Giveaway
- My Jane Austen Book Club: Syrie James Discusses Why Jane Austen Captures Her Writing Imagination
- Austen Authors: Syrie James celebrates The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen -–book launch and giveaway!
- Historical-Fiction.com: Syrie James on Her Writing and Travels
- RT Book Reviews: Syrie James Channels Jane Austen
- Fresh Fiction: Syrie James | The challenges of the writing process
- Risky Regencies: How Did You Research The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen?
- Austenesque Reviews
About the book:
- Kindle Edition $9.99
- Paperback $10.20
- Audible Audio Edition, Unabridged $23.95 or Free with Audible 30-day free trial
- Reading level: Ages 18 and up
- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Berkley Trade; Reprint edition (December 31, 2012)
- ISBN-10: 0425253368
- ISBN-13: 978-0425253366
About the book giveaway for The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen:
For your chance to win a copy of Syrie’s latest book, let us know how you would feel and react if you stumbled across a long lost Jane Austen document! Contest open to U.S. readers only. Drawing by random number generator. Deadline, January 23rd, 2013, midnight EST. Contest Closed: The winner is - Lilyane Soltz. Congratulations!