In this second installment of a “what if” trilogy, Jane Austen experiences the wonders of marriage.
Hemingway’s (The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: Volume I, 2015, etc.) sequel picks up after Jane’s wedding to the fictional Ashton Dennis. On the homefront, Jane enjoys marital bliss— including a robust sex life—and the difficulties of running a large estate. Despite a few missteps, she eventually has the downstairs staff and her judgmental mother-in-law under control. And happily for Jane and Ashton, they soon find themselves getting ready to welcome a new baby into the fold. While Jane wrestles with the ramifications of her marriage and impending motherhood (particularly a loss of time to devote to writing), Ashton focuses his money and attention on the wonders of technology. Letters between Ashton, Jane, and her sister, Cassandra, detail conversations and experiments involving railroads, high-efficiency stoves, gaslighting, and textile ventures. While these conversations are largely positive, the more complicated pieces of communication involve slavery and the abolitionist movement. Jane and Ashton find themselves drawn into the fray, and their ultimate commitment to helping end the slave trade in England jeopardizes their investments and friendships. Hemingway continues to present a well-researched work of historical fiction about the esteemed Austen. The letters Hemingway presents include historical figures such as the abolitionist William Wilberforce, as well as details about politics, society, and technology in early 19th-century England. Yet the missives are also emotionally satisfying, as they reveal glimpses into the very plausible thoughts and feelings of the characters. The strongest aspects of Hemingway’s story involve Jane and her struggles to reconcile her new identity as wife and mother. Unfortunately, the accounts of science and politics can drag on too long and ultimately detract from Jane’s storyline. Though Jane sets aside her writing and has a baby, there is not much tangible action moving the plot forward. Hemingway seems to be largely laying the groundwork for the final book in his trilogy. Readers will likely be hoping for more adventures and more about Jane in Volume III.
Despite sweet moments and intriguing historical insights, this fictional tale about a beloved novelist lacks an action-packed plot.