An American librarian discovers a never-published Jane Austen manuscript.
Samantha has accompanied her cardiologist boyfriend, Stephen, to London. While he attends a medical conference, she explores the environs of Oxford University, where she had pursued a doctorate in English literature before abandoning her studies to care for her dying mother. While browsing in a musty bookstore, Sam comes across a volume of poetry which contains an unfinished letter that her practiced eye (she’s now a rare-books librarian) identifies as having been written by Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra. The letter mentions an early manuscript, circa 1802, which the then-unknown future authoress had mislaid at a Devonshire country house called Greenbriar. Anthony, a venture capitalist and the latest heir to Greenbriar, is happy to help locate the manuscript, particularly if its auction proceeds can save Greenbriar from creditors and fund his own startup. The manuscript, entitled The Stanhopes, is found in a secret compartment, and Sam and Anthony sit down to read the novel in its entirety, along with the reader. The Stanhopes is a very passable Jane Austen facsimile, with believable period locutions, much shorter sentences and more melodrama. (It would, after all, have been Jane’s first novel.) The plot details the fortunes of a village pastor, the Rev. Stanhope, whose wealthy patron casts him out of his parish, home and livelihood on a charge of gambling away church funds. When Stanhope is supplanted by the patron’s own nephew, the reverend’s clever, beautiful and musically gifted daughter, Rebecca, correctly smells a rat. Nevertheless, until his innocence can be proven, father and daughter must embark on an itinerary of exile during which they are reduced to relying on the at-times-dubious charity of close or distant relatives. This richly imagined Jane Austen “road novel” is such a page turner that the frame story, with its obvious but far less dramatic parallels to Rebecca and Stanhope’s plight, seems superfluous.
A standout addition to the crowded archive of Austen homages.