~ Inspired by Actual Events ~ Fifteen-year-old Jane Austen dreams of three things: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling madly in love. When she visits her brother in Kent to celebrate his engagement, she meets wealthy, devilishly handsome Edward Taylor—a fascinating young man who is truly worthy of her affections. Jane knows a match between her and Edward is unlikely, but every moment she spends with him makes her heart race—and he seems to return her interest. Much to her displeasure, however, there is another seeking his attention Unsure of her budding relationship, Jane seeks distraction by attempting to correct the pairings of three other prospective couples. But when her matchmaking aspirations do not all turn out as anticipated, Jane discovers the danger of relying on first impressions. The human heart cannot be easily deciphered, nor can it be directed or managed. And if others must be left to their own devices in matters of love and matrimony, can Jane even hope to satisfy her own heart?
Syrie James is the USA TODAY and Amazon bestselling author of thirteen novels of historical, contemporary, and young adult fiction and romance, which have been published in 21 languages.
Los Angeles Magazine dubbed Syrie the “queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings.” Syrie’s novel “The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen” sold at auction to HarperCollins in a bidding war and became an international bestseller. Her passion for love stories and the paranormal led to her critically acclaimed and award-winning novels “Dracula, My Love,” “Nocturne,” and the popular YA series “Forbidden.” Her love of English historical romance led to her Amazon bestselling Dare to Defy series.
Syrie’s books have won numerous accolades and awards, including the national Audiobook Audie Award for Romance, and the Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association (“The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte”); Best New Fiction by Regency World Magazine ( “The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen”); Barnes and Noble’s Romantic Read of the Week and Bookbub’s Best Snowbound Romance (“Nocturne”). Her novels have received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, hit many Best of the Year lists, and been designated as Library Journal Editor’s Picks of the Year.
Syrie is also an award-winning screenwriter and WGA member who has sold or optioned numerous scripts to film and television. Syrie's successful adaptations of books to screen include the movie based on Danielle Steele’s bestseller “Once in a Lifetime."
In demand as a speaker across the U.S., Syrie is also a playwright whose work has been produced in New York City, California, and Canada.
I haven't read that many "romance" novels as of late, but it was so refreshing to read this historical fiction of Jane Austen and her first love, Edward Taylor. With Austen's love of life and adventurous side, this book wasn't smothered in romance but quirky and fun in addition to the excitement of courtship in the late 1700's.
This novel was written very well and although I received this book through Netgalley, I will more than likely buy the audiobook just to get swept away again with those lovely British accents of this time period. I highly recommend this book, especially for those who love Jane Austen novels.
The popularity of Jane Austen has grown exponentially over the decades. And it has become a well-known fact that the lady who’s still the undisputed queen of romance has a lot in common with this particular author. Simply put, where both women are concerned, their writing is exemplary.
Syrie James has long been a ‘giver’ to Austen fans everywhere, and with this new novel she takes them on a fun adventure back to the early days of Austen’s life. A girl not even old enough to come out in society, Jane is just finding that spark of imagination; that lightning rod of creativity, that she would hone over time to become a brilliant author.
Beginning with a letter found by her sister, Cassandra, Jane’s taken back to the first moment in her life when true love stopped her heart. At fifteen, a letter arrives at her home regarding her brother’s engagement and impending marriage. Edward requests that they all come and meet his future wife’s family. Once there, they will take part in a slew of events, including a ball. After convincing their parents that they must be allowed to go, Jane Austen embarks on the best time of her life: the Summer of 1791.
The family is walking into an extremely upper-class world and Jane can barely contain herself. Riding toward their destination, the carriage has a slight accident on the muddy roads and a hero suddenly arrives to help. Edward Taylor is an odd knight in shining armor. A handsome boy who loves a challenge, he is not exactly the type to deal with rules and regulations, and has misgivings for what his own future holds. But his interest in young Jane is clear.
The pomp and circumstance begins when the Austen clan reach their fancy destination, coming face-to-face with three sisters who seem to spend more time thinking about themselves and what they deserve than thinking about anyone else’s happiness. Unfortunately, Jane relies on the words and facades of the rich, and takes on the role of matchmaker to fix some things that may not be broke. Suffice to say, Jane has her hands full with a play, an error of judgment, and a love that fancies her, yet has another girl waiting in the wings.
This is so well-written that true Austen lovers will find themselves smiling at the ‘nuggets’ of famous works spread throughout the story. The matchmaker who cannot leave well enough alone: (Emma, anyone?) And even though Jane is still young, the beauty of emotions combined with a humorous atmosphere featuring a handsome daredevil, would make even the ultimate Austen hero, Mr. Darcy, extremely proud to have ended up being a part of his creator’s popular world.
And you can BET Jane Austen is somewhere smiling, extremely proud of the woman who sits at a computer and brings her - the woman, the author, and her magic - back to life. Syrie James is magnificent!
'Class-A’ writing is what this author always delivers, and this early Austen adventure is truly unforgettable!
TYPE OF AUSTENESQUE NOVEL: Austen-Inspired, Biographical Fiction
TIME FRAME: The summer of 1791, our beloved authoress is fifteen
MAIN CHARACTERS: Jane Austen, Cassandra Austen, Edward Taylor, Edward Austen, Elizabeth, Sophia, and Fanny Bridges
WHY I WANTED TO READ THIS NOVEL: So many reasons…but I’ll be brief – it is by Syrie James, an author who has written some of my most favorite novels including several magnificent gems about Jane Austen and her life.
SYNOPSIS: To celebrate the engagements of their two daughters – Fanny and Elizabeth, the Bridges family hosts a month-long house party and invite the Knights, the Austens, and other neighbors. Jane attends this house party with her older sister, Cassandra, younger brother, Charles, and their mother. It is there that Jane Austen has her first experience of love – not with Tom Lefroy, by the way!
WHAT I LOVED:
- Jane Austen at 15: Unlike other novels depicting Jane Austen’s life in her later years, this story shows us Jane Austen at the age of fifteen – a time where life was full of possibilities, romance, and pleasure. Like most fifteen-year-olds of her era, Jane Austen yearns to be out, to experience society, and attend all matter of parties, balls, and special outings. She does not have to face the many responsibilities, duties, or realities of her poor financial situation…just yet. I loved witnessing Jane Austen during this time period of her life. She had some silliness in her character, and is not as wise and proper as we see depicted in her later years, but I felt this portrayal accurate for an exuberant, romantic, and inexperienced young lady not yet out in society.
- Brilliant Characters: With a large house party involving several families and their progeny, there are many characters and personalities to keep track of in this tale. I found, as usual for Ms. James, all the characters were well-drawn engaging, and in possession of an assortment of quirks, foibles, and charms. I especially loved seeing how some characters showed small resemblances to some of Jane Austen’s future characters – following the theory that some of Jane Austen’s characters are inspired by people she knew and met in her real life.
- Full of Romance: Jane isn’t the only one falling in love in this tale. I loved seeing all the speculating, matchmaking, and flirtations. Of course, Jane and Edward’s were the most fun to witness! So many lovely scenes together, I can easily understand how Jane lost her heart to him so quickly. I also loved how Jane experimented with a little matchmaking! I really couldn’t predict how everything would turn out for all these young lovers!
- A Midsummer’s Night Dream: As a fan of Shakespearean comedies you cannot imagine my delight when I saw that the characters were going to produce and perform a home theatrical of A Midsummer’s Night Dream! I loved hearing all about the casting, rehearsing, and unexpected results of everyone’s participation in the play. Ms. James chose the perfect play to outline and echo the important themes of this novel.
- The Author’s Afterword: One of my favorite aspects about biographical fiction novels is learning how the author crafted the story from true events and people. Reading the Author’s Afterword for this novel made my jaw drop…I’m so very impressed and amazed with how much research, truths, and actual events/people were used as the foundation of this story. It is more than you would think! Big applause to you, Syrie James!
WHAT I WASN’T TOO FOND OF:
Part of the Conclusion: Definitely a minor quibble. Everything seemed to wrap-up and conclude rather quickly, and for me, the closure felt a little abrupt. However, that might be because I desperately did not want to see this story come to an end! :)
Imaginative, thoughtful, and expertly crafted – Syrie James has done it again! With her dexterous blend of truth, supposition, and fiction her stories creatively and beautifully render the life, romances, and secrets we all dearly wish Jane Austen to have had.
Syrie James confirms her skills as brilliant story-teller and creator of lively pictures of Regency life. Well-researched historical novel as well as delightful summer read, her new Jane Austen’s First Love is based on an imaginative interpretation of Jane Austen’s enigmatic reference to a “Him, on whom I once fondly doated” (from one of Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra). Intriguing matter for a talented researcher and passionate Janeite like Syrie James. When we think about Jane Austen’s first love, Tom Lefroy’s name comes soon to our minds. But Jane was twenty at the time of her flirt with the handsome Irish young man. Instead, the events narrated in Jane Austen’s First Love, date back to Jane’s teenage, when she was only 15, and the name of the boy whom she so fondly doated is Edward Taylor, heir to the Taylors of Bifrons. As she has already done in The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, Syrie James manages to create relatable characters, to mingle history and fiction in a credible, pleasant way, to remind us Austen’s irony and witty style without giving the impression of being mimicking. Her thorough research and deep respect for the authoress transpires from the pages of this lovely story of young love. The two young protagonists are so easy to love: smart, brave and witty teenage Jane – who is also the first-person narrator in the story - is enchanting , while devilishly handsome Edward Taylor is temptingly irresistible . He might well have been the inspiration for a Frank Churchill or a John Willoughby. Syrie James blends all the most typical of Austen main features – from balls to home theatrical performances, from wrong first impressions to awkward attempts at match-making - in a fresh and engaging new story, which is a real feast for any Austen fan. This book can’t be missing on your Austenesque shelf and would be a very special gift to young readers you want to initiate into Jane Austen’s world. It is a perfect YA read, since teenagers could easily relate to the main characters in the story. (1) “We went by Bifrons and I contemplated with melancholy pleasure the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.” (Letter to Cassandra Austen, 1796)
Loved this possible first romance with Edward Taylor whom Jane meets in Kent as her family and others are celebrating her brother's engagement. He has lived in several countries, loves to challenge the limits of many things, including climbing trees, and seems like a perfect partner for Jane, who attempts his dares. When rain ensues, everyone joins in the production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." However, nothing turns out quite like Jane images or thinks would be best for the various couples. The twists and turns keep the level of suspense up for the entire story. A must read!
The summer of 1791 was so firmly fixed in my memory that I believe I can never forget it; every detail is as fresh and vivid as if it occurred only yesterday, and looking back, there are times when it seems that my life never really began until that moment- the moment when I first met him. p. 1 Jane of Jane Austen's First Love
I was utterly enchanted at the idea of reading a story that retells even a portion of Jane Austen's earlier life that all began when the author spotted a curious sentence that Jane Austen penned in a letter to her sister Cassandra. So I picked up this speculative story and began. I hadn't given much thought to Jane in context of her surroundings, activities and her family during that time. I loved meeting her family including her parents, her younger brother Charles, her brother Edward and even her dear friend like a sister Martha Lloyd, but best of all spending good page time with her sister, Cassandra. It was a heady feeling perusing the pages of this story and engaging with Jane in her summer adventure into Kent where I met Jane's first love, but also the first glimmer of Jane Austen the novelist.
The story begins with the Austen family receiving a letter from second son, Edward, announcing his engagement to Elizabeth Bridges and extending an invitation for the family to journey into Kent to visit Elizabeth's Bridges family at their estate as they celebrate the engagements of their two eldest daughters with house party, ball, and other festivities. Jane is eager as a young girl not quite out in society and rarely traveled can be for this opportunity. Since it is family and friends, Jane is allowed to join all the activities including that of her first ball. This will also be a treat for her younger brother, Charles who will soon be leaving them to join the naval academy.
So into Kent, Jane goes and soon encounters the distinguished, handsome and accomplished Edward Taylor who impresses her with his lively demeanor, interesting conversation and superiority over the other gentlemen she meets. Edward Taylor has lived on the Continent since he was a small boy, gained knowledge through travel and is very accomplished for a young man of his age as a result. Now he is home to learn how to run the family estate and attend university. Being in Edward's company and even competing as a rival for his interest keeps her occupied, but not so occupied that she entirely oblivious to other goings on.
Jane sees herself as a student of human nature and observes all around her even as she participates in fun new experiences. She is a lively girl quick to say what is on her mind and impulsively act leaving her family to shake their heads over her. Cass is her closest confidante, but the two sisters see entirely different things when they compare notes about the people around them. Jane is enamored of Edward Taylor while Cassandra finds that his impetuousness is not attractive. Jane sees more than one star-crossed pair of lovers and gets up to a bit of Puckish match-making that has interesting results. Her visit draws to a close and she wonders if Edward Taylor feels as she does even as she prepares to return to her beloved family home with a new energy to write.
The gently-paced character-driven story is told first person from Jane's point of view and takes place mostly over the course of a month in the summer of her fifteenth year. I enjoyed the in depth work done to immerse the reader in the settings, society, dialogue and the life of Jane Austen in the late Georgian era. The attention to detail could have bogged things down, but it didn't. It is made interesting and sprinkled through the length of the story so it doesn't feel ponderous. For instance, the wearing of hair powder is turned into a humorous learning experience for a Georgian teenager longing to engage in the going fad. Her first ball seems exciting until she has the real fear of not being asked to dance. And daily activities and conversations detail what life was like and what people were thinking.
Speaking of people, the characters were amazing. The way they were so richly described, talked and acted felt pretty authentic and didn't contradict what is known about them in historical documents. They were three dimensional with heart and depth and not just caricatures. I loved the family moments with the Austens and because of several scenes and conversations, I actually considered what it was like for them to allow a son to be adopted into the upper-class so his future as a man of wealth and stature was secured and to allow two sons to go off as mere boys to the hardened world of the navy. The tender sisterly love and affection between Cass and Jane was so well written. Then there is the young authoress herself on her first venture into society. Jane is not written as this paragon of wit and keen observation that I imagine after reading her novels and letters. She is just a normal young girl- lively and vivacious like a Lydia Bennet sans the spoilt nature. She says things out of turn, does some impetuous things and makes some silly, but grave mistakes that she has to fix.
There were fun winks and nods to her later novels too. It was amusing to see facets of all her novel heroines in this version of Jane. Just like other characters in the story showed glimpses of other well known novel characters. This was a fun inclusion as were scenes that gave tribute to the novels- the strawberry excursion that could have come out of Emma, the disastrous play and the visit to a neighboring estate reminding me of Mansfield Park - all were familiar and I could imagine that this was how she came up with her ideas to put them in her novels.
All in all, I found this coming of age story told about a real life historical figure just a delight. I loved the tender hopes and dreams of first love and the engaging descriptions too. I would heartily recommend this one for Historical Romance and Fiction lovers from YA to adult, but particularly those who have a fascination for all things Jane Austen.
I was given my review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
The inspiration for Syrie James’ latest novel, Jane Austen’s First Love, was a single line Jane wrote in a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1796: “We went by Bifrons and I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.” The resulting novel is a beautifully written tale of 15-year-old Jane Austen falling in love for the first time in the summer of 1791 on a trip to Kent to celebrate her brother Edward’s engagement to Elizabeth Bridges. Despite knowing deep down that a match between herself and Edward Taylor, the heir to Bifrons — who has led a fascinating life on the Continent and even dined and danced with princesses — will never be, his intelligence, knowledge of the world, humor, and admiration of her impertinence make it impossible for her to resist him.
In this delightful novel, told from the first person viewpoint of Jane herself, James portrays Jane as a girl quick to fall in love, open with her opinions, and astute in her observations of human character and behavior. Early on, Jane says to her mother, “I write because I cannot help it,” and I loved picturing her sneaking in a few moments to write while her mother insists that needlework is more important.
What I loved most about Jane Austen’s First Love were the references to her novels, from misguided matchmaking attempts reminiscent of Emma Woodhouse and the similarities between Jane’s relationship with Cassandra and the bond between Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, to Jane’s insistence that love could overpower society’s expectations for marriage. Jane’s observations of the people she met certainly inspired the various characters she wrote, and James gives readers a glimpse of how that might have happened, and in her skilled hands, Jane’s family, friends, and acquaintances come to life on the page. James even includes an afterword where she explains her inspiration for the book, details the research she conducted, and points out which aspects of the story are imagined.
Jane Austen’s First Love is a satisfying novel that gives Jane the love story that many of us imagine she had. But more than that, it’s a portrait of a young woman who was ahead of her time in many ways, whose brilliantly composed stories and characters have stood the test of time. James shows Jane Austen as a normal teenager, with a desire to act older than her age, an impulsiveness that prompts her to make poor decisions, and a romantic nature that ensured she truly felt the things she wrote about. The few letters that survived provide the only glimpse we’ll ever really have of the real Jane, but James does such a fantastic job creating a believable inner narrative, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t actually inside Jane’s head reading her thoughts.
A couple of vague references by Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra about an Edward Taylor, and the Austen's visit to Kent when their brother got engaged, inspired this wonderful story by Syrie James.
When Jane's brother Edward, who has been adopted by their cousins the Knight's who have and estate in Kent, gets engaged to Elizabeth Bridges, Lady Bridges decides to have a month long celebration. The celebration will include strawberry picking with a picnic, a ball, and a bonfire on Midsummer's Eve. The Austen's have been included in the invitation so Jane, her mother, sister Cassandra, and younger brother Charlie head off to Kent to participate in the celebrations. On the way to the Bridges' their carriage gets stuck in the mud, and they are rescued by a neighbor of the Bridges', Thomas Payler, and his cousin Edward Taylor. Jane is instantly smitten with the dashing Mr. Taylor, and is ecstatic to find out that they will take part in the festivities as well. She falls more in love with him as they continue their acquaintance.
While at the Bridges' Jane has a chance to study a bit of society before she is officially out. She makes a few blunders, but actually learns a few things that help form her opinions for years to come, and become the basis for her novels.
Absolutely loved it! It was an adorable story. The book was very well researched, and the author's speculations about what "might have happened" were actually fun to think about.
A very tempting title, isn't it, for someone who loves Jane Austen? What could be more perfect for a novel? But if I had to sum up this book in one word it would have to be BORING. I kept waiting and waiting for this book to "kick in" and it just never did. It was dull from the first page. I mean - seriously? - a whole chapter for the party guests to decide they are going to stage a play? Another entire chapter devoted to coercing the lady of the house to allow them to stage the play?? It was as if the author had very little material to work with and was doing her utmost to stretch the book out so it would be a respectable length. Made for very tedious reading. Also, it was obvious Ms. James was trying to incorporate Jane Austen's novels into the story which only served to make it feel disjointed. Huge disappointment, not only to Jane Austen fans, but to any reader who enjoys a story told well.
I love Syrie James....not like I love Jane Austen but I still adore her. She's great at capturing Jane's voice that I feel like I've found another piece of Jane for awhile. My absolute favorite of Syrie's is The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen but I think that after reading this book, I prefer the older voice of Austen. I still really enjoyed this book though. It was nice seeing how a younger version of Jane might have been.
I had never read anything by this author before, though I know she has written stories focusing on the lives of authors such as Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, rather than their works. In the latest book by Syrie James the focus is on Jane Austen, aged fifteen.
One of Jane Austen’s brothers caught the eye of a rich relative and his wife, the Knights. As the Knights didn’t have any children, they took on Edward Austen as if he was their son and he became heir to their estate. This sounds odd to us, but in those days this wasn’t that unusual an occurrence. It would have been a wonderful opportunity for Edward to move in a higher level of society, and would have helped assure the safety of his siblings, as Jane’s father was a clergyman, and so when he died, his income would largely die too. In this story, told from Jane’s point of view, we travel to the summer that Jane was fifteen. Her brother Edward becomes engaged and the whole Austen family is invited to Kent to meet Edward’s prospective in-laws, the family of Sir Brook Bridges, which sounds like a made up name, but he really was called that!
Jane, her older sister Cassandra, twelve year old brother Charles and their mother set off to journey first to the Knights, where Mrs Austen is so affected by the travelling, that she stays there while the younger Austens go ahead to the Bridges’ house. Unfortunately, the carriage has a mishap and topples over into deep mud. Fortunately, there are some rescuers on hand – Mr Edward Taylor, seventeen year old heir to the nearby Bifrons estate and cousin to the Bridges. Jane immediately feels very attracted to the exciting and reckless Mr Taylor, and she looks forward to getting to know him better. There will be good opportunity to do this, as he, and his cousins the Paylers are invited to the Bridges’ home for all their events. One of the Payler brothers seems to be interested in Cassandra, but his sister, Charlotte, only has eyes for Edward Taylor, so Jane has a rival for his affections.
Edward Austen’s betrothed, Miss Elizabeth Bridges is one of a large family. Jane and her family also get to know Elizabeth’s siblings, including the sisters closest in age to her. Fanny, the eldest sister, got engaged hot on the heels of her sister and is upfront about her practical, bordering on mercenary, reasons for marriage. Sophia, the sister next in age to Elizabeth has similar interests to Mr Cage, Fanny’s betrothed, which leads Jane to wonder whether he has chosen the wrong sister to marry...
This was an interesting glimpse at the type of events and entertainment that took place at house parties in the late 1700s. There are a number of nods to Austen’s works, which of course were nearly all still unwritten at this point in her life, both in the events occurring and the verbiage used – there is even a ‘fine eyes’ reference, plus things like this wonderful quote from Northanger Abbey:
“It seems that a young lady, if she has the misfortune of knowing anything should conceal it as well as she can.”
Due to the bad weather the young people decide to put on a play, which is one of the things that happen in Mansfield Park, although thankfully the play chosen is less scandalous than ‘Lover’s Vows’. One character’s comments on his role this really reminded me of the blockish Mr Rushworth. Also, Jane’s pride in her matchmaking skills also reminded me of another matchmaker – a Miss Woodhouse who had more confidence in her abilities than was deserved!
As we all know, Cassandra burnt a lot of Jane’s letters after Jane’s death, and the Austen family were careful how they presented Jane’s image, but if you’ve ever read any of the letters that remain you can see (although you’d assume it from her novels anyway) that Jane Austen was an avid watcher of people and their relationships, delighting in the absurd and quick to judge – Elizabeth Bennet didn’t get those qualities from nowhere! There were a number of comments and thoughts made by Jane in this that I thought seemed to be in her voice or reflect views that, to my understanding, she held, such as her view that one shouldn’t marry without affection:
“To conceive of living forever with a person one could neither respect nor admire! It seemed to me a crime against morality and humanity.”
However, at other times the voice didn’t ring true for me – it was little things, such as when Edward Taylor was introduced his appearance was described in some detail, which is not something I'd usually associate with Austen's usual way of writing, as she usually describes people quite sparingly, although I accept that she may have used a different style writing for herself than she would have done in a novel. Some of the word usage seemed a bit too modern as well, such as the repeated use of the words fiancé and fiancée, which date from after Austen’s lifetime.
One thing I wasn’t sure about was the depiction of Jane’s character. She’s only fifteen in this story but sometimes she really is quite foolhardy and lacking in propriety which doesn’t really tie in with my view of her. Some of her behaviour had a shade of the ‘Lydia Bennet’ to it, and from how she judges Lydia in Pride & Prejudice I don’t see her as being that type of person at that age. I also felt a little melancholy reading this story. It isn’t a melancholy story, any more than any other story which looks back at a person’s youth, but knowing things that happened later in Austen’s life meant that you had some idea of how the story would end. Actually, the end was more uplifting than I was expecting, bearing this in mind. I liked what Jane learned about herself during her stay, and the encouragement she took from the stay towards pursuing her writing goals.
“For the first time, I felt that I had a direction: a path or plan which might lead to me improving my skills as a writer. I determined from that moment forth to follow it.”
A touch I enjoyed was that during Jane’s stay she even writes a story that you can read in her juvenilia. I don’t know whether this story was really inspired by her stay in Kent or whether it’s part of the fiction of this book. The blurb says that this book is inspired by real events and there is a section right at the end which helpfully makes clear which parts are known and which parts imagined. Overall, I would say that this is something unusual in the world of Austen-inspired fiction, and it's worth a read. I certainly enjoyed it!
*My thanks to the publishers, Penguin Group for allowing me to have an e-arc copy of this book from the publishers, via Netgalley, for my honest review.
Jane Austen’s First Love is historical fiction, fleshing out a little-known incident from Jane Austen’s teen years. At fifteen, she met a boy named Edward Taylor, a little older than she, and was bowled over by him. Nothing came of the brief romance, but Jane Austen remembered it poignantly in later years.
From this thin thread Syrie James has woven a vivid and convincing story. The author’s historical note at the end sheds valuable light on the additional research that was digested and transformed to spin this tale (but spoilers abound—don’t read the note before you finish the novel!). To the best of my historical understanding, the 1790s world James evokes is accurate and richly conveyed. The book would work well as a straight historical coming-of-age novel, even without the Jane Austen connection to pique my interest.
In fact, that the heroine was Jane Austen was the one factor that kept me from absolutely loving this book. In the early going, James has portrayed her as a typical teenager—impatient to grow up, heavily influenced by fashion, and awed by her first (possibly) exposure to the lives of people in grander circumstances than her own family’s. That portrayal was necessary to the author’s plan for the arc of the character’s development, but it was not a Jane Austen I would recognize. I felt that even though she was new to the world of the wealthy, she would have bent on it a more satirical eye. By that age she had education enough to be able to critique what she found at Godmersham and Goodnestone and Bifrons. Also, the biographical nature of the plot meant that I knew from the start how things would end, which kept me at a slight remove from the story. The brief frame narrative had the same effect.
Still, when the ideas and politics of the day did enter the picture, they were well handled and very interesting, without overwhelming the emotional thrust of the story. In general, I was impressed with the author’s mastery of the world she was depicting; this is no flimsy romance in a ballroom. James also writes the Austenese lingo very well, too, though there was the occasional slip (true of my own attempts at writing Austenese as well, so I can’t cavil at that). One quibble about the language: it was not necessary to invert all the first-person pronouns in the dialogue—“said I,” “remarked I,” “repeated I.”
I did not fall into the story so far that I suspended all critical faculties, but I did go happily along on the journey and was touched, amused, and moved by the characters and events. This is Austenesque fiction of a very high order, and the author deserves all her success.
NOTE on my star rating system: I rate books within their genre, not in absolute terms; so the fact that I would rate both Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen’s First Love as five-star books does not mean that I place them on the same level in the realm of literature. Pride and Prejudice is rated against great fiction in English that I have read; Jane Austen’s First Love is rated against the other Austenesque novels I have read.
In true Austen style, Syrie James weaves together a tale of a fifteen-year-old Jane in her new story, Jane Austen’s First Love. Inspired by a letter written by Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra, and some true events, Syrie's imagination creates a lovely picture of when Jane first meets Edward Taylor, someone whom just may have been Jane Austen’s First Love.
With the news of Edward Austen’s engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane, Cassandra, Charles and Mrs. Austen are off to Kent to join in the celebrations. First to Godmersham Park, the estate Edward is to inherit, and then on to Goodnestone Park, the estate where Elizabeth lives. Numerous activities, house parties and an Engagement Ball are planned for the coming weeks. Jane is very excited about this as she is not out yet, but will be able to attend the ball! And so Jane’s adventure begins…
On the way to Goodnestone Park, their carriage becomes stuck in the mud, and whom might her rescuer be? Edward Taylor! Jane’s first meeting with him is a swoon-worthy moment indeed! Learning he will also be included in the upcoming activities and Ball, Jane is delighted to find she will frequently be in his company. Not only does Jane fall in love, but she is challenged by Edward to see the world differently, to not be swayed by popular opinion but to be true to herself.
“He challenged me to try things which I might never otherwise have attempted, helped me to view the world a bit differently, and taught me the importance of thinking for and believing in myself.” p. 378
I liked seeing how Jane’s life is shaped by this visit. She learns valuable lessons about people and relationships, and that maybe she should not judge people too quickly. I loved seeing people who looked familiar. People from whom Jane might someday use as characters in her stories.
I found the beginning of the story a bit slow, but once Jane begins her match-making scheme I was all in! I loved it! When the rains began and they were all stuck inside, Jane smoothly convinces everyone into putting on the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She subtly suggests parts for the couples she thought belonged together. Not everything goes as Jane hopes and she finds herself in a spot of trouble. Quite possibly dashing some hopes of her own.
I really enjoyed Jane Austen’s First Love! It may have been a fictional story of a fifteen-year-old Jane, but she is as inquisitive and adventurous as I imagined her to be! I would highly recommend it to all Jane Austen fans!
FTC Disclaimer: I received an paperback of the story from the publisher for my honest review.
Jane Austen's First Love is aptly titled--James has created a fictional story about how 15-year old Jane Austen, a lively, big-hearted, and clever young lady, falls in love with the equally lively and dashing Edward Taylor. Edward lives near the Bridges family in Kent that Jane's brother Edward is about to marry into. As luck would have it, Jane's parents allow her, her sister Cassandra, and younger brother Charles to spend several marvelous weeks in the summer at the Bridges's palatial home--essentially giving them free reign to dance, romp, picnic, and flirt their time away as part of the pre-nuptial festivities.
With shades of Mansfield Park hovering over the story, Jane spearheads a plan for all the young folk gathered to do a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream. With shades of Emma Woodhouse coloring Jane's personality, Jane's objective is to play matchmaker, including making a match for herself...with the marvelous Edward.
As you might imagine, Jane's well-laid plans go awry and things don't work out as she imagined. What I liked about the story and James's portrait of a very young Jane Austen is that she acted her age--she was young and full of life and not pedantic--but her heart and sense of ethics were solid. She learned from her mistakes, was humbled, and grew in self-awareness and compassion. I love to think of the author I've loved for so long as developing from this sweet, intelligent girl.
Kudos to Syrie James for creating a lovable, believable heroine in Jane Austen as a teenager. Jane Austen's First Love is a delightful antidote to the January doldrums and I can recommend it highly.
3.5 Stars. I have to start out by saying that I'm not too familiar with Jane Austen, I've only read one book of hers which was 'Pride And Predjudice' which I picked up after enjoying a movie adaptation of said book, however of her personal life I pretty much know nothing, so when the opportunity arose to review this book I was intrigued enough to give it a go, being a fan of historical romance's worked in this book's favor as well.
While this is fiction it's based on true events, helped along by letters written by Jane all those years ago, I've also come to discover that the author is a Jane Austen officiando, so who better to write a book about her younger years, especially as this is not the first book she's written about Jane.
We are taken back to 1791, Jane was fifteen and this was the year she would meet and fall in love with Edward Taylor.
Travelling to Kent with her family to celebrate her older brother's engagement is where she meets Edward for the first time, surrounded by wealth and privilege, her time here will leave a lasting impression that will stay with her for the rest of her life, and just maybe gave her the ideas to come up with the stories she was so famous for.
This is the story you never knew you wanted to know,
For all of you Jane Austen buffs this is one book you need to get your hands on.
Syrie's writing gives you the feeling that you're there with Jane, experiencing everything with her, a fascinating look into the life of one of the greatest authors who ever lived, who still leaves an impression today all these years later of the work she left behind.
Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James takes readers back into Jane Austen’s teen years, between the time she is a young girl free to play and the time she comes out and becomes a woman. While her sister Cassandra and she share everything and every confidence, there are some tender emotions that are too new and sacred to share right away — that of a first love. Jane Austen is 15 when she is given an unprecedented opportunity to attend a ball and a month of festivities in Kent to celebrate her brother Edward’s nuptials before she comes out to society. Things are not all that they seem to a young girl who longs to be out with her sister and share in all the activities Cassandra does. James paints a picture of Austen that is lively and young, as she enthusiastically takes on challenges before her — to prove herself not only to others but to herself — and enjoys every event set before her.
At the age of fifteen, Jane Austen spends a summer holiday with her elder brother at his fiancé’s home in Kent. Five families come together to celebrate the upcoming nuptials and along the way many, including Jane, discover much about love and relationships. There she meets a young man who both exasperates and thrills her, leading her to learn life lessons that greatly encourage and influence her writing.
Edward Taylor is, as the author has considerately detailed in her notes, a real person in Jane Austen’s life, for she mentions him in correspondence to her sister, Cassandra. Facts cleverly meshed with a pleasant series of youthful summer pursuits set the background for this fanciful tale, complete with a rendition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Austen fans will quickly notice tidbits inspired by her novels—you could say it’s very much the essence of Emma and Pride & Prejudice, but with a host of new characters to enjoy.
I really enjoyed this imaginative tale about the kind of teen Jane Austen might have been. I had no intentions of finishing it today, but somehow (due to good writing I'm sure) I just continued to read and all of a sudden I was done. This was the first book I have read by Syrie James, and am now anxiously looking forward to reading more. She made the characters of Jane, Cassandra, Edward, and all of their family & acquaintances come vividly to life. I do wonder if Jane would've been a daredevil, but I can totally see her imagining herself quite the matchmaker. I like how this novel was created from lines in her actual letters. I admire Jane Austen immensely, both as a writer & a person, and love reading good books that create stories for her, the storyteller. :)
It's a testament to this book to note that I read it in 5 days. An impressive fact given my reading habits lately.
Syrie James is a good writer and her story sucked me in. The notes at the end explaining the facts that are known about Jane Austen's first love made it all the more exciting for me. Having only read Pride and Prejudice I can't call myself an obsessed fan of Austen (yet) but I thought this book was so interesting.
I suppose fiction "insipred by actual events" will always be fascinating to me.
The flow of the book was wonderful, the writing was easy to fall into, and the characters were lovable. It was a very enjoyable read and I'll have to check out James' other work.
Also must say that I loved the cover. I need to read more books like this one.
The novel takes you back to the early days of Austen’s life and the fictional first love – and possibly lasting impressions made - on this young Jane. For you see this story evolved from an actual written quote! Be sure to check it out!
This was a delightful read. I found this to be a thoroughly researched, well crafted story. Jane's early years were really brought to life and the insight into her supposed first love was beautifully executed.
For someone who practically devoured every single Jane Austen novels in record time, I’ve never really been interested in reading her biography. My knowledge of her background is pretty much limited to her choice to be a single woman until she died. I did, however, see Becoming Jane; a movie about Jane Austen’s supposed love affair with the consummate bad boy, Tom Lefroy. I’ve always considered her to be a feminist way ahead of the times. And this is based on her characterization of Elizabeth Bennet. I also thought that if anyone would know what she wants in a man, Ms. Austen would be the type of person who would not shy away from voicing her desires.
Syrie James’ book – which, coincidentally is based on true events – tells the story of a pubescent Jane who fell in love with one Edward Taylor. But when you’re an intellect and quite set in your ways (like Jane), you’ll begin to question the authenticity of your feelings. And in so doing, you’ll then try to distract yourself by playing the matchmaking Cupid to those around you. I’d say hilarity ensues, but as in the case of another Austen character, Emma, you would be left feeling a bit annoyed; though generally amused.
As you dive into this story, you will notice several parallels to her novels. Art imitating life; imitating art. It’s not that hard to follow. Some events sound eerily familiar, especially to those who’ve read her novels. But if there’s one thing that made me feel like standing up in a huff of objection, it’s the way Jane seemed to be easily taken in by the splendour of the riches. She also complained (a bit too much for my taste), of not being able to join in the festivities – balls, if I may – simply because she wasn’t “out” in the society yet. However, I soon realize that I’m reading about Jane herself and not Elizabeth Bennet; that I’ve entrapped myself in a confusion of my own doing.
This Jane Austen is fearless, fierce and adventurous. Tomboy-like, almost, but only when a challenge is put upon her. This Jane Austen is also boy-crazy! But only for one particular boy; this Jane Austen speaks her mind, to the point that she’s sometimes offensive. Her frankness, though admirable for the era, needed some finesse. Blame it on the innocence of her youth, or the building block of a strong-headed (okay, stubborn) personality, but her candour sometimes made me twitch.
It is so nice to see this Jane Austen, though. She’s so young, and yet a very determined woman already. She doesn’t back away from anything (see fierce). Edward Taylor is no Mr. Darcy – in such a way that he wasn’t cantankerous when he first met Jane. Edward is actually, the opposite of Darcy. He returns her affection. If there’s one thing you could take from this book review, it’s to try and separate Austen’s characters from Austen’s real-life relations. Otherwise, you might find yourself a bit out of sorts.
Despite the initial pitfalls, Syrie James showed us exactly why she’s the resident expert on everything Jane Austen. This woman lives and breathes lost journals and publications relating to Austen. It is no wonder that she continues to make an almost perfect recount in every single Austenesque novels. If you’re a fan, you must check out all the books that she’s written so far.
In September 1796, Jane Austen wrote in a letter that she has passed by the estate of Bifrons, "the abode of him, on whom I once fondly doated." "Him" is Edward Taylor and Syrie James has taken this mysterious nugget and spun a tale of fifteen-year-old Jane Austen and her first crush in 1791.
Seventeen-year-old Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons, makes a favorable impression on the young Jane when he and his friend Tom Payler stop to rescue Jane, Cassandra, and their brother Charles when their carriage becomes stuck in the mud. Edward is cosmopolitan, cultured, educated, good-natured, and handsome, all qualities perfectly designed to entrance an intelligent, ambitious, and sheltered young woman. Their paths cross frequently with all the fêtes, balls, and visits held in honor of Jane's brother and his fiancée (and her sister and that sister's fiancée, who got unexpectedly engaged....). Jane also sharpens her powers of observation (and her tongue) by observing the self-aggrandizing, unimaginative Lady Bridges and her daughters, the gregarious Sir Brook, various other neighbors, and, frustratingly, Miss Charlotte Payler - Tom Payler's younger sister and Jane's rival for Edward Taylor's affections.
Syrie James effortlessly captures the sweetness of teenage crushes - the uncertainty, the wish to impress, jealously, and the sudden certainty that, yes, this person above all others is destined to be your one-and-only. But readers know, simply by the introduction to the novel, that this teenage love is destined to be bittersweet. Jane herself tells us that she "once" was fond of Edward Taylor and James does a remarkable job giving the reader an engaging romantic plot while staying true to the biographical history of her very famous protagonist.
In addition to the marriage plot(s) Janeites and sharp readers will delight in picking out lines, scenes, and characters that James has borrowed from Austen's novels. Sir Brook is an analogue to Sir John Middleton, from Sense and Sensibility. Lady Bridges is a bit like a more-aware version of Lady Bertram from Mansfield Park. Jane horses around by climbing a high wall to impress Edward Taylor, much like Louisa does to impress Captain Wentworth in Persuasion (don't worry, Jane is quite all right). She even suffers from a combination of Elizabeth Bennet's prejudicial first impressions and Emma's blind but well-meant match-making. These are lovely distractions from the separation we know comes at the end of the novel.
(Thanks to Laurel Ann @Austenprose for the invite to the blog tour and copy of the book)
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Jane Austen's first love? Gimme gimme gimme. #GrabbyHands
Was DYING to read this book and it did not disappoint. Special thanks to the folks at Berkley Trade for FINALLY approving me to read the ARC after much pestering. You guys rock!
I loved the way the story progressed. The buildup to the romance was perfect. I particularly appreciate that this piece felt original. Instead of beating us over the head with Austen tropes (So and So is Mr. Darcy--not that I don't LOVE that) we saw subtle hints at her future work. This is definitely the first original piece of fiction about Austen's life I've truly enjoyed. It was fun to imagine a young Austen playing matchmaker and making so many mistakes. Jane really grew up that summer--her journey and said growth was delightful.
"Jane Austen's First Love" is incredibly romantic without violating the customs from the time period (as so many others often do) and incredibly well researched. I love that Ms. James respected the history and still managed to spin a compelling tale. It's the buildup and tension that make Austen so timeless and fun to read over and over again. A stolen glance is hands down more romantic and exciting than a kiss--sadly that would've ruined a lady of that time. But still... swoon...
Can you tell I also loved Becoming Jane? Enjoyable as that one was, I'd fare to say this one was probably a bit more in line with the times. ;)
All of that being said I do have one big criticism. I am not familiar enough with Austen's texts to know if this was accurate or not, but some of the stylistic language didn't always work for me. "Said I" was used a LOT and it constantly felt inconsistent and a bit stilted. The way the rest of the novel was written, it would have flowed a bit more easily without some of the affectations. Not gonna lie: I found it rather distracting... Sounded like Yoda, it did!
If you like Austen, I'm pretty confident you'll enjoy this. Really want to read more Austen stories from Syrie James. She's good people!
"We went by Bifrons and I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure the abode of him, on whom I once fondly doated."
I love how Ms. James has taken a small tidbit of information from Jane Austen's life, researched it completely and found further details to provide us with the 'possibility' of a first love for Ms. Austen. I was drawn in within the first few pages and was captivated completely.
We get a glimpse into her childhood, as she is only fifteen, and what may have happened upon the visit to her brother, Edward's, engagement party. Most of the characters are real individuals Jane had met with only a few thrown in to further the plot. What I enjoyed most of all was Jane's growth and development within this story. I saw elements of Catherine Morland, Emma, Elizabeth Bennet, Marianne and even Lydia in her. Cassandra, her sister, was the wiser older sister to Jane who had Elinor, Jane Bennet and even Fanny Price portrayed within her character.
The month long visit to the Bridges estate and her first encounter and reaction to Edward Taylor, has made a profound impact on Jane Austen.
"When he was near, at times my heart did not beat to it's regular rhythm..."
By incorporating elements of each of Jane's books into this story, Ms. James has given us a possible glimpse into Jane's own experiences that may have provided a wealth of information for her to go on to write her novels. I found this element very plausible.
Oh the pangs of one's first love and the jealousies it arouses along with worries of whether or not you have understood their meanings or looks correctly. The lack of confidence in yourself compared to one who appears more confident and proficient. All of these elements are beautifully conveyed.
It's funny though, I wasn't a complete fan of Mr. Taylor. I found him to have a touch of Mr. Churchill with the charm of Mr. Wickham, the worldliness of Mr. Crawford and the impulsiveness of Mr. Bingley! However, others may see someone else! One of my favourite lines from Mr. Taylor is:
"It is wonderful," continued he, "when one's truest passion is not something which has been forced upon you by your family, but something unique and particular which you discover for yourself."
I love Ms. James writing and highly recommend this book. My all time favourite is "The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte"!
Syrie James has quite the reputation as the queen of romance and I just want to know how I have never been introduced to her books before? After reading this four hundred page book in a day and a half, I feel that I should dive quickly into all her others. She brought Jane Austen to life for me like no other author ever has. Are you familiar with those books that make you lose track of time and forget that you haven’t stopped for dinner? This is one of those books. The writing was marvelous and the characters were just as real as you and me. I have now gone to Goodreads and marked every single one of Syrie James’s books. And according to all the reviews I have read on her other titles, I will not be disappointed with any of those either.
This is the story of the most incredible summer of Jane Austen’s life: the summer of 1971. At the beginning of the novel, Jane receives a letter that recalls to her mind a very pivotal moment between her and the person she remembers as her true love. Jane’s family is to journey to meet her brother Edward’s future wife and her family. Jane is overwhelmed with joy because she if just so happy to be able to get out of their stuffy house for a while. Cassandra, Jane’s sister, and Jane herself convince their parents that they must be allowed to stay here for the summer and Jane is just beside herself with all the luxuries, riches, and fine young men that lie in her path. Edward Taylor is the first one she meets on her exciting journey and it is obvious to see that he is quite smitten with our young Jane Austen.
Austen lovers will NOT be disappointed with this book. I thought it was all so well-written and very true to what we know of Jane’s character. I was so impressed with how easily the author was able to place me in the time period and make me feel like I belonged. I would sit down right now and read this entire book again; it was that good! Not only did I love this book but it inspired me to go and pick up one of Austen’s books from my shelves and begin rereading. I think any book that can do that deserves to be read over and over again!
***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Berkley in exchange for my honest review***
I won this book from a Goodreads, first-reads giveaway. I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with a copy.
This is my first book by Syrie James so I didn't really know what to expect. I have all the Jane Austen books but have not read them yet. I know! It's horrible of me. I really enjoyed all the movies and I love the era. I really enjoyed this book!
You get 15 year old Jane Austen and her hurry to grow up. This is her story reminiscing, about her first love, Edward Taylor. She goes back in time and tells you this story that just sucks you right in. All the details about the time period make it easy to make the picture come alive. This whole book was inspired by a letter that Jane wrote to her sister, inspired by true events. James does a great job writing this story on how Jane meets Edward. He might have actually been her first love.
Jane undertakes a lot throughout this book. Not only is she falling in love for the first time, she starts to meddle in other's love lives. She starts to push certain people towards each other, not realizing she has no idea what she's doing. What she thought is actually the opposite of what's happening. In the end, she puts fixing her mistakes before her own wishes. You see how she realizes her faults. When she has to leave without saying by to Edward, it makes her latch onto him even stronger. Years pass and she's still head over heels for him. Her sister tries to tell her that it may seem like he's the one for her but it doesn't mean it is so. Later, when she sees him, she realizes how true her sisters words were.
It reminds me of when I was a teenager and I would be sure that I had just met the person I was going to marry. How in your mind you are so in love and there's no one else. It's just crazy how when you mature, you realize how wrong you are.
I really liked this book and I will get on reading my Austen novels soon!
As a big, fat Austenite, I love reading novels written by the well-loved English novelist, but in recent years, I have also begun enjoying all the spin-offs, mash-ups, sequels, and semi-autobiographical material that has been released. This novel is inspired by actual events in Jane Austen’s teen years, and offers up plausible sources of inspiration for her wonderful writing which continues to delight readers to this day.
It’s an interesting look at a headstrong young woman, finding love for the first time, as well as the push to concentrate more on her writing, offering it up to a wider audience than just her immediate family to enjoy. I found this representation of her to be entirely believable and this little glimpse into her formative years is both fun and fascinating. At a time when women were entirely dependent on the men in their family for any kind of social standing, or a living of any kind, Austen struck out and earned a living with her wit and her winning way with words.
Many of the characters from Jane Austen’s established novels, as well as the plots for some of them, can be seen as having their seeds sown in this summer of social engagements surrounding the engagement of her elder brother. It’s a nice, knowing little nod for those of us who are familiar with these works, but is unobtrusive and as subtle as her own subplots.
This is a must-have addition to any Austenite’s collection, and will provide several sublime hours of entertainment in the reading, which will linger long after the last page has been turned.