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Hidden in an old chest in her brother's attic, Jane Austen's memoirs are uncovered after hundreds of years, bricked up behind an old wall. Written shortly before her death, one volume was preserved immaculately, and its contents both shocked and thrilled readers. Detailing a love affair the author was apparently determined to keep secret, Jane's memoir offers readers untold insights into her mind and heart. Many rumours abound about a mysterious gentleman said to be the love of Jane's life--finally, the truth may have been found.
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen
Why I feel the sudden urge to relate, in pen and ink, a relationship of the most personal nature, which I have never before acknowledged, I cannot say. Perhaps it is this maddening illness which has been troubling me now and again of late—this cunning reminder of my own mortality—that compels me to make some record of what happened, to prevent that memory from vanishing into the recesses of my mind, and from there to disappear for ever from history, as fleeting as a ghost in the mist.
Whatever the reason, I find that I must write it all down; for there may, I think, be speculation when I am gone. People may read what I have written, and wonder: how could this spinster, this woman who, to all appearances, never even courted—who never felt that wondrous connection of mind and spirit between a man and woman, which, inspired by friendship and affection, blooms into something deeper—how could she have had the temerity to write about the revered institutions of love and courtship, having never experienced them herself?
To those few friends and relations who, upon learning of my authorship, have dared to pose a similar question (although, I must admit, in a rather more genteel turn of phrase), I have given the self-same reply: "Is it not conceivable that an active mind and an observant eye and ear, combined with a vivid imagination, might produce a literary work of some merit and amusement, which may, in turn, evoke sentiments and feelings which resemble life itself?"
There is much truth in this observation.
But there are many levels of veracity, are there not, between that truth which we reveal publicly and that which we silently acknowledge, in the privacy of our own thoughts, and perhaps to one or two of our most intimate acquaintances?
I did attempt to write of love—first, in jest, as a girl; then in a more serious vein, in my early twenties, though I had known only young love then;1 in consequence, those early works were of only passing merit. It was only years later that I met the man who would come to inspire the true depth of that emotion, and who would reawaken my voice, which had long lain dormant.
Of this gentleman—the one, true, great love in my life—I have, for good reason, vowed never to speak; indeed, it was agreed amongst the few close members of my family who knew him, that it was best for all concerned to keep the facts of that affair strictly to ourselves. In consequence, I have relegated my thoughts of him to the farthest reaches of my heart; banished for ever—but not forgotten.
No, never forgotten. For how can one forget that which has become a part of ones very soul? Every word, every thought, every look and feeling that passed between us, is as fresh in my mind now, years later, as if it had occurred only yesterday.
The tale must be told; a tale which will explain all the others.
But I get ahead of myself.
It is a truth (I believe, universally acknowledged) that, with few exceptions, the introduction of the hero in a love-story should never take place in the first chapter, but should, ideally, be deferred to the third; that a brief foundation should initially be laid, acquainting the reader with the principal persons, places, circumstances and emotional content of the story, so as to allow a greater appreciation for the proceedings as they unfold.
Therefore, before we meet the gentleman in question, I must go further back to relate two events which occurred some years earlier—both of which altered my life, suddenly and irrevocably, in a most dreadful and painful way.
In December 1800, shortly before the twenty-fifth anniversary of my birth, I had been away, visiting my dear friend Martha Lloyd. Upon returning home, my mother startled me by announcing, "Well, Jane, it is all settled! We have decided to leave Steventon behind us for good, and go to Bath."
"Leave Steventon?" I stared at her in disbelief. "You cannot mean it."
"Oh, but I do," said my mother as she bustled happily about the small parlour, pausing to study the pictures on the wall with a look of fond farewell, as if making peace with the thought of leaving them all behind. "Your father and I talked it over while you were gone. He will be seventy in May. It is high time he retired, after nearly forty years as the rector of this parish, not to mention Deane.2 Giving up the post, you know, means giving up the house, but your brother James will benefit by it, as it will go to him; and as your father has always longed to travel, we thought, what better time than the present? Let us go, while we still have our health! But where we should go, that was a matter of great debate, and we have at last come to conclusion that it should be Bath!"
My head began to swim; my legs crumpled under me, and I sank heavily into the nearest chair, wishing that my beloved sister was there to share the burden of this distressing news. Cassandra, who is three years older than I, and far more beautiful, is possessed of a calm and gentle disposition; I can always depend on her to rally my spirits in even the worst of situations. But she was away at the time, visiting our brother Edward and his family in Kent.
"Jane!" I heard my mother cry. "Why, I believe the poor girl has fainted. Mr. Austen! Do come help! Where are the smelling-salts?"
I had been born at Steventon, and had passed all the happy days of my life there. I could no more imagine leaving that beloved place than I could sprout wings and fly. I loved the trellised front porch of the parsonage house, the perfectly balanced arrangement of sash windows in its flat front façade, and the unadorned, white-washed walls and open-beam ceilings within. I had grown to cherish every elm, chestnut and fir which towered above its roof, and every plant and shrub in the back garden, where I strolled almost daily along the turf walk, bordered by strawberry beds.
Excerpted from Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.