cover image Godmersham Park

Godmersham Park

Gill Hornby. Pegasus, $25.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-63936-258-5

The excellent latest from Hornby (Miss Austen) traces several years in the life of Anne Sharp, a friend of Jane Austen’s. In 1803, Sharp’s mother dies and her once affectionate father, Johnny, inexplicably drops off from contact. Anne, suddenly without a home at 31, seeks work as a governess, one of few professions open to women of her class. She finds a position at Godmersham Park, Kent, arriving there in 1804 to teach Fanny Austen, the 12-year-old daughter of Jane’s older brother Edward. Anne struggles with the job’s constrictions and the loneliness that comes from being considered neither gentry nor servant, which feels to her like living in “a small village set away from society, into which gossip from the capital arrived long after the event.” Fanny proves a bright pupil, but she’s confused by Henry, Edward’s younger brother, who makes his admiration for her plain despite being a married man. With Jane, an observant and intelligent single woman, Anne develops an enduring bond. Then Edward’s wife grows resentful of Henry’s affection for Anne, even as new information about the mysterious Johnny upends Anne’s beliefs about her past. Hornby’s skillful mix of fact and fiction captures the complexities of the Austens and their era, and her crisp, nimble prose sparkles throughout. Best of all, Hornby genuinely channels the sentiment of 19th-century English literature (“Oh, the pleasure of having someone with whom to share her best thoughts,” Anne narrates about Jane). Janeites aren’t the only readers who will relish this smart, tender tale. (Nov.)