Gill Hornby,

Miss Austen

Review posted to NetGalley, February 2, 2020

literary fiction

A novel about Cassandra Austen and her famous sister, Jane.

This compelling novel tells the story of the first guardian of the Austen legacy: Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister. Through letters and memories, the elderly Cassy looks back on her life with Jane and discovers that she did not know her sister as well as she has always assumed. Hornby boldly takes on Jane Austen’s voice and shows the literary giant as a loving aunt and sister, concerned for the well-being of those around her and wishing for their lives to be uncomplicated and pleasant.


The characters are deftly drawn in these pages. The reader may feel sympathetic toward Cassy, as she misses one chance after another at happiness, but Cassy’s determination in carrying out the mission she has set for herself keeps her from being only a pitiable character. Other members of the Austen family and the Fowles family, the surviving relatives of Cassy’s long-dead fiancé, may drift into caricature on occasion. Because the point of view is firmly Cassy’s, however, even the oversimplified portrayals of sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, would-be lovers and bosom friends have their own charm.


The world of the Austens seems like someplace Hornby has walked; the people, the places, the sights and sounds and events transport the reader to the simpler world in which Cassy lived, first as a joyous young woman surrounded by people who understood her, and later as an elderly woman in failing health looking back at the many roads not taken. In stitching together events separated by months, years, or even decades, Hornby creates a complex tapestry of the life of a woman who would have been forgotten if not for her most famous relation.