Jane Austen’s Letters is the third edition of the original 1884 publication first compiled by Lord Edward Brabourne. What makes this edition superior to the others is the simple fact Deidre Le Faye put the letters in chronological order and had detailed notations on each letter (in the back-I wish they used footnotes!) along with a complete alphabetical listing of all the people mentioned or who received the letters. There is a fourth edition with a new preface by Deidre Le Faye, but no new letters no I am not certain is the newest edition is any better than this one. I found it fascinating to read the letters from one of my favorite authors. Jane Austen comes across as witty, much more sassy at times, and you can sometimes sense her frustrations at the limitations Society had imposed upon her. I know there is always much debate over the loss of a majority of the letters that were destroyed by Cassandra, but I think I understand why they may have been destroyed. Reading these letters, along with Le Faye’s other book, Jane Austen’s Country Life, I feel I understand why some were possibly destroyed. It seems there was little to no love between Jane and her brother James’ wife, who most likely convinced Jane’s father to give up his home to his son and move the family unexpectedly to Bath. Plus with Cassandra losing her fiancé, there were possibly many letters dealing with the grief and loss which Cassandra felt to be very private and personal. And I don’t begrudge the loss of some of these personal insights. There is enough in the existing letters to help paint the portrait of this author without knowing every personal detail of her life. We know more about Jane Austen than we do about William Shakespeare. So, for that, we should rejoice we even have this information. I do plan on purchasing this edition (or the fourth, depending on which one I can afford and which one is slightly cheaper). I think it would be an invaluable tool to anyone interested in Jane Austen or just in the daily lives of anyone living in the late 18th to early 19th Century.
Now, I feel I should first write a little bit about the nature of Young Adult Literature. Generally speaking, YA literature is written specifically for the 12-18 range group, yet many adults read these pieces as well. Not all YA fiction is going to have that broad appeal, but I’d say a little over half probably does. Now, I know people who think less of adults who read YA literature and I will happily point out to them that many of the best loved books of fiction are classified as YA in libraries and in bookstores (or on-line if that’s the way you prefer to shop). One example I love to give is The Hobbit. I first read it when I was seven, but I know people who didn’t read it until they were in their early twenties. Does this make it wrong? Absolutely not!
Another example is Sense & Sensibility. Yes, Jane Austen has some of her novels classified as YA fiction in most libraries. But many adults read Austen. I know I do. I tend to think of YA Literature as writing that is appropriate for teens (as in, they can relate to it, understand it), but this shouldn’t exclude any adults. I applaud anyone who can write a novel that has that major appeal. My own novel is more for adults and I am perfectly fine with this! Moving on…
I am a sucker for Faerie Tales. I love the originals like the Brother’s Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. I still love reading them because they are very dark, very Gothic (before it was a thing), very cruel morality tales. good and evil are not always so cut and dried in the originals and I have read some re-tellings that simply seem to be more Disneyfied than dark. This novel is nothing at all like the Disneyfied versions that are available out there. It’s so much better.
Beauty & the Beast is a very popular tale and has been retold countless times. I myself have written a take on it (3/4 finished when I was 23 and now I think i should go back and finish it). What’s fascinating is no one really writes it the same way (expect Robin McKinely, who’s rewritten the tale two or three times). We all have out own ideas of what a Beast is and what Beauty should be. In most stories, I don’t connect with Beauty. It’s hard to connect with a character that’s generally written to be practically perfect in terms of looks, manners, speech, hair, etc. She’s sometimes gifted with some extra ordinary talent like making any garden flourish, or being able to talk to animals. Beauty is always so superhuman she kind of makes me sick. This time, someone made Beauty HUMAN. With flaws, an attitude, and a disability. It was so refreshing to see someone with a physical limitation depicted in a good way. I have asthma and diabetes along with depression and anxiety. Asthma and diabetes can be physically limiting at times, so a heroine that can go prancing in the forest doesn’t connect with me. A heroine that acknowledges she has a limitation but refuses to be defined by it? Astonishing.
I read this novel in about three hours. I am a fast reader, but also the tale was so engaging, so well written, I didn’t want to put it down. I actually wished it was longer because the pleasure I had reading it was so short lived. I gave it five stars on Goodreads (but would gladly give it six if that were an option). Basically, if you like great storytelling that’s engaging, witty and well written, plus you like strong heroines and faerie tales, then A Curse so Dark & Lonely is a must read.