Parson Austen's Daughter
by Helen Ashton


         Review by Lynn Lamy, 29 July 1998
I am the kind of person who hates not to finish a book.  I have finished reading even the worst of
books (some of them for this review page!).  But I could not finish this book.

I had looked forward to reading this fictionalized account of Jane Austen's life, as I had not yet
read a biography, and I thought this would be a fun way to read about her life, rather than her
works.  If
it were written well, then perhaps it would have been a fun way to read about her life, but it was
not particularly well written.

Helen Ashton starts out innocently enough, with Cassandra as her narrator, describing stories her
of her childhood and growing up.  Before long, however,  the narration becomes belabored with
history of what was going on in the world at that particular time in Jane and Cassandra's lives.
When the man Cassandra is engaged to goes to war, this is an important part of the story.  Later,
however, it is harder to see how the history has bearing on the day to day life of Jane Austen.
While it was important to know what is happening to her brothers while they are in the navy, the
particulars that Ashton gives (or perhaps makes up, after all this is a fictional account) are not
interesting.  Each story about other characters becomes a story in itself, and take up too much
time from hearing about Jane herself.  Many of Ashton's descriptions of people in Jane's life are
taken right from her books.  Tom Lefroy is described with lines from Pride and Prejudice
written about Darcy.  Jane herself is described with her "petticoat six inches deep in mud."  The
comment from Emma about Jane Fairfax's hair, ("outré") is said about Jane herself.  While these
things could perhaps have been true, it was jarring to hear these lines out of context.

It is possible that this is a faithful narrative of Jane Austen's life.  It is possible that the author
wrote the book in such a way that the reader was supposed to feel like he or she had been there
living through the same things as Jane, but I did not feel this way.  I felt only that the story was
going nowhere very quickly, and I lost interest very rapidly.  As I said, it is uncommon for me not
to finish
a book, but I could not bring myself to finish this one.  It was boring.  It pains me to say it, but
there it is!  I obtained this book relatively easily on interlibrary loan, so if you come across it in
your travels, give it a try.  I won't be insulted if you disagree with me.  But I cannot recommend
that you buy the book sight-unseen.