- Title:Godmersham Park: A Novel of the Austen Family
- Author:Gill Hornby
- Genre:Historical Fiction, Biographical Historical Fiction, Austenesque
- Publisher: Pegasus Books (November 1, 2022)
- Length: (416) pages
- Format: Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook
- ISBN: 978-1639362585
- Tour Dates: October 24 – November 13, 2022
A richly imagined novel inspired by the true story of Anne Sharp, a governess who became very close with Jane Austen and her family by the #1 International bestselling-author of Miss Austen.
On January 21, 1804, Anne Sharpe arrives at Godmersham Park in Kent to take up the position of governess. At thirty-one years old, she has no previous experience in either teaching or fine country houses. Her mother has died, and she has nowhere else to go. Anne is left with no choice. For her new charge—twelve-year-old Fanny Austen—Anne’s arrival is all novelty and excitement.
The governess role is a uniquely awkward one. Anne is neither one of the servants, nor one of the family, and to balance a position between the “upstairs” and “downstairs” members of the household is a diplomatic chess game. One wrong move may result in instant dismissal. Anne knows that she must never let down her guard.
When Mr. Edward Austen’s family comes to stay, Anne forms an immediate attachment to Jane. They write plays together and enjoy long discussions. However, in the process, Anne reveals herself as not merely pretty, charming, and competent; she is clever too. Even her sleepy, complacent, mistress can hardly fail to notice.
Meanwhile Jane’s brother, Henry, begins to take an unusually strong interest in the lovely young governess. And from now on, Anne’s days at Godmersham Park are numbered.
- “This is a deeply imagined and deeply moving novel. Reading it made me happy and weepy in equally copious amounts…I read it straight through without looking up.”— Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Bookclub
- 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. Janeites aren’t the only readers who will relish this smart, tender tale.”— Publishers Weekly, starred review
- “…a well-written and delightfully observant novel…an excellent read.”— The Historical Novel Society
Anne Sharp, who had enjoyed a comfortable life before the death of her mother, suddenly finds herself in search of a job after her father shows her to the door. In one interview with a shady lawyer, she learns her father is cutting her allowance to the bone and evicting her from her home. A job interview is suggested, and she arrives at Godmersham Park as the governess of Fanny Austen, daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Austen. Anne’s position is a tough one, as she is not considered part of the family or truly a servant, and has no real support group to call her own. When she meets Fanny’s aunt, Jane Austen, a fast friendship is formed.
I was struck at once by the writing talent of Gill Hornby. Anne’s arrival at Godmersham Park and her uncertainty there are described beautifully: “First impressions are wont to linger and, as yet, she knew nothing of these people and what might offend them. So she stood still and patient upon the black and white chequered floor, like a small pawn on a chessboard.” This is the perfect description of Anne’s time at Godmersham Park, as she was always wary of offending both the family and the servants.
I was caught up in the novel immediately, as Anne was informed of her loss of income and change in status by an unscrupulous lawyer, but that part of the story was not really explored to its fullest. Since this is historical fiction, I would have liked the author to give us some real closure there. Anne’s time at Godmersham was fairly short, as she only spent two years there. The best parts of the book were her interactions with Jane and the glimpse into the Austen family dynamics.
The two-year period at Godmersham was not the happiest time for Anne, and while this is an intriguing book, it is not cheerful or uplifting for the most part. The friendship with Jane and the interactions with Fanny are the bright spots in this book. Elizabeth, the mistress of the house, comes across as unsympathetic and almost cruel, especially when she sends Anne for barbaric “treatment” for her headaches. As someone who has suffered migraines, I was furious when Elizabeth forced open the curtains in Anne’s room, insisting that the light would make her feel better. It drives home the truth that servants in those days were often not allowed to have feelings or express complaints to those considered above their station.
Godmersham Park also reminds us of the plight of women two hundred years ago. If they did not marry, they were at the mercy of their fathers or brothers, and had no real rights of their own. If they did marry, they basically belonged to their husbands. This is beautifully written, true to the period historical fiction. And because it is true to the period, it is definitely not all sweetness and light. At the same time, it provides a window into Anne’s friendshp with Jane Austen, and shows how kindred spirits can recognize each other instantly.
In the author’s note, we learn that Anne found some success after leaving Godmersham Park. I would have loved that to have been a part of the book.
I received a free copy of this book from Pegasus Books via Austenprose PR. My review is voluntary and the opinions expressed are my own.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gill Hornby is the author of the novels Miss Austen, The Hive, and All Together Now, as well as The Story of Jane Austen, a biography of Austen for young readers. She lives in Kintbury, England, with her husband and their four children.