Monday, June 22, 2020

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, a delightful post-WWII exploration of Austen's legacy and themes

Natalie Jenner’s debut novel, which I had the opportunity to read via Edelweiss last fall, is now a Canadian bestseller, which doesn’t surprise in the least.  It ticks many boxes for the historical fiction genre, with its focus on the works of a beloved author and its post-WWII English setting – and its strong appeal to fans of book-club favorite The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  

More than that, though, it’s an uplifting balm of a read about people working together to achieve a worthy common goal.

The gently charming story takes place in Chawton, the Hampshire village where Jane Austen lived at the end of her life. Beginning in autumn 1945, a group of individuals from various walks of life are drawn together to form a literary society to celebrate and preserve the memory of their favorite author.  

Among the lively cast are Hollywood actress Mimi Harrison, a longtime Austen devotee; pregnant war widow and former schoolteacher Adeline Grover; Dr. Benjamin Gray, Chawton’s longtime general practitioner; and shy farmer Adam Berwick, who was first introduced to Austen by Mimi on her visit to Chawton years beforehand. At this time, Chawton has no museum dedicated to its most famous resident, and the Great House and cottage owned by Austen’s family are in the hands of distant descendant James Knight, an elderly man not known for his generosity. His socially withdrawn daughter, Frances, knows his character all too well.  As such, the makeshift group’s need to serve as joint caretakers of Jane Austen’s legacy becomes pressing.

author Natalie Jenner
The characters have their own Austenesque dramas to attend to, as nearly all have endured thwarted romance or other emotional losses. While readers of Jane Austen's work will delight in spotting the parallels to individual novels, the novel can easily be enjoyed by newcomers as well.  The beautiful country setting of Chawton (population 337) makes for a lovely escape, too, and helps us remember how thoughtfulness and amity can be kindled in tranquil places.

The Jane Austen Society was published by St. Martin's Press in May in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook (narrated by actor Richard Armitage). 

This review is part of the author's blog tour; see Austenprose for their review and for the additional tour stops.

About the author:

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of The Jane Austen Society, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.


  1. A book that has got enthusiastic reviews all over the blogs. Thanks for this review.

  2. I've been seeing that too. Thanks for your comments!

  3. Lovely review, Sarah. I enjoyed TJAS too.

  4. Thanks, Laurel Ann - it was a posting of yours that enticed me to pick it up initially!