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A Walk with Jane Austen

June 16, 2009

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A Walk with Jane Austen was not the book I expected it to be. I expected it to be a travel log. And it was, of sorts. But it was really more like reading a journal that recorded a very personal emotional and spiritual journey.

The author, Lori Smith, is starting over. After years of experiencing fatigue from a virus with mono-like symptoms and working at a difficult job, she finds she needs to start fresh. Having quit her job to write full time, she goes on a trip to England to visit Jane Austen country. The story is a journey of what she finds along the way: an experience in love and a renewal of faith.

Smith weaves biographical Austen bits into her travel through England. She reflects on Austen’s life and novels, relating them to her own experiences and ponderings. She especially reflects on love and relationships both in Austen’s day and modern life. As a single woman who desires to find her own Mr. Darcy, Smith contemplates what makes relationships work.

Smith is very real about her feelings. The only downside is it can be a bit much at times. Sometimes the “woe is me” attitude can become tiresome. This was what was most complained about on Amazon’s customer reviews. I admit Smith at times depressed me with her insecurities, illness, and her own despair over not yet finding her soul mate. However, the book is meant to be about a very dark time in the author’s life. The thing is you’re not quite prepared for that when you pick up the book, so I think it comes as a bit of a surprise. One doesn’t associate Austen with melancholy. Maybe if it was called “A Walk with Charlotte Bronte” it would be more expected. However, I kept in mind that Smith’s personality is far more emotional than mine. Or at least she lives in that place longer than I do. Plus, she was suffering from physical ailments like I’ve never had so suffer, so keeping that in mind was helpful. And I realize that suffering physically heightens emotions and often makes us more easily swept away by them, especially the despairing kind. But I didn’t find that it made me want to put down the book.

Overall, however, I found the tone of the book hopeful. Her illness is finally diagnosed. She discovers the grace of God in simply being, not striving. And what does all this have to do with Jane Austen? At the end she tells us:

Jane taught me something about the value of an ordinary life–things I’m not sure I could understand before I was stripped of being able to do even the ordinary [due to her illness]. She did not want to be famous. She wanted to love her family and her friends, to live her faith rather than talk about it, to do good work and tell stories. . . . And this is the paradox, because this life–this loving your family and friends and doing good work and telling good stories life–may feel small, but it is far from ordinary.

It is the best life, the extraordinary life.

It was Jane’s, and I hope it will be mine.

I really enjoyed this book and found it honest and engaging. For those who enjoy memoirs and Jane Austen, I think you might like it too.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2009 6:46 pm

    I love this line:
    “Maybe if it was called “A Walk with Charlotte Bronte” it would be more expected.”

    — SJ

  2. Janice permalink
    June 17, 2009 1:19 am

    Thanks for the review…will have to check that out for sure. And I agree w/SJ: love that line.

  3. June 17, 2009 8:48 am

    Danielle, thanks for the review. I had heard the same thing about it being very personal (and at times perhaps too much so), as well as not what readers expected when they picked it up. But it sounds like overall you liked it — so I may have to read it! I’ve been aware of it for a couple years, just never took the energy to seek it out. 🙂

    • June 17, 2009 12:16 pm

      I did like it, overall. I think if you going into it bearing in mind how it’s been described, you won’t be taken aback, so to speak.

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