Friday, October 28, 2022

Book Review - Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby

My Review

Godmersham Park is a historical novel set in the early 1800's. It tells the story of Anne Sharp, a governess who went to work for the Austen family (Jane Austen's nieces and nephews) and became close to Jane Austen.

I wanted to read this novel because I love Jane Austen's books.  I had not heard of Anne Sharp before, and was fascinated to learn that she was a real person and this book is inspired by fact.

Anne Sharp is introduced as a woman who is suddenly in reduced financial circumstances and found herself seeking governess work.  She traveled from London to the countryside, to Godmersham Park, a beautiful estate. The estate is owned by Edward Austen (brother of Jane Austen) and his wife Elizabeth. They have a large family, and Anne is put in charge of the education of their eldest daughter, Fanny.

Anne struggles with her place in this new life - not part of the family or society, but also not a servant.  She is somewhere between, and that is an uncomfortable place. She has a bright, lively mind and loves to read and write (plays).  She also has frail health, with frequent, debilitating headaches.

As Anne settles in, growing attached to her young charge Fanny, her life changes when she meets two more Austens.  Henry is the charming young brother of the family. He has an immediate spark with Anne, but his attentions are unwanted because she feels they will damage her position with the family.  She eventually (later in the book) meets Jane Austen, and they become immediate friends.  Her attachment to both Henry and Jane effect her life - and her position as governess.

The story started a bit slowly for me but as Anne settled in at Godmersham Park, I found myself reading more quickly because I was eager to see what would happen next.  It became even more interesting as Henry, and especially as Jane, were introduced. 

I loved the depiction of Jane Austen in this book - bright and sensitive, but also lively and full of good humor. The scenes between Jane and Anne were the highlight of the novel for me.

Godmersham Park was a fascinating read, and I recommend it highly for fans of historical fiction -- and especially for anyone interested in the life of Jane Austen.

Book Synopsis

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 of 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.



Author Bio

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.