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Jane Fairfax: The Secret Story of the Second Heroine in Jane Austen's Emma Paperback – March 15, 1997
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Emma Woodhouse and Jane Fairfax are the same age. People in the village of Highbury think it the most natural thing in the world that the two children would be great friends. There is the difference in their stations in life, of course, but still they could be playmates and provide company for each other. This does not take into consideration at all that the two girls are so very different in nature that being forced to become friends sends them each in completely opposite directions. While Mrs. Woodhouse is alive, Jane is perfectly content to be the little ghost who slips into the house to practice the piano and take lessons from Emma's piano teacher. When Mrs. Woodhouse dies in childbirth her will reveals that she has left a legacy for Jane and childish jealousies combined with grief turn Emma completely away from Jane. Soon afterward Jane leaves Highbury to go to London to live with ColonelCampbell, his wife, and their daughter Rachel. The remainder of Book One relates Jane's life with Rachel, her family and the friends they make as they are growing up.
Book Two begins when Jane returns to Highbury because Rachel and her family have gone to Ireland. From here on the story follows "Emma" except that all the happenings are seen from the perspective of Jane Fairfax. I really, really enjoyed the entire book, but especially this portion where I realized what an impact Frank Churchill and the residents of Highbury had on Jane. How mortified she was to be secretly engaged to Frank, very much against her will in the beginning, and have to see his interactions with Emma. How frustrated she became with Mrs. Elton's insistence on finding a governess position for her. How differently Jane viewed the ball at Highbury, how she suffered because of the gift of the piano from an unknown source. Quite frankly, I would have liked to kick Frank Churchill in the shins more than once.
This was a very good book. Don't let it fool you though. There may be only 252 pages, but those pages are filled with writing in the style of 19th Century authors and close attention must be paid to understand what the author is saying. Yes, there were some times when Ms Aiken unnecessarily (in my opinion) drew our attention to the "Austen" aspects of this book, i.e. a widow with few financial resources living in Bath in Westgate Buildings, but I just overlooked those obvious references. If there is one aspect of the book which I would criticize, it is the appearance of such incredible maturity of thought and speech for very young girls. In fact, if you try to skim this book, you will entirely miss when Rachel Campbell and Jane go from eight to eighteen. This book was written around 1990 which makes it one of the earlier examples of presenting a Jane Austen book from another viewpoint. I think this author did a very good job and I will certainly add this to my list of favorite Austen-esque literature.
Aiken's Jane Fairfax fleshes out the childhood histories of both leading ladies (Emma and Jane), and fills in the back story of their relationship and temperaments.
It is fascinating to read the story that takes place prior to the time period where 'Emma' is focused, but even more interesting to read the shifted perspective once the two storylines sync up.
Finally, the book is so well-written, so closely adhering to Jane Austen's own style, that you can convince yourself you are reading a long lost manuscript from Austen herself. And as the tale unfolds, and Jane's perspective reveals more of Emma's character than we even knew before, Austen's 'Emma' becomes an even better realized, more ironic, and wryer look at social folly.
I definitely recommend this novel to any Austen fan, particularly those familiar with 'Emma.'
From the first paragraph of "Jane Fairfax", I was enthralled. It is written like an Austen, and the heroine, Jane, becomes interesting. It is explained that she and Emma's lives are explicable entwined; Jane wears all of Emma's hand me down clothing, and the whole town knows it.
I have read tons of Austen sequels, and this novel is much more a retelling of Emma, rather than a sequel. This was well writen, and one of the better Austen immitations.