Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby

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Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Based on a true story as recorded by Fanny Austen in her daily journal, Godmersham Park is darker than Jane Austen's work but equally enjoyable. An excellent read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: June 2022
Publisher: Century
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1529125894

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If it were not for the casual dereliction of the odd gentleman's duty, there would no women to teach well-bred daughters at all.

Anne Sharpe was thirty-one years old when she arrived at Godmersham Park to take up the position of governess to twelve-year-old Fanny Austen. She had no experience of teaching but this was a case of necessity. Until the death of her mother, Anne had a comfortable life and was loved by both parents although her father was frequently absent from the household. When her mother died, her father cast her off and would have nothing more to do with her. No explanation was offered but she would receive an annuity of £35 a year. Her maid, Agnes, would receive nothing but was fortunately taken in by some neighbours.

The news came from Mr Jameson, her father's 'man of business' and was accompanied by an unwelcome and quickly-refused offer of marriage. And so it was that Anne found herself on 21 January 1804 in the hall of Godmersham Park feeling neither a guest deserving of especial courtesy, not a servant to be treated as a friend' by the other servants. She will share her room with Fanny who is one of eight children. Anne is hoping that she will be retained as governess for the other two girls, although the five boys will obviously be sent away to school. Without the £35 she receives from the Austens - and the room at Godmersham Park - she doesn't know how she would survive: behind every well-bred governess there was an absence of man. Dismissal constantly hovers on the periphery of the life of every governess.

It's an elegant look at the precarious position of many women in the nineteenth century. Fanny's father, Edward Austen was adopted by the Knight family and this was how he came to inherit Godmersham Park. His wife, Elizabeth, is secure but this is not the case for the other wing of the Austen family and its most famous member, Jane. They're almost itinerant and well aware of the niceties of how long they can stay with any particular host and how they must behave. It is, as Jane says to Anne, the female conundrum. Who will protect the unmarried woman whose chances of matrimony have faded into the distance? They're reliant on the goodwill of others once they can no longer teach, because of illness or old age. The story is deeply moving and thought-provoking.

The writing is exquisite. It has the feel of Austen but is certainly not a pastiche and some of the subjects touched upon are rather darker than Jane Austen would have ventured. I finished the book far too quickly and I would like to thank the publishers for letting Bookbag have a review copy. Our fingers are crossed for more!

If this book appeals to you, you will certainly enjoy Gill Hornby's Miss Austen.

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