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My Dear Charlotte: With the Assistance of Jane Austen's Letters Paperback – Nov 1 2010
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
First, there should be no mistake on the part of anyone investigating this book. This is not a book about Jane Austen. Instead, this is a book of fiction where portions of letters written by Jane Austen have been inserted into letters written by our letter writer, Elinor Cowper (pronounced Cooper)to her elder sister Charlotte Cowper. The additions from the Austen letters are not notated in any way so it is possible to read this entire book without being certain which portions come directly from Jane Austen. I have never read the Austen letters, but I believe I could spot some of the insertions - in some cases because they did not fit the ongoing narrative completely smoothly.
The book is made up of letters written by Elinor to her sister Charlotte who is, naturally, away from home for the entire length of the novel. They begin as descriptions of everyday common occurrences regarding family, domestic subjects, and friends and acquaintances in the neighborhood in and around Lyme. As time passes there is a death in one of the homes nearby and this turns into a mysterious happening which becomes the focus of all those within the community.
Even though the two sisters are called by different names, the similarities to the life and novels of Jane Austen are strongly represented in this novel. After a while I actually began to see these two women as Jane and Cassandra, even though I knew better. The writing style is very, very well done to remind the reader of the Austen books but the author was able to have Elinor act in ways Jane Austen did not. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. Even though it moved slightly slowly to begin with because of establishing the settings and characters, by the time I was halfway through the book I was constantly telling myself that I had time to read just one more letter, then just one more letter again, and then again. There are no chapter breaks in the book, instead you will simply progress from one letter on to the next letter. As a mystery this particular vehicle of the novel written in letters did not allow for quite as much investigation as I would have liked, but it is a satisfactory mystery none the less.
I highly recommend this book to all lovers of the world and life of Jane Austen. I also think it is important to read the Introduction written by Jan Fergus because she explains the insertion of various portions of the Austen letters. Now I'm ready to find and read the Jane Austen letters. I've always known that I should read the letters, this book has made me anxious to read them.
There is a good amount of Regency period detail included in the letters as well, but it is included conversationally and does not weigh the story down unnecessarily. There are tidbits about fashion, food, manners, literature of the day, etc so anyone with an interest in that time period would probably enjoy this work as well.
The plot itself is a bit of a murder mystery. A prominent lady in the Lyme social circle dies somewhat unexpectedly in spite of being a bit of a hypochondriac. Several characters are introduced who could have a motive for wanting her removed so the local justice of the peace is called upon by the deceased's brother to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death. The developments in the case are described to Charlotte by Elinor along with the details of everyday life during the Regency.
I would highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in Jane Austen, her letters, the Regency, and/or mysteries. It may also inspire those who haven't read her letters to do so.
I also found the painting of the two sisters used for the cover to be a lovely and fitting addition to this very cool book. Happy reading!
Set in the Regency England of Jane Austen, the story is told completely in letters from a young woman living in Lyme to her sister Charlotte, who is visiting Bath. Unfortunately, Holt simply does not share Austen's genius at making the minutiae of the sisters' lives not only intriguing but relevant to the story. The first quarter of the book is tedious lead-in and it didn't become any more interesting after the woman's death. I quit a third of the way through the book. Kindle formatting was fine and there were minimal spelling/grammar errors.
I was puzzled as to why there were so many positive reviews of this uninteresting book. It looks like most of the glowing reviews referred to the difficulty of incorporating actual letters of Jane Austen into newly-written material, and I will readily concede that it would have been quite a challenge, technically. But that still doesn't make it readable; these were letters that Austen did NOT intend to be part of a book. Austen herself wrote one book as a series of letters, Lady Susan, which held my attention even though the narrator is thoroughly unlikable. But Austen focused on the storyline in Lady Susan, as Holt did not in this book.