Jane Austen, the perennial puzzle.

Love & Loyalty by Jay Margrave,
Goldenford Publishers, ISBN 978-0-9559415-4-2
Price £7.99
Jane Austen is the patron saint of unrequited love. In the new book ‘Love and Loyalty’, Jay Margrave assembles a believable account, piecing together a possible love-affair which was used as the well-spring of the six completed novels.
In 1799 in the midst of England’s war with Napoleonic France, a young Jane Austen becomes involved with an injured French sea-captain, Tomas Priedeux. Her sea-going brother Frank has smuggled the injured man back to the house at Steventon. The story picks up energy as we are flung into the crisis of the war at sea and on land.
Taken behind the scenes at Steventon (“She was never sure how much the servants knew”) and privy to Jane’s thoughts -for once- this is history livened up with impeccable research. Snippets from the era are dropped in niftily. ‘A family tradition was recorded…. that on one of the summer holidays a mutual attraction had arisen between Jane and some unnamed gentleman who was visiting the sea coast, but that he had died suddenly before
he could return to become an accepted suitor.’ ( Jane Austen,The World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye p29.)
Observing the complex minuet of early nineteenth century relations between middle-class men and women, Tomas manages to deliver a proposal by page 61. Jane, on the other hand is already weighing up marriage and the problem of moving to live in France by page 47.
But from there on, Tomas and Jane are star-crossed lovers. However, this is not another claustrophobic drawing room-enclosed novel; there are vivid filmic scenes of shipwrecks and the tragic results of warfare. This is the men’s world that Jane knew from letters and newspaper accounts, as well as her own family’s involvement. Her favourite brother,Frank, also a captain, had left home to join the navy at the age of 12. Other men, however, were press-ganged into going to sea.
Sometimes a character has a great load of exposition to do as Mrs Austen, for instance, in: ‘Nor did I, descended from aristocracy as I am, expect to be assisting the housemaids.’ The romantic figure of Eliza de Feuillide, Jane’s cousin, swirls into the drama and threatens to run away with the entire plot, but her background intrigue smooths over some of the social difficulties.
Of course, this being the ‘life’ of Jane Austen and not the novel, Tomas dies at sea as the English raid his ship. Her mourning becomes the foundation of the written heroes she constructed – ‘they would propose and the couple would live happily ever after.’ This is the inner world that Jane Austen distilled in her works – ‘I believe she sits in the folly at the bottom of the garden, secretly writing. Although of course we all know she does it, but we pretend we don’t,’p57
‘Love and Loyalty’ gives anyone hungering for more the excuse to enter that world again and wander round, opening doors and watching people arrive, adding more complications.

(Taken from an October review in Link, the National Association of Writing Groups’ magazine)

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