2016 Grateful 32: Stephanie Barron

I’m not stupid. I mightn’t have the greatest mind God ever created, but I’m not stupid. I might do stupid things occasionally, and even say stupid stuff, but I’m not stupid. What I am is gullible.

I’ve stopped reposting Facebook stories because they usually turn out to be hoaxes – credible hoaxes but hoaxes nonetheless. I double-check the genre stamp on books I read to be sure that they are fiction and not true stories. And I usually ask for a second opinion in matters of any importance.

But Stephanie Barron – you got me.

I was given a series of books as a gift some time ago and am only now getting around to reading them. In the first, Barron explains how she’d been asked to edit a collection of diaries by Jane Austen that had lain undiscovered in an old manor in Maryland for years and years and years. In her Editor’s note, she writes of how she’d visited her friends, the Westmorelands,  at Dunready Manor, as they were renovating. She gives details of the renovations and the work that led to the discovery of the fragile yellowed papers penned by Jane Austen, ‘a distant relative of the Westmoreland line’. She even tells of discussions about donating the manuscripts to the Johns Hopkins University and how the Bodleian Library in Oxford was also in the running. She had me from the git-go.

I read the first  – Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor – and from the opening lines I was convinced I was reading Austen.

When a young lady of more fashion than means has the good sense to win the affection of an older gentleman, a widower of high estate and easy circumstances, it is generally observed that the match is an intelligent one on both sides…

Like Barron, I have little trouble believing that had Jane Austen been alive today, she’d be a right up with there with the best detective writers going. Her incisive brain, her wit, her independent streak, and her caustic commentary on  life all make for great observations and even greater stories. She was one smart lady.

I laughed out loud. I bookmarked. I underlined. Again and again, I marvelled at the choice of words and the wit. The Editor’s notes remind me of Jasper Fforde’s in his Thursday Next series – they both educate and enlighten. Not alone was the first book a great read and an excellent piece of detecting, it filled yet another gap in my history – the whole French/British thing of the early nineteenth century.

But Barron wasn’t editing original Austen diaries; she was channelling the words of the great lady herself. Or so she says. I don’t know what to believe any more.

So, one down. A second started. And eleven more to go. What’s not to be grateful for? If I don’t return your call or show up for lunch or dinner, I’ll be out with Jane doing a bit of detecting.


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