Hello, Book Dragons! Today I would like to welcome you all on my stop of the Blog Tour for The Jane Austen Society By Natalie Jenner. And I would like to share an extract from the book, with all of you. Please do show some love to all the wonderful book bloggers on this blog tour by following and sharing their work. 🙂
Genre: General Fiction
Release date: 28 05 2020
Price*: Kindle £6.99 (GBP)/ Hardback £20.99 (GBP)
Kindle $13.99 (USD)/ Hardback $16.19 (USD)
Pages: ~ 320
You can get this book here:
Description of the book: It’s only a few months since the war ended but the little village of Chawton is about to be hit by another devastating blow. The heart of the community and site of Jane Austen’s cherished former home, Chawton estate is in danger of being sold to the highest bidder.
Eight villagers are brought together by their love for the famous author’s novels, to create The Jane Austen Society. As new friendships form and the pain of the past begins to heal, surely they can find a way to preserve Austen’s legacy before it is too late?
And there may even be a few unexpected surprises along the way…
He lay back on the low stone wall, knees pulled up, and stretched out his spine against the rock. The birdsong pierced the early- morning air in little shrieks that hammered at his very skull. Lying there, still, face turned ﬂ at upwards to the sky, he could feel death all around him in the small church graveyard. He must have looked like an effigy himself, resting on top of the wall, as if carved into permanent silence, abreast a silent tomb. He had never left his small village to see the great cathedrals of his country, but he knew from books how the sculpted ancient rulers lay just like this, atop their elevated shrines, for lower men like himself to gaze at centuries later in awe.
It was haying season, and he had left his wagon in the lane, right where it met the kissing gate and the farm ﬁelds at the end of old Gosport Road.
Huge bundles of hay had already been piled up high on the back of the wagon, waiting for transport to the horse and dairy farms that dotted the outer vicinity of the village, stretching in a row from Alton to East Tisted. As he lay there, he could feel the back of his shirt damp from sweat, even though the sun was pale and barely trying; at just nine in the morning, he had already been hard at work in the ﬁelds for several hours.
The multitude of ﬁnches, robins and tits suddenly quieted down as if on command, and he closed his eyes. His dog had been on guard until that moment, looking out over the mossy stone wall at the sheep that dotted the ﬁelds below, just past the hidden ha- ha that marked the perimeter of the estate. But as the farmer’s laboured breath became deep and rhythmic with sleep, the dog took his own cue and lay down beneath his master in the cool dirt of the graveyard.
He jolted awake at the voice now resonant above him. A lady’s voice. An American voice.
Sitting up, he swung his legs down from the stone wall to stand before her. He looked at her face quickly, glanced at the rest of her, then just as quickly looked away.
She appeared to be quite young, no older than her early twenties. She wore a wide-b rimmed straw hat with an indigo- blue ribbon tied about it that matched the deep blue of her tailored dress. She looked quite tall, almost the same height as him, until he realised she was wearing the highest pair of heels he had ever seen. In one hand she held a small pamphlet, in the other a black clutch purse – and around her neck hung a tiny cross on a short silver chain.
‘I’m so sorry to disturb you, but you’re the ﬁrst person I’ve met all morning. And I’m quite lost, you see.’
As a lifelong resident of Chawton, population 377, the man was not surprised. He was always one of the first villagers up and about in the morning, right behind the milkman, Dr Gray on his more pressing rounds, and the postman doing his pickup from the local office.
‘You see,’ she repeated, starting to adjust to his natural reticence, ‘I came down for the day from London – I took the train out here from Winchester to see the home of the writer Jane Austen. But I can’t ﬁnd it, and I saw this little parish church from the road and decided to have a look around. To ﬁnd some trace of her if I could.’
The man looked behind his right shoulder at the church, the same church he had attended all his life, made of local ﬂint and red sandstone and sheltered by beech and elm trees. It had been rebuilt a few generations ago – nothing notable was left inside of Jane Austen or her immediate family.
He turned and looked back now over his left shoulder, at the small stile at the rear of the churchyard, through which one could just glimpse towering yew hedges clipped into circular cones. Even as a boy, they had looked to him like nothing so much as extremely large salt and pepper cellars. The hedges ran along the south terrace garden of an imposing Elizabethan house set on an incline, with a gabled tiled roof, red brickwork, and a three- storey Tudor porch covered in vines.
‘The big house is back there,’ he said abruptly, ‘just past the church. The Great House it’s called. Where the Knight family lives. Miss Austen’s mother and sister’s graves are right here – do you see, miss, alongside the church wall?’
Her face lit up in gratitude, both for the information and for his slow warming to the conversation.
‘Oh my goodness, I had no idea . . .’
Then her eyes began to well up. She was the most striking human being he had ever met, like a model in a hair or soap advertisement in the papers. As the tears started, the colour of her eyes crystallised into something he had never before seen, a shade of blue almost like violet, while the tears caught on rows of inky-black lashes, blacker even than her hair.
Looking away, he tried to step around her carefully, his dog, Rider, now nipping about at his muddy boots. He walked over until he was standing next to the two large slabs of stone that stood upright in the ground. She followed him, the heels of her black pumps sticking a bit in the graveyard dirt, and he watched as she silently mouthed the words carved onto the twin tombstones.
Backing away, he ﬁddled about to ﬁnd his cap from his pocket. Brushing back the lock of light blond hair that tended to fall across his brow as he worked, he tucked it up under the rim of the cap as he pulled it forward and down over his eyes. He wanted to be away from her now, from the strange emotion being stirred up in her by the unadorned graves of simple women dead these past one hundred years.
Off he wandered to wait with Rider by the main lychgate to the churchyard.
After several minutes, she ﬁnally appeared from around the corner of the church, this time stopping to read the inscription of every stone she passed, as if hoping to discover even more slumbering souls of note. Every so often, she would teeter a bit as her heel caught the edge of a stone, and she would grimace just so slightly at her own clumsiness. But her eyes never left the graves below.
She stopped at the lychgate next to him and looked back with a contented sigh. She was smiling now and more composed – s o composed that he ﬁnally picked up the whiff of money in both her poise and her manners.
‘I’m so sorry about that, I just wasn’t prepared. You see, I came all this way to ﬁnd the cottage, where she wrote the books – t he little table, the creaking door,’ she added, but to no visible reaction. ‘I couldn’t ﬁnd out much about any of this while in London – thank you so much for telling me.’
He held the lychgate open for her and they started to walk back towards the main road together.
‘I can take you to her house if you’d like – it’s barely a mile or so up the lane. I’ve done my morning haying for the farm, before it gets too hot, so I’ve time to spare.’
She smiled, a great big white winning smile, the kind of smile he could only imagine being American. ‘That is awfully kind of you, thank you. You know, I was assuming people came all the time, like this, like me – do they?’
He shrugged as he kept his pace slow to meet hers along the half-mile gravel drive that led down to the road from the Great House.
‘Often enough, I guess. Nothing really much to see, though. It’s just workers’ ﬂats now, at the cottage – tenants in all the rooms.’
He turned to see her face tighten in disappointment. As if to cheer her up, before he even knew what had come over him, he asked her about the books.
‘I’m not even sure I can answer that,’ she replied, as he pointed the way back down the country lane, opposite the end where his wagon sat with its load temporarily forgotten. ‘I just feel, when I read her, when I reread her – which I do, more than any other author – it’s as if she is inside my head. Like music. My father ﬁrst read the books to me when I was very young – he died when I was twelve – and I hear his voice, too, when I read her. Nothing made him laugh out loud, nothing, the way those books did.’
He listened to her rambling on, then shook his head as if in disbelief.
‘You haven’t read her then?’ the woman asked, a disbelieving light in her own eyes meeting his.
‘Can’t say I’ve too much interest. Stick to Haggard and the like. Adventure stories, you know. Suppose you might judge me for that.’
‘I would never judge anyone for what they read.’
About the author: Natalie Jenner is the author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY (Orion Books, May 2020), a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with consecutive degrees in English Literature and Law, and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.
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