It’s no surprise to have Virginia Woolf’s name come up in discussions of Jane Austen and vice versa. Austen is, of course, one of the foremothers held up in A Room of One’s One and in a number of Woolf essays. My pleasure is in finding Woolf sightings in fiction, the more obscure the better, but it came as a complete surprise when she appeared in Beth Pattillo’s Jane Austen Ruined My Life.
This charming romp follows the adventures of Emma Grant, an American university professor and Austen specialist. Following her divorce and the loss of her teaching position, she goes to England in search of Austen’s missing letters, the ones her sister Cassandra supposedly burned after her death. She’s wooed by the “Formidables,” a secret society of devoted Janeites, who entice her with a few sample letters and send her on a sort of Austenish scavenger hunt to prove she’s worthy of their cache.
At Austen’s house in Chawton, Emma sees a little table and chair in front of the sitting room window—it’s where Austen wrote. She observes that, “In spite if all the distractions, she’d created her masterpieces with nothing more than paper, pen, and ink. Virginia Woolf was famous for saying that any woman who wanted to be a writer needed to have five hundred pounds a year and a room of her own. Austen had possessed neither of those things, and yet somehow she had outshone authors with far more worldly advantages.”
In all this she also has to deal with a couple of dishy and attentive suitors vying for her affections and inserting themselves into the mystery. The outlandishness of it all reminds me of the movie “An Unmarried Woman,” in which the betrayed wife, Jill Clayburgh, has immediate consolation from the likes of Alan Bates. Oh sure, just like real life, huh?
But I won’t quibble. The book was delightful and well written, a perfect weekend escape. Now I’m tempted to track down Pattillo’s other Austen novels–Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart and The Dashwood Sisters Tell All– both continuing the successful formula of blending literary mystery with contemporary stories.
Maybe I’ll be rewarded with more Woolf sightings.
- The 5 Silliest Books Inspired by Jane Austen (flavorwire.com)
- Jane Austen’s work remains as popular as ever in world of literature (triblive.com)
- Austen on the Block! ~ Jane Austen’s Emma Sells High (janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com)
- Jane Austen at Goucher (ritalovestowrite.com)
- Jane Austen Stamps Celebrating Pride and Prejudice Have Arrived! (janeaustensworld.wordpress.com)