The final instalment of the Highbury trilogy, Dear Jane recounts events hinted at but never actually described in Jane Austen’s Emma; the formative childhood years of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, their meeting in Weymouth and the agony of their secret engagement.
Orphaned Jane seems likely to be brought up in parochial Highbury until adoption by her papa’s old friend Colonel Campbell opens to her all the excitement and opportunities of London. Frank Weston is also transplanted from Highbury, adopted as heir to the wealthy Churchills and taken to their drear and inhospitable Yorkshire estate.
Readers of Emma will be familiar with the conclusion of Jane and Frank’s story, but Dear Jane pulls back the veil which Jane Austen drew over its remainder.
Thank you to Rachel, of Rachel’s Random Resources for my ebook copy of this novel and for organising the tours for all three of the Highbury novels.
In the final installment of the Highbury novels the author follows the lives of Frank Weston (Churchill) and Jane Fairfax as orphaned children in the care of guardians, with the narrative returning frequently to Highbury and the lives of the people there.
Jane, moving from Highbury and the care of her grandmother, Mrs Bates, to London and the care of the Campbells, friends of my parents, at the age of 8, moves from genteel poverty to wealth and comfort, with her closest friend, Rowena Campbell. She is treat as a second daughter by the Campbells, who want to do the best they can for her even if they can’t afford to give her a dowry. From a tender age, Jane sets herself to become a governess, knowing she will have little choice and no chance of marriage.
Frank Weston – then Churchill – is raised in the austere household of his maternal uncle and aunt. His home is cold and cheerless, his aunt, Mrs Churchill, controlling and petulant, throwing herself into fits of rage or illness if she doesn’t get her own way. Frank escapes to school but at 11 is forced to return to Enscombe to be tutored privately. He retaliates by becoming duplicitous and sneaky. With the help of his tutor, uncle and father, he manages little freedoms, like visiting his father in London on the pretext of his yearly tailors visits.
The young pair meet in Weymouth and fall in love but keep the engagement a secret for fear of Mrs Churchill. The novel then goes on to follow the events in Emma from the perspective of Jane and Frank, their struggles and ultimate success, after the death of Mrs Churchill.
Having read Emma a few times, Allie Cresswell gets the tone just right, putting together the hints from Austen to produce a marvellous novel that adds to the world Jane Austen created in her original novel. The development of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill’s story, their meeting and history, is in great hands here. I love the references back to specific events in Emma, such as Jane’s cold in November that prevents her visiting Highbury, which is mentioned in the original by Miss Bates, with reference to a letter. I loved the perspective of Jane, her anguish at the thought of deceiving anyone and her irritation with Mrs Elton’s interference; Mrs Elton is so well described, and Emma Woodhouse too (such a brat!) that I found myself immersed in the story.
Although I found it a bit difficult to get into, once I did I couldn’t stop reading. Totally engrossing and it drew me into the world of Highbury. The descriptions of time and place are just right, the world recognisably ‘Austen Regency’ but expanded. If you’re an Austen fan I recommend this to you.
Author Bio –
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.
She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.
She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.
She has two grown-up children, two granddaughters, two grandsons and two cockapoos but just one husband – Tim. They live in Cumbria, NW England.
Dear Jane is her ninth novel.
Social Media Links – www.allie-cresswell.com