Sunday, May 8, 2011

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron

Warning - Mild spoilers

The last two Jane Austen mysteries have had a bit of melancholy air to them, with a pall cast by the loss of Jane's Gentleman Rogue.  Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron starts with the death of Jane's beloved cousin Eliza but it's a much more vibrant novel than its immediate predecessors.  

Jane and her brother Henry travel to Brighton to recover from Eliza's death.  Along the way, they rescue a young woman who has been kidnapped by the dissipated Lord Byron, a young woman who eventually turns up dead, sewn into a shroud made from the sails of Lord Byron's boat.  Jane is not exactly part of this social circle, but Lord Harold's niece Desdemona (whom Jane befriended in a prior novel) asks for her help on behalf of one of Lord Byron's acknowledged lovers, Lady Oxford.  (Can you imagine how much fun the supermarket tabloids would have with these convoluted relationships?)  

Jane, of course, uncovers the truth but the real joy in the novel is in seeing Jane enjoy her new-found fame.  Everyone is reading Pride and Prejudice, and we get a little bit of a thrill when Byron tells Jane that he wanted to meet her because one must know the competition.  A little bit of money and some undercover fame (according to Barron, if Jane were to admit authorship, she would no longer be able to eavesdrop at the local dinners and balls which serve as her source material) return Jane to the vivacious woman of the earlier novels.  She may ruefully acknowledge her out of fashion robes and her greying hair, but in a way this is her second debut into society.  Sadly, we know it will be a short-lived social career.  Jane has only four more years to live, and only three more years of health.

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