A Novel of the Austen Family
Publication Date: November 1, 2022
A richly imagined novel inspired by the true story of Anne Sharp, a governess who became very close with Jane Austen and her family by the #1 International bestselling-author of Miss Austen.
On January 21, 1804, Anne Sharpe arrives at Godmersham Park in Kent to take up the position of governess. At thirty-one years old, she has no previous experience of either teaching or fine country houses. Her mother has died, and she has nowhere else to go. Anne is left with no choice. For her new charge—twelve-year-old Fanny Austen—Anne’s arrival is all novelty and excitement.
The governess role is a uniquely awkward one. Anne is neither one of the servants, nor one of the family, and to balance a position between the “upstairs” and “downstairs” members of the household is a diplomatic chess game. One wrong move may result in instant dismissal. Anne knows that she must never let down her guard.
When Mr. Edward Austen’s family comes to stay, Anne forms an immediate attachment to Jane. They write plays together and enjoy long discussions. However, in the process, Anne reveals herself as not merely pretty, charming, and competent; she is clever too. Even her sleepy, complacent, mistress can hardly fail to notice.
Meanwhile Jane’s brother, Henry, begins to take an unusually strong interest in the lovely young governess. And from now on, Anne’s days at Godmersham Park are numbered.
In this story, Anne’s life is completely disrupted when her mother dies and her father disappears, leaving her with 35 pounds per annum. Out of necessity takes a job with the Edward Austen family, teaching their oldest daughter. The book depicts Anne’s life for two years with the Austens, during which she forms a friendship with Jane.
Janeites and history buffs will enjoy this story of a woman struggling to find her place in a complicated social world. As a governess, her position is precarious, with neither lower staff nor family. Anne negotiates this tricky situation while developing her writing skills and strengthening her sense of self. There is a subtle but strong underlying message of feminism, and readers can sympathize with the plight of single women in this period.
A bit of outside reading tells us that Anne went on to work as a governess in other homes before opening a school in Liverpool. Her association with Jane continued until Jane’s death.
Godmersham Park is an intriguing piece of Austen history that paints a detailed picture of the difficulties of a low-income, single woman in the Regency era.
Gill Hornby is the author of the novels Miss Austen, The Hive, and All Together Now, as well as The Story of Jane Austen, a biography of Austen for young readers. She lives in Kintbury, England, with her husband and their four children.