The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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October 18, 2018

For Helen Ashton, on her birthday

Today, according to Jane’s wonderful Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors, is Helen Ashton’s birthday, a date I definitely wanted to have on my calendar. This would have worked better if I had actually had it on my actual calendar, but I noticed it again in time to at least start reading one of her books, and it’s been making my bus ride to work and my bus ride home very lovely this past week.

The book I chose is Parson Austen’s Daughter, published in 1949, in a dusty old copy from the college library. It’s probably not hard to guess what it’s about, but it’s almost a little harder to tell that it’s a novel and not a biography. {The hints come here and there, such as when we’re told, in a very un-Lady Catherine de Burgh-ish way, that there’s ‘a prettyish kind of a little wilderness’ in the grounds of the Austen’s house at Steventon.} Ashton has borrowed other little bits from the novels, and other things I’ve remembered reading in biographies, and put them into different situations and voices, but it’s fun to notice them. There are scenes that she imagines, such as a visit that Cassandra and her ill-fated fiancé, Tom Fowle, make to a retired general to try to find out if it safe for him to go to the West Indies as a military chaplain. She also adds a lot of details; this morning, it was the ‘coquelicot’ ribbons that were the fashion in Bath, and how pretty their poppy-red color looked against Jane’s brown hair. I’ve read most (or maybe all) of the major biographies of Jane Austen, and from what I remember, at least as as far as I’ve read in this book, she’s not inventing events in Austen’s life, just re-creating them.

I was introduced to Helen Ashton for the first time when I read (and greatly enjoyed) The Half-Crown House, and I’ve noted several other books of hers that I would like to read. This book might not turn out to be one of her best, but it’s charming, and spending my commutes with the Austens couldn’t ever really be a bad thing, could it?

Parson Austen's Daughter, by Helen Ashton
Collins, 1949
Borrowed from the college library


JoAnn said...

I'm not at all familiar with Helen Ashton, but this does sound like a lovely novel... and a very pleasant traveling companion, too. ;-)

Vintage Reading said...

I'm intrigued! Never heard of Helen Ashton but I love an Austen connection.

Karen K. said...

I have this book! It was recommended by someone in my JASNA chapter, so naturally I bought it but still haven't read it. I've decided to reread all of Jane Austen and this would fit in nicely. Thanks for reminding me about it!

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