Please welcome Sophia Rose to the blog to share a non-fiction novel, Jane Austen’s Best Friend: The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd by Zoe Wheddon. As you know Sophia loves all things Jane Austen so grab a cuppa and check out her thoughts.
by Zoe Wheddon
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All fans of Jane Austen everywhere believe themselves to be best friends with the beloved author and this book shines a light on what it meant to be exactly that. Jane Austen's Best Friend; The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd offers a unique insight into Jane's private inner circle. Through this heart-warming examination of an important and often overlooked person in Jane's world, we uncover the life changing force of their friendship.
Each chapter details the fascinating facts and friendship forming qualities that tied Jane and Martha together. Within these pages we will relive their shared interests, the hits and misses of their romantic love lives, their passion for shopping and fashion, their family histories, their lucky breaks and their girly chats. This book offers a behind the scenes tour of the shared lives of a fascinating pair and the chance to deepen our own bonds in 'love and friendship' with them both.
Sophia Rose’s Review
What type of person would Jane Austen choose for her best friend? Who was she, and what was she like? As a fan of Jane Austen, I have read my fair share of biographical works on her life and couldn’t help noticing her intimacy with a certain close family friend, Martha Lloyd. I was excited to come across this biography on someone closely associated with Jane Austen and her family.
The longer introduction helps the reader understand why the author came to write Martha’s bio and then the first chapter gives the background of Martha’s family and heritage. There is the connection that brings Martha Lloyd and Jane Austen into each other’s orbits.
The biography is equally Jane Austen’s as Martha’s. This is natural since the author’s source material are the remaining extended Austen family correspondence. Martha’s parents, a vicar, and his wife serviced not far from her mother’s sister and her husband, also a vicar. Martha and her sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, grew up close to their Fowle cousins. The boys went away to be tutored by the Reverend George Austen. One of her cousins, Fulwar, married Martha’s sister Elizabeth and the oldest Austen child, James, married her younger sister Mary. Meanwhile, the oldest Austen daughter, Cassandra, became engaged to another cousin, Tom Fowle. It was no wonder that the families would be close and Martha would know the Austen girls so well. The author speculates that Martha and the much younger Jane were the close friends rather than Martha and Cassandra. The author attributes Martha with a heart for serving others, a great sense of humor, gentility, and a deep spirituality.
The author drew facts from the letters, but also made her own deductions beyond this to get a fuller picture of Martha and Jane’s relationship as friends. I was surprised at first by all the surmising and guessing, but shouldn’t have been, really. Most of the speculation jibed with my own guesswork though I do feel that the author made more of the friendship than was there- and that’s saying a lot, since it is obvious from letters exchanged among the Austens and their friends that the Lloyd sisters were considered as family to the Austens. What I mean is that I felt Martha was equally close with Cass and even Mrs. Austen as she was to Jane. I think they were close, but not that they singled each other out.
As a result of the author’s form of speculation, many times the book was more drawn out and roundabout than necessary. I felt that it could have been trimmed down and not lost any of the essence the author conveyed and the fascinating bits would have shone all the brighter.
That said, I enjoyed how the author gleaned all that she could from the historical documents on Martha Lloyd and followed her life which was challenging in her losses as well as circumstances, but had many bright moments including being privy to Jane Austen’s work and claiming a close friendship. The book takes Martha’s life to the end and my favorite part when this hardworking, kind woman got her own late life romance with Jane Austen’s older brother, Admiral Frank Austen. I know the focus of the book was friendship, but in true grand story fashion, Martha’s life ended happily ever after and I loved that part best.
All in all, I was glad to get the life story of this ordinary woman who could claim a close relation with one of the world’s most famous authors. The book had lagging moments, but also heartwarming tidbits and insights into the past and past lives that I was interested in learning more about. While not for everyone, I can recommend this biography especially to those who want to know more about Jane Austen or life in the late Georgian period.
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Very interesting! And how cool that she got her own happily ever after. That doesn’t always happen in real life, so I love that. Great review Sophia.
When I saw this title, my first thought was how I thought you might like this one. lol
Haha, you were so right, Mary. 🙂
I always love when an author can blend history with a bit a fiction. This kind of reminds me of Mitchel James Kaplan’s Rhapsody where he used fiction to fill in the gaps about George Gershwin’s life. Great review!
A bio on George Gershwin would be a clever read, too. I love seeing a melding of fiction and non when there are gaps in the historical data, too. 🙂
This sounds interesting. And Interesting that Martha ended up with Jane’s brother!
Her life was very sad at first so I loved that she ended up with Frank, too. 🙂
i might one day read it. I don’t really read Jane AUsten, but would be nice to know about her and how she came to her stories
I’ve read biographies about people without reading their own works just out of curiosity. Martha’s was interesting and showed her as an early beta reader for Jane Austen.
Quite insightful. Glad you enjoyed it
Yes, it was neat to see the new side to the Austen’s extended family and friends explored.
Carole @ Carole's Random Life
This does sound like it would be interesting. I tend to enjoy stories of ordinary people. Great review!
Her life was very ordinary, but was interesting when she had no money and could have been homeless, but landed with a place each time and then in the end the Austen’s were there for her.