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A Walk With Jane Austen by Lori Smith

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Review of A Walk With Jane Austen

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A Walk with Jane Austen
by Lori Smith

Reviewed by Heather R. Hunt

"Smith’s raw account of her personal pilgrimage through Jane Austen’s England, while not a traditional biography, is surprisingly informative about Jane Austen’s life and death."

I am perhaps not the best one to review a book on Jane Austen since I have not yet read all of her books (a shame, I know, since there are only 6 complete novels - I'm working on it!). On the other hand, perhaps the best compliment I can give Lori Smith's A Walk with Jane Austen is that it has induced me to embark on the unread novels this spring. Smith's raw account of her personal pilgrimage through Jane Austen's England, while not a traditional biography, is surprisingly informative about Jane Austen's life and death. It is also surprisingly, and sometimes uncomfortably so, informative about Smith's own life and thoughts of death.

I'm not sure if die-hard Austen fans will find any new biographical tidbits in Smith's account (are there any left to be found about this much-researched author?), but for the generalist like myself, Smith provides a fact-filled education on this enduring writer. Traditional biographical material includes a bibliography and extensive chapter endnotes. Personal biographic touches include "Lori's Walk with Jane," which comprises a 2-page annotated map of England that outlines Austen points of interest followed by a detailed textual listing of each area, its various Austen-related houses, museums, gardens, and filming sites as well as websites for more information.

Smith openly reveals that she is an unabashed fan of both novels and films, and her enthusiasm is infectious. She is also very open about her debilitating chronic illness, which leads to constant exhaustion, depression, crises of faith, and even suicidal thoughts. To the reader expecting a pleasant travelogue through Jane Austen's England, these authorial confessions can be quite jarring and discomforting. As can be her angst-filled romantic musings over a possible suitor whom she meets at her first stop in Oxford. But in a way, perhaps this deep introspection on the page appropriately serves as a modern-day echo of Austen's insular and confessional novels of the inner life of young women two centuries ago.

In any case, Smith's soul-searching journey runs alongside her physical pilgrimage to Austen sites, and provides the book with an emotional framework that lies over the chronological structure of going from point to point. I recommend this book to general Jane Austen fans for its biographical overview and helpful resources for those who want to pursue Jane further. I also think die-hard fans may appreciate A Walk with Jane Austen because, though the biographical details may be nothing new, the presentation and focus on Austen's religiosity certainly is. Others who may enjoy this book include readers who love travel writing, biographies, writerly journals, and all things British.

Heather R. HuntHeather R. Hunt is a business editor in Connecticut. For fun she reads, writes, cheers on the Red Sox, and enjoys tennis and cycling. She also co-leads a local tea party and enjoys holding government officials and media outlets accountable. Check out her blogs, The View from Stonewater and Connecticut for Sarah Palin.