Searching for Captain Wentworth is unlike any Jane Austen inspired novel I’ve ever read. I suspect it’s unlike any Jane Austen novel ever written! Part love story, part time travel fantasy, part Austen biography, it’s all about the author’s (Jane Odiwe) love for Jane Austen and the city of Bath, her ‘Fairyland’ city.
Reading it (in 24 hours! I couldn’t put it down!) was like taking a walk with friends through old, familiar places. Jane’s use of Bath (both in the present and during the Regency) and Lyme, coupled with her deft weaving of historical fact and Austen lore, Austen novels (especiallyNorthangerAbbey, SenseandSensibility andPersuasion) and films made for a book that felt like there was a cameo appearance on every page. It is truly a book written by someone who knows Austen’s life, novels and films inside out, and though any and all might enjoy the wonderful story she has crafted, for those in the “know”, Easter eggs abound, almost like the many inside jokes, shared by the Austen family, that made their way into Jane Austen’s writing.
Jane Odiwe’s descriptions of Bath, both past and present, make the city come alive, reviving happy memories for those who have visited the beautiful white limestone city, and painting a vivid tour of city highlights and must visit stops for anyone contemplating a visit. Equally compelling are the settings in Lyme Regis, from Cobb to country house to assembly room.
In the story, heroine Sophie Elliot moves into her great-aunt’s flat in Bath, while she recovers from a broken heart, determined to put the past behind her and move on with her life and writing. The house, adjacent to the home occupied by the Austen family in 1802, proves to be full of secrets and surprises, and once her adventure begins, she transports between present day Bath and a hopeful friendship with her new neighbor (and perhaps something more?) and 1802, where she slips into the life of her ancestor Sophie Elliot, and a friendship with Jane and Cassandra Austen.
Charles Austen’s portrait, the “Rice” Portrait of Jane Austen and a Regency Era inlaid rosewood box all feature prominently in the story.
When Charles Austen, a young Naval officer, enters the scene, Sophie’s life becomes decidedly complicated. Persuasion may be the initial inspiration for the story, a novel many feel was Jane Austen’s attempt to rewrite history in her own life, however, questions remain, “Can the past be changed? Should the past be changed? Are happy endings only to be found in fiction?” A rosewood box and pair of gloves may hold the key to all the secrets of the novel, and in finding them, Sophie discovers the truth about herself and her heart.
It is known that Jane Austen drew her characters from the traits she noticed in those around her, and recognizable characterizations abound including the snobbish Elliot family themselves…oh-so like their “fictional” counterparts. Conversations and scenes from Austen’s novels are woven together in new and unexpected ways, providing a canvas that the “real” Jane Austen might later use in her writing. Additional portrayals of Cassandra Austen, Charles Austen and even Henry and Eliza Austen ring true and offer glimpses of family life that are not only faithful to the recorded history we have, but also all any “ardent admirer” of Jane Austen’s works and life could hope for.
The magically beckoning gate in Sydney Gardens that transports Sophie into 1802.
Moving along at a brisk pace, the story jumps quickly from the present to the past and back again, and readers will visit the amusements, pleasure gardens and assembly rooms of Bath and Lyme and the countryside beyond in both 2012 and 1802. Odiwe cleverly ties up her threads by the end of her story, though readers are left to wonder if Sophie is the only one of her family to have enjoyed the company of L’amiable Jane…leaving room, perhaps, for future stories.