• Avon, an imprint of
  • HarperCollinsPublishers
  • ISBN: 978-0061341427



      riting is not an occupation which is easily picked up and accomplished on a whim, Mr. Ashford," said I indignantly. "My life has not been my own since I left Steventon."

      He went quiet for a moment, and then said: "I am not a writer, I admit. But in my experience, I have found that there is never a perfect time or place for any thing; we can always find a reason to put off that which we aspire to do, or fear to do, until tomorrow, next week, next month, next year--until, in the end, we never accomplishing any thing at all."

      His words shocked me; I stood and walked some little distance away, feeling all at once a little ashamed. Had it indeed been fear that had prevented me from indulging in my most beloved pursuit for so many years--and was it holding me back even now?

      "I am sorry," said he, crossing to where I stood, "if I have spoken too openly or harshly; I only wished to share my own observations on the matter."

      "I appreciate your honesty," said I at last. "Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I have been finding excuses not to write. But even if I were to write my books afresh, and address all those faults which concern me, where would I send them? I know not a single person in the literary world. No one."

      "What does that matter? In the end, talent will win out. Do you want to be a published novelist?"

      "It is all I have ever wanted."

      His eyes locked with mine, as a sudden breeze stirred the branches of the trees above us.

      "Then a published novelist is what you shall be, Miss Jane Austen."

* * * * * * * * *

Chapter One

      hy I feel the sudden urge to relate, in pen and ink, a relationship of the most personal nature which I have never before acknowledged, I cannot say. Perhaps it is this maddening illness which has been troubling me now and again of late—this cunning reminder of my own mortality—that compels me to make some record of what happened, to prevent that memory from vanishing into the recesses of my mind, and from there to disappear forever from history, as fleeting as a ghost in the mist.

      Whatever the reason, I find that I must write it all down; for there may, I think, be speculation when I am gone. People may read what I have written, and wonder: how could this spinster, this woman who, to all appearances, never even courted—who never felt that wondrous connection of mind and spirit between a man and woman, which, inspired by friendship and affection, blooms into something deeper—how could she have had the temerity to write about the revered institutions of love and courtship, having never experienced them herself?

       To those few friends and relations who, upon learning of my authorship, have dared to pose a similar question (although, I must admit, in a rather more genteel turn of phrase), I have given the self-same reply: "Is it not conceivable that an active mind and an observant eye and ear, combined with a vivid imagination, might produce a literary work of some merit and amusement, which may, in turn, evoke sentiments and feelings which resemble life itself?"

       There is much truth in this observation. But there are many levels of veracity, are there not, between that truth which we reveal publicly and that which we silently acknowledge, in the privacy of our own thoughts, and perhaps to one or two of our most intimate acquaintances?

       I did attempt to write of love—first, in jest, as a girl; then in a more serious vein, in my early twenties, though I had known only young love then; in consequence, those early works were of only passing merit. It was only years later that I met the man who would come to inspire the true depth of that emotion, and who would reawaken my voice, which had long laid dormant.

      Of this gentleman—the one, true, great love in my life—I have, for good reason, vowed never to speak; indeed, it was agreed amongst the few close members of my family who knew him, that it was best for all concerned to keep the facts of that affair strictly to ourselves. In consequence, I have relegated my thoughts of him to the farthest reaches of my heart; banished for-ever—but not forgotten.

      No, never forgotten. For how can one forget that which has become a part of one's very soul? Every word, every thought, every look and feeling that passed between us, is as fresh in my mind now, years later, as if it had occurred only yesterday.

      The tale must be told; a tale which will explain all the others....