I reviewed this book in exchange for an online copy of the book. I really enjoyed reading this book, and learning about Jane Digby, an English heroine and strong woman whom I previously knew very little about. Despite being written by an American author, this book captured the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of men and women from nineteenth century England, covering various locations, such as Paris and even Switzerland.
The book starts in 1827, when Jane is 17 years old, and the books takes diary form, documenting the changes throughout Jane’s life, including several lovers, arguments and friendships along the way. The diary documents her marriage to Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough, as well as her extra-marital affairs and ‘wayward’ ways, which made her a shocking figure during the nineteenth century.
To say she was from an aristocratic family, this kind of behaviour shocked and troubled her family, and her many ‘indiscretions’ were interesting to read about, not least because they provided the reader with a much more interesting portrayal of a female aristocrat from this period.
This book is to be followed by a sequel in 2019, which recounts the later events of Jane’s life, with this book ending on a cliff hanger, and suggesting that there was more to come about the exciting, fascinating life lived by Jane.
“The road ahead is open and uncharted. I begin again.”
One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was hearing the voice of Jane Digby. The fact that it was in diary form meant that I could really get a sense of Jane’s story, and I enjoyed listening to the exciting events of her early life, even if this book did not cover her later, more exotic, adventures. I really liked how she accepts that she has desires and that she loves someone other than her husband, and this is one way in which she differed to other women of the period. I won’t give any spoilers, but this made her a very refreshing female lead.
“I have lived a life I chose- and the life I choose. Can many women make that claim?”
I also liked how this heroine portrayed the issues with society at the time. Early on in the diary, Jane disobeys her mother and is sent to a reformatory school, reflecting the fate of many young, middle-class women during this period.
“Not surprisingly, he met with her approval. She did not ask me whether he met with mine.”
I found the plethora of female characters in this novel interesting to follow. From Jane’s ‘wayward’, romantic friend Andriana, to Anne, Jane’s step-Grandmother, who is only a few years older than herself, these women represented the women of the nineteenth century, and the struggles they had to face. I particularly found the character of Anne interesting, as Jane observes that she seemed to have a genuine ‘fondness’ for her grandfather, despite the age gap. And yet I couldn’t help wondering how awful it must be to be married to someone of that age and temperament.
I also liked the historical aspect of this novel. All of the events in Jane’s life were interesting to me, as a history student, and the description of this world of deportment lessons, debutante balls and dinner parties, were fascinating to me. When Jane went on her travels to places such as Paris, I also enjoyed hearing about places that I have visited myself, and this added a personal touch to the diaries.
However, there were a few things that I found a little jarring when reading the novel. I would say that the portrayal of these women characters, as well as Jane herself, were so interesting that I would have liked more detail on them. Andriana appears only briefly, and it would have been great if Hurst had gone into more detail on her story, as her romance with Dmitri, and the Greek turmoil, sounds so interesting, and it was a shame that their story was only briefly mentioned.
I also found the diary form of the book slightly fragmented. As much as I enjoyed hearing first-hand the experiences and life and loves of Jane, I felt that often the diary entries did not offer enough detail. Of course, it would be unrealistic to suggest that a young woman would spend hours detailing every event, but for the reader I thought this book was lacking in sufficient depth, and so it took me a bit to properly get into the story.
However, this was an interesting read for any history lover, and it’s well worth researching and showing an interest in women who had a rich and vibrant life, often breaking boundaries that society now takes for granted. The fact that Jane was judged for her numerous lovers also offers a link between attitudes towards women in society then, and now. Jane experiences the modern day attitude of ‘slut-shaming,’ and it’s interesting to see how little society has changed in the imbalance between attitudes towards men and women.
Thank you again to the author for letting me read and review this book for my blog.
Currently reading: ‘Everyday Sexism’ by Laura Bates