Part fiction, part truth, Jane Austen Ruined My Life is the story of Emma Grant, a recently divorced Jane Austen scholar who makes a return visit to England after receiving an invitation by a woman claiming to have Jane Austen’s long lost letters.
Emma is fleeing her ex-husband and her teaching assistant, who together engineer Emma’s professional downfall while having an affair. After losing her position and tenure, the invitations from Mrs. Parrot dangling the long lost letters, is too much to resist. With no job or job prospects, no husband and no happy ending in sight, she takes off for London and the home of her cousin. There she meets Adam, her best friend from graduate school, who is in London and staying with Emma’s cousin on pretenses of his own. When Emma meets Mrs. Parrot, she is given a series of tasks to perform involving visits to most of the sites of Jane Austen’s life. We get to hear Emma read excerpts from the letters, and can almost imagine that they do, in fact exist. At the end of this literary treasure hunt, she is promised that all of her questions about the lost letters will be answered, and she is faced with a moral dilemma of her own and a decision that may lead her to accept or reject the true love of her life.
Beth Pattillo takes us, along with Emma, on a discovery of the heart. When Emma is tempted to betray the trust of the holders of the letters and offer them up for publication, she discovers that Jane Austen’s fiction may have been the catalyst for earlier mistakes and bad decisions, but they are not what keeps Emma from now truly living her life and finding professional and personal fulfillment. Like the real Jane Austen, Emma doesn’t need to compromise her honor and her principles to prove her worth. While her decision at the end of the novel is probably not the same one I would have made, we see Emma’s life as she begins to see it; as a process meant to be worked through and lived despite setbacks and betrayals, and despite an elusive happy ending.
This book is a quick, absorbing read. The trek through Austen country was informative to this uninitiated reader. The water spray at the Cobb, the writing desk in Chawton, all these places come alive for Emma and for us. If you are an Austenphile (and who among us isn’t) this is a book you will definitely enjoy.