The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen

Written by Syrie James
Review by Arleigh Johnson

University librarian and Austen enthusiast Samantha McDonough happens upon a partial letter in an old poetry book that leaves clues to a possible missing manuscript penned by Jane Austen during her youth. She travels to a centuries-old manor home in the English countryside where she believes Austen had stayed and prevails upon the owner, on the evening before he is to put the estate on the market, to make a thorough search for the supposed rare novel.

While part of the book is set in the present day, the booklets that make up the lost manuscript take readers back to Regency England in a style that is so much like Jane Austen’s that it becomes almost as if The Stanhopes is in fact a seventh Austen novel. Following Austen’s Plan of a Novel, a comedic snippet from the author’s memoir, Syrie James uses the outlined formula to create a credible story nearly identical to the writings of Austen, with all of the humor, complexities of character and circumstance, and even the idiosyncrasies that Austen’s novels engender.

Flipping back and forth between Samantha’s story and that of the protagonist of The Stanhopes, Rebecca Stanhope, the plots run in parallel in regard to the two women’s romantic plights. Anthony Whitaker, to whom the fate of the lost manuscript will be decided, finds that during the reading of the surprisingly engaging novel his financial predicament and his moral desires are at odds.

The story-within-a-story aspect may sound complicated, but it is very important for readers to understand how an alleged Austen manuscript would be presented today and the effect it would have on the literary and historical community. This is a beautifully written and magnificently interwoven novel by an author who is obviously an Austen expert. The Stanhopes would certainly make Austen proud!