Dearest Cousin Jane
Based on the life of Eliza Hancock, cousin to Jane Austen, Dearest Cousin Jane offers an engaging glimpse into the lives of these 19th-century women. Unlike her cousin, Eliza led an eventful life. Born in India, the natural child of Warren Hastings of the East India Company, she was raised as the great man’s goddaughter. Given opportunities to travel and move in elevated social circles which her uncle, George Austen, could not afford for daughters Jane and Cassandra, Eliza makes a good match with Jean Capot, Comte de Feuillide. Eliza is much envied and admired by her English country cousins, but her life is by no means an easy one. The son she bears the Comte de Feuillide suffers from seizures and delayed development, and Eliza loses both her husband and her mother in succession; the Comte to the guillotine during the French Revolution, and her mother to breast cancer.
The story is told in alternating chapters from Eliza’s perspective and from those of several family members, including Jane Austen and her favorite brother, Henry, whom Eliza eventually marries. The novel is consequently heavy on narrative, yet the portrait that emerges of Eliza is one of a good-hearted, practical woman. She scandalized her English relatives with what they considered fast living, but she was a kind and encouraging friend to Jane Austen and seems to have always made family her primary concern. Jill Pitkeathley has depicted Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen as resilient and self-possessed, quite the modern woman of her time.