Jane and the Barque of Frailty by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Barque of Frailty

 

I recently read Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron (see earlier post) and was overjoyed to discover she has written a whole series of books with Jane Austen as the main character, in the ‘Being A Jane Austen Mystery’ series.

In Jane and the Barque of Frailty, Jane Austen is visiting with her brother Henry and his wife Eliza in London. Eliza is friendly with some dubious characters, and before you have read many pages Jane and Eliza find themselves at risk of hanging for trying to sell jewels which belonged to a Russian Princess who died in a pool of blood on a Lord’s doorstep. This possibility didn’t concern me too much, as being a bit of a Jane-ite, I knew that Jane Austen was not hung. I don’t think I am giving away the ending to other readers either, because everyone knows that the heroine of a novel is never hung.

For those who are wondering, a Barque of Frailty is an expression which was used by Georgette Heyer to describe a woman of easy virtue. In this novel, several Barques of Frailty, or Cyprians as they are also known, are important characters and are also involved in various ways with the death of the Princess. Real courtesans, such as Harriette Wilson, who published a kiss and tell memoir of the men she had affairs with, are characters in the story alongside fictional characters.

In one memorable chapter, Jane and Eliza attend the Cyprian’s Ball, which is an annual event attended by men of wealth and high standing. The women attend with the intention of finding a new protector, wearing masks to protect their identities. A masked Eliza has a wonderful time at the ball flirting with an Earl whom she knows socially but whom doesn’t recognise her. Jane is also masked and enjoys the attention of a well known rake who offers her an enormous amount of money for her favours. The amount was far more than the real Jane Austen sold Pride and Prejudice for.

The social circle Jane finds herself in while in London also include boring but good friends, handsome young men, girls in their first season, Earls and Lords and French servants, also a Comte who wants to divorce his Comtesse for the sake of a Barque of Frailty he has his eye on.

There are political intrigues, debts of honour and all of the excitements you expect from a story set in the Regency period, as well as a some very nasty shocks you don’t.

When I read Jane and the Canterbury Tale, I guessed ‘who-dunnit’ long before the end of the book, and I picked the ending of Jane and the Barque of Frailty about half way through too. It didn’t matter though. Eight more books in this series still to enjoy, hooray.

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