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.

Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron

I’m a Jane-ite. (For those of you who require translation, Janeite’s read and enjoy Jane Austen novels over and over again, read her letters, read books about her writings, her life and her times, and soak up every other bit of trivia that can be linked to her. We watch movies based on her stories, read novels by other authors who use her characters, or who modernise her stories and so on and on and on). As Jane Austen might say, “It is a truth universally acknowledged” that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Some of the books inspired by Jane Austen’s novels are dreadful. Some have zombies. Some have racy scenes that make me cringe with embarrassment (Jane Austen knew that some things are better left to the imagination). It is the same with the movies and television productions based on Jane Austen’s works, some are disappointing and some are wonderful (in my opinion the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with Jennife Ehle and Colin Firth falls under the particularly wonderful banner).

Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron, falls under the wonderful banner also.

The book is written as if Jane Austen herself is narrating the story, which is a murder mystery that she finds herself involved in while visiting with her brother, Edward Knight.

The characters in Jane and the Canterbury Tale are as familiar as if they have stepped out of a Jane Austen novel themselves, while others characters are based on her family and members of her community. The references to actual events and family members delighted me. One especially funny conversation has the character, Jane Austen, discussing her novel Pride and Prejudice with a disapproving reader, who was unaware she was the author. The wit in Jane and the Canterbury Tale is as enjoyable as in any of Jane Austen’s novels.

To be honest, murder mysteries aren’t really my thing, but Stephanie Barron’s character of Jane Austen was so believable that I didn’t care. I had a feeling about who the murderer was from the beginning, which turned out to be correct, and that didn’t bother me either. The story of the murder and the subsequent sleuthing was enjoyable, but the absolute delight in this book came from reading about Jane Austen and her family and where they lived and what they did and said and felt.

Reading Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron made me really happy. Knowing that Stephanie Barron has written another ten novels in the voice of Jane Austen makes me even happier.