Synopsis: Drawing on historical fact, Jill Pitkeathley paints a luminous portrait of Jane Austen's free-spirited and seductive cousin, Countess Eliza de Feuillide - from her flirtatious younger years to her great influence on one of the world's favourite authors. Speculated to have been born from a love affair between her mother and the great Warren Hastings, founder of the East India Company and the British Raj, Eliza was a precocious young woman and well-known flirt. Educated in England and France, she went on to marry a French count, Jean de Feuillide, and bear one son with him, who died before reaching adulthood. She later suffered the loss of her husband when Madame la Guillotine claimed him during the early days of the French Revolution. Eliza was close to the Austen family throughout her days, and flirted with both of Jane's brothers profusely, encouraging both men to propose to her upon the death of her husband. She eventually accepted Jane's favourite brother Henry, bringing glamour and excitement on her visits to the Austen's country parsonage in England. With chapters in the voices of Jane, Jane's sister Cassandra, and other family members including Jane's love-sick brothers, Pitkeathley reveals Countess Eliza's influence on one of the world's best loved novelists - and that it is indeed high time her story is told.
I have always loved Jane Austen, and since watching the movie Becoming Jane (with Anne Hathaway) I have also come to love Eliza, her cultured, spirited and flirtatous cousin.
This book, though fiction, is based on fact and follows Eliza throughout her life until her death in 1813. It chronicles the struggles she endured in her life, but also the happier times of marriage to a French nobleman, and later, after his execution, to her cousin, Jane's favourite brother Henry.
This book also gives light to the fact that Eliza was one of only a few members of the Austen family who truly believed in Jane's writing skill and talent. Eliza was a huge influence on Jane, which is shown through several of her characters being based on Eliza herself.
Jill Pitkeathley does Miss Austen, Eliza and her other family members justice, I believe. Though fiction, JP has interwoven the true life events effortlessly into a fiction novel, keeping dates and events in their correct order and not changing them for her own liking.