"My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company."
Anne Elliot in Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817)
Zöe Wheddon's new book brings to the forefront a friendship oft forgotten in popular history - that of Jane Austen and her best friend, Martha Lloyd, who was her sister in spirit, and posthumously, sister-in-law.
The story of this friendship feels surprisingly modern: the banter, the shopping trips, balls and the many instances of what we would now call 'chilling at home'. I was amazed how easy it was to imagine Jane
and Martha being 'besties' in the 21st century. (In the bits about shoe-shopping, gossiping and commenting on outfits and appearances, the spectre of another authoress, Carrie Bradshaw, would not leave my mind). Friendship is indeed timeless.
The author takes us through the chronicles of Jane and Martha's lives - near inseparable as they were - through an angle of sisterhood, comradeship and altogether #bestieship, using a very modern term. This type of narrative reminds me of a series of video essays regarding the Romance of Friendship: how fulfilling it can be and how it is sometimes more important, and means more, than romantic love.
As we go through the book, we can see Jane as influenced by Martha - both as a young woman, and as author. Martha belonged to a very small immediate circle, who were the first audience of Jane's writing. Miss Lloyd's encouragement was no small contribution to the works of Jane Austen and thus, her legacy.
Zöe Wheddon's charming narrative is thorough in its detail and delightful in its execution: my favourite passages included the modern corollaries of Jane and Martha's everyday life, i.e. listening to Jane read was like getting an audiobook as 'read by author'.
Martha Lloyd is having her moment in the spotlight at last! Who was this woman? After all, she was BFF to the woman who graces our ten pound notes...