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Jane Austen
Illustrated by Juliet McMaster
Victoria (B.C.), Sono Nis Press, 1993. [38pp],
paper, $9.95, 1SBN 1-55039-041-4 CIP

Subject Heading:

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11

Reviewed by Jane Robinson

Volume 22 Number 3
1994 May / June

Celebrated novelist Jane Austen  (Pride and Prejudice, Emma) actually penned this curious little story at the age of twelve, approximately two hundred years ago. Like most of her childhood stories, It was written purely for the enjoyment and amusement of her family. Now Juliet McMaster, a professor and critic of Jane Austen's works, brings it into the twentieth century as a picture-book.

This is quite obviously a labour of love for McMaster, who has illustrated  The Beautiful Cassandra in the style of Beatrix Potter to accentuate the humour and frivolous mood of the story. Thus the heroine Cassandra is portrayed as a mouse and the other characters as lizards, frogs, tortoises and so on in eighteenth-century London. In a lengthy but insightful afterward, McMaster explains her own artistic decisions as well as much about Jane Austen's life and work. It is interesting reading and a must in order to understand the story.

The pleasure-loving Cassandra finds herself in various unbecoming predicaments for a girl of her day as she sets off adventurously throughout London. She handles each situation with uncommon flair and when she returns undaunted and happy to the protection of her family, it has been a day well spent.

Readers may not share that same sentiment. The original text has not been altered: the dedication to Jane's sister Cassandra and even the spelling errors remain intact. The language and style of writing will be so completely foreign to readers as to be largely incomprehensible. Even with the benefit of the afterward, most readers will need to be coached through the story and may be too confused to appreciate its humour.

This book would be a wonderfully unique addition to a study of Jane Austen, but is not recommended for mainstream reading.

Jane Robinson is a former teacher in Winnipeg, Manitoba

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