Lori Smith's A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love and Faith by (Waterbrook Press, 2007) is a delightful memoir of an Austen fan's journey through England's Austen landscape. Smith travels throughout England making stops in Oxford, Steventon, Chawton, London, Winchester, Lyme, Bath, Lyme Park & Chatsworth (with a few more thrown in there) where she envisions Austen's life amidst the local landscape and takes readers into her own life and emotional journey of depression and love mixed with humor.
This book is an easy and compelling read, which surprised me. Usually, I am not the biggest fan of the memoir. Just by chance, it seems I've been on a kick of them lately and so I was a bit lackluster in wanting to start this one after picking it up from the library. However, Smith's journey is empathetic and her style of writing easily flows from chapter to chapter. One bit that stuck out to me was her reflection upon Jane's close friendships with her own. There was something about the way she phrased it, I could relate to it. I think most people could relate to it at some time or another in their life. She says,
"My friendships shift with what sometimes feels like alarming frequency, sometimes painfully so, regenerating themselves like skin cells, or taste buds so that you fear that seven years from now your group of friends will not look the same as it does today. Dear people move in and out, we no long move in the same circles, or see things quite the same way. Sudden changes sometimes, other times just slowly growing in different directions. Sometimes there is no emotional distance at all, only physical separation, but always some level of grief, some question about whether there will be more who understand me or whether I will just be alone. I've heard the saying about choosing your friends, but I think most of my great friendships have just happened to me. Some are easy and fun, some are serious, some feel slightly askew between seasons of nearness (111-2)."More than anything, though, this book made me long for England. Having been to so many of the Jane Austen sites, I could clearly envision Smith's description of the sights and how she saw them. I noticed I stopped to daydream numerous times and remember pouring rain at Lyme Park, a dark and damp Winchester cathedral--me making a B-line to Jane's tombstone, Bath--so much Austen, rain and Roman Baths, and the brief glimpse of Chawton from a tour bus, but with enough time for a photo. Sigh. (Which I'd show you, but I'd have to scan them as they are on actual film and scanning isn't a priority right now.) I have a feeling that I might have to plan my own Austenland tour for my next visit (which is now shaping up to be an extended stay in Scotland and England).