The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor

“I should never sleep easy, Mr. Crawford, did you not hasten to Mr. Dobbin this very moment. God forbid that Jane Austen should stand in justice’s way!”

~Jane and the Man of Cloth


Wishbone and Pride and Prejudice were my first introductions to Jane Austen, but I really fell in love with both the authoress and her time period through Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen Mysteries. They actually inspired me to write my high school English lit research paper on the topic. It’s been several years since I read them, and wanted to go back to the beginning before continuing the series. The first volume is Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor.

Jane is spending the holiday with her friend Countess Isobel Payne and her recent husband Frederick, Earl of Scargrave. During that time, the Earl is discovered dead in his bed, perhaps poisoned. Then an anonymous letter shows up suggesting that Isobel and Viscount Fitzroy Payne, the earl’s nephew and heir, had a certain tenderness for each other. The allegation is unfortunately true, though the pair never acted on their feelings. When additional implicating evidence turns up, the two are put imprison. Isobel’s reputation may never be saved, but she begs Jane to do what she can to at least save her life.

The cast of characters is quite entertaining, and well-written. Though you can see subtle nods to Jane’s own characters, who have by this point practically become tropes of Regency fiction, the book shies away from obvious doubles. It does not in any way feel like a retelling. My favorites were Isobel’s empty-headed cousin Fanny, and rakish lieutenant Tom Hearst, a younger brother who makes up in charm what he lacks in fortune. My soft spot for rogues will be the death of me someday.

My favorite part of the book, however, is the vast amount of historical detail and context it contains. Stephanie Barron fits her fictional tales in with Jane’s life experiences and correspondence. There are also several footnotes, which come across as informative rather than heavy-handed. As someone who can never keep straight the rules relating to various English titles, I find the included details both interesting and helpful.

One of the few aspects, perhaps even the only, that mars my enjoyment of the series is the presence of Lord Harold Trowbridge. Even though this is a reread with a fuller knowledge of events, I still do not like the man.

I read this for the Jane Austen Mysteries reading challenge.

Published in: on August 9, 2011 at 11:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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