Jane by the Sea is not the first novel to depict the life of the young Jane Austen. I have come across five or six other books with the same goal. And at least one of them was written with such a strong commitment to historical accuracy that I recognized almost every occurrence in the story from my previous biographical research.
While I did a great deal of research for Jane by the Sea, I'm not gonna lie. I didn't hesitate to bend facts a bit in service of the story.
Chronological liberties were taken. In the Prologue, I had Jane's elder brother Frank present, because I wanted to establish Jane's relationship with him. But he actually should have already left for the Royal Navy.
Also, the passage of time in the story between meeting Tom Lefroy and meeting Frederick is presented to be about a year and a half. In actuality, it was closer to five years. And Jane hoped for a future with Tom for as long as three years, probably visiting him in London at least once, with some of her family.
But I did try to capture the most important and formative aspects contributing to her life, personality, and voice.
WOULD JANE HAVE APPROVED?
There have been hundreds of novels and short stories written that are sequels and alternative variations, based on the characters from Jane Austen's novels (collectively known as Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF.)) Elizabeth Bennett is forced to marry Mr. Collins, who then conveniently dies before the wedding. Mr. Darcy is mistaken for a pirate while walking along a pier,and then taken into custody, where he will encounter Elizabeth at sea. And let's not get started on the vampires and zombies!
Well, Jane Austen herself would speculate to family what she envisioned as the likely futures for her characters (poor Jane Fairfax of Emma was to die in childbirth; Kitty Bennet of P & P will marry a young clergyman.)
Jane also added a brief comical postscript onto the end of her copy of Fanny Burney's Camilla. She kills off the villain. Her own tiny little bit of fan fiction. So, it seems quite likely that she would have sympathized with readers who can't bear to say goodbye to her iconic characters.
Was he real? As I said in the book description, the only record we have of the young man that Jane Austen met on a seaside holiday comes from her family. There is no mention of this man in Jane Austen's remaining letters. But that is probably due to the fact that Cassandra destroyed the majority of Jane's letters after her sister's death, thinking perhaps to protect her privacy.
Cassandra did later praise this young man's "charm of person, mind and manners" and believed that he was "worthy to possess and likely to win" Jane's love.
The story of this young man became known to Jane's extended family. Jane's niece Caroline, wrote, "I never heard Aunt Cass. speak of anyone else with such admiration - she had no doubt that a mutual attachment was in progress between him and her sister. They parted - but he made it plain that he would seek them out again - and shortly afterwards he died!"
Most biographers believe he was probably a clergyman. A minority have speculated that he might have been in the military. I chose the latter (with an abandoned clergy career) to create a bond that Jane would have felt due to her brothers in the Navy. It also provides a plausible explanation for how he might have died.