• Deborah Yaffe

She plays well at the palace

Seven years ago, we learned that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall – aka the wife of Prince Charles and future queen consort of England – is a Jane Austen fan.


Two years ago, we learned that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge -- aka the wife of Prince William and future queen consort of England – is also a Jane Austen fan, or at least a person who keeps attractively bound Austen editions on her desk during photo shoots.


And now it turns out that Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York – aka the ex-wife of Prince Andrew and future never-getting-within-spitting-distance-of-being-queen-consort-of-England – is also a Jane Austen fan.


Crazy! Is there something in the water supply at the palace(s)? Is Austen just an irresistible accessory for women who want to seem classy yet mainstream, in a buy-British kind of way? Or is it possible that all these royals sincerely love Our Jane? You decide.


Sarah certainly claims to be the real thing. “My favorite author is Jane Austen,” she told the British newspaper i last month. “Whenever I reread one of her novels, she takes me on a journey of romance, intrigue, and love. I really admire how brave she was for a woman of that period, speaking her mind through literature.” *


Sarah, whose long and winding life path has encompassed tabloid fat-shaming, scandals over sex and money, and a prolific career writing children’s books, diet books, and royal biography, reinvented herself last year as a romance novelist. Her Heart for a Compass, co-authored with an established romance writer, was published by the UK’s ur-romance publisher, Mills & Boon, and got pretty good reviews (see, for example, here, here, and here).


So it’s on-brand – and therefore a teensy bit suspicious -- for Sarah to promote the recent paperback release of Compass by name-checking a classic writer commonly – albeit misleadingly – identified as the original romance novelist. Color me semi-skeptical.


Still, if all this Austen enthusiasm is genuine, then Kate, her stepmother-in-law Camilla, and her ex-aunt-in-law Sarah have the makings of an excellent palace book club. Or at least a fun girls-only movie night.



* I’m never quite sure what to make of these assertions about the “bravery” of an author who anonymously published novels that don’t seem to have struck her contemporaries as particularly shocking or outspoken, whatever subversive content we may find in them today. But hey – sending creative work out into the world is inherently brave, so I’ll let it go.

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