Books Remembered: Jane Aiken Hodge

Monday, August 16, 2010

Although I have always loved books, my true passion for them began with Jane Aiken Hodge. My mother introduced me to Jane when I was around eleven, resulting in an affectionate battle as to who would get to read her latest release first.

Ms. Hodge’s romantic suspense novels transported me to different historical periods and settings. Against the backdrop of the Regency England, the Napoleonic War, Greek War of Independence, and even the American Revolution, she wrote stories of strong, determined women who against all odds found their happily ever after. At the time, I didn’t realize the significance of one of her heroines being over thirty or books about the Napoleonic War being set in Portugal or Moscow rather than England. I simply knew that I loved them.

They were fast-paced, mysterious stories with emotionally satisfying endings. I read her books over and over again, so much so I suspect that I absorbed pacing into my very bones. Between 1961 and 2003 Jane published more than 40 novels.

Born on December 4, 1917 to Pulitzer prize-winning poet Conrad Aiken and his first wife [Jane’s sister was children’s author Joan Aiken], the writer Jessie McDonald, Jane achieved first writing success with ‘Camilla’ published in installments in 1961 in the US magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal. Later published in book form as Marry in Haste, 'Camilla' was set in Napoleonic Portugal.

Hodge’s first published book, Maulever Hall (1964), reflected her admiration for Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, whose biography Jane would later write. This was followed by The Adventurers (1966), dealing with thrilling moments during Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow; The Winding Stair (1968), another tale of romantic suspense in Portugal; and Savannah Purchase (1970), describing early-19th-century intrigue in the Southern US city where Ms. Hodge’s father was born. The titles go on.

My personal favorite was The Adventurers as the heroine disguises herself as a boy to flee after her family is killed by Napoleon’s retreating army and meets up the bad boy hero, a card shark. Against the backdrop of a world torn apart by violence, Ms. Hodge created an unbelievable tale of adventure where romance prevails. Sigh.

Jane Aiken Hodge died on June 17, 2009 at age 91. I still have all the paperbacks my mother bought, which is my memorial to the author who had immeasurable impact on me.

What is your favorite Jane Aiken Hodge book?