It is 1802, and a group of giggling girls run through the hallways of Manydown House, One in particular, Jane Austen, is thrust into a room, where a gentleman asks for her hand in marriage, which she accepts. The girls, listening behind the door, immediately burst into the room to congratulate the couple. Among them is Jane's sister, Cassandra, who shows concern and asks her if she is sure of her choice. The next morning they are seen leaving the house quickly. Jane has changed her mind. As the carriage pulls away, Jane wonders if she has made the right decision.
Twelve years have passed, and Jane and Cassandra attend the wedding of a cousin, where they meet up with their young and impressionable niece Fanny Knight. Jane is Fanny's favorite aunt, and is persuaded to accompany Fanny and her father, Edward Austen-Knight, to her home in Kent to advise her on the best choice amongst her numerous suitors. Fanny peppers her aunt with questions about love, marriage, and particularly, why Jane herself never married. While in Kent, Fanny introduces Jane to one of her potential suitors, Mr. Plumtree, but Jane is unsure if their love is real or not. Admitting that she herself has no experience, Jane still declares that everyone should have the chance to marry once for love.
One day, while Fanny and her father are out, Jane is startled and surprised to receive an unexpected visit from Fanny's uncle, Reverend Brook Bridges — a man who has clearly played a part in Jane's past. Mr. Bridges has concerns about Jane's abilities as a role model, leading her young niece astray with her fanciful ideas and clever wit. His worst fears are confirmed when Fanny, convinced that Mr. Plumtree will not propose, blames Jane for standing in the way of her desire to be happily and blissfully married.
In 1815, not long after her stay in Kent, Jane travels again from Hampshire, this time to London. Her other brother Henry is settled there, and Jane has asked him to accompany her to negotiate with her publisher over her new novel, "Emma." Suddenly, Henry takes ill, and Jane finds herself going out alone to seek help. She finds it in a young and handsome doctor, Charles Haden, who heals her brother and uses his connections to help secure publishing for her novel. Jane is flattered by the attention, and fancies the chance that his help is more than an act of admiration. But with the arrival of Fanny in London, Doctor Hayden's attention turn to her young niece, and Jane becomes sullen and resentful. She returns to Hampshire to continue writing her next novel, but is seems that she is becoming ill herself.
At the christening of their cousin's son in Hampshire, Jane sees Fanny, who tells her that Mr. Plumtree has gotten engaged to another, and blames Jane for leading her to think him as an unsuitable match. Fanny declares that she will never again trust the opinions of her maiden aunt, who would make a fool of herself in front of others. Cassandra, her devoted sister, tries to comfort Jane, but as she becomes weaker she looks back on her life and wonders if she had made the right choices about love, money, and marriage.
As her sickness envelopes her, Jane confesses to Cassandra that her only regret about not marrying her rich suitor years ago was that she wasn't be able to leave Cassandra and her mother financially secure. But she chose freedom instead. She admits that everything that she is, and everything she has achieved, has been for her sister, and is much happier than she thought she would be.
It is 1820, and Cassandra attends Fanny's wedding, alone. At the reception, Fanny seeks Cassandra out only to find her in solitude, burning the letters that Jane had written to her. Fanny implores Cassandra not to destroy them, hoping to finally find the answers to Jane's lost love. But Cassandra continues to burn the letters, overcome by her grief. As Fanny walks out back to the party, Jane's words of wisdom are in her head, telling her to listen to her own heart now. Fanny finally understands her aunt Jane.