(Review) Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin

Publisher and Publication Date: Vintage Books. 1999.
Genre: Nonfiction. Biography. Women and literature.
Pages: 347.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of Jane Austen.
Rating: Very good.

Several black and white illustrations are included.

Amazon link

I have reader friends who’ve told me they are not a Darcy fan. I have reader friends who’ve told me they’ve never read a Jane Austen story. When I hear these things I’m not offended. I believe that books are personal choices; and, my choice is not necessarily another person’s choice.

How do I feel about Jane Austen? I am a fan of Jane Austen. I love reading about Jane Austen. I love Jane Austenesque stories. I have read most of her novels and a few of them are favorites.

Several months ago I began reading Jane Austenesque stories. Add to this, I have read two of Austen’s unfinished novels that were finished by modern authors. These reasons have led me to feel compelled to read and study Jane Austen. I want to learn about her writing style and technique, the Regency period, her family, and the everyday life she lived.

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin is the fourth book I’ve read in this personal study.
I’ve also read:
1. Jane Austen, Bloom’s BioCritiques by Harold Bloom.
2. The Friendly Jane Austen: A Well-Mannered Introduction to a Lady of Sense and Sensibility by Natalie Tyler, with contributions from Jon Winokur and Reid Boates.
3. Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Jane Austen by Carol J. Adams, Douglas Buchanan, Kelly Gesch.

Several others are in a TBR stack:
~The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne
~Our Tempestuous Day: A History of Regency England by Carolly Erickson
~The Cambridge Companion Guide to Jane Austen by Edward Copeland
~Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye
All links take you to Goodreads.

In Jane Austen: A Life, Tomalin examines all the Austen family. None of them are placed under the microscope, but they are explored through their letters, and personal choices in marriages, family, and careers. Chapter two goes back to Jane’s grandparents.
In Jane’s early life, she was sent to a village woman to be cared for and nursed until she was of age to live at home. This seems odd to our modern view, but during this era it was common. However, Tomalin wonders how this might have effected Jane?
Most of Jane’s letters were destroyed by family. We can only speculate why. In addition, the family was discreet about what they shared and passed down through the generations. A brother and a nephew remarked Jane lived an, “ordinary life.” Later in the book it is stated the family were reserved people. As a Jane Austen fan, I want to read at least a morsel of her showing not necessarily imperfections, but at least a realness of her person. It is easy to wonder if the family was reserved or trying to protect Jane’s image. Both are possibilities. After Jane’s father died and she moved to other housing, there is a glimpse she may have been depressed. Tomalin only explains this is a possibility.
Jane Austen: A Life is a little dry. This point didn’t take away from devouring the book.

Final thoughts:
~I love it that Jane read her writings to family.
~I love it that Jane tried different techniques in writing stories.
~In Appendix one, I thought it was interesting to read about the different illnesses that may have caused Jane’s death.
~I love reading about Cassandra’s love and devotion to Jane.
~It is sad how people of this period treated those with disabilities. Each proceeding generation looks back on previous generations with a different perspective. I have often wondered what people 100 years from now will say about us? What will be our legacy?


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