Jane Austen: A Life

I have been pretty quiet on the whole blog front this past fortnight, mainly because I have been in London and off on holiday, but I will get to that in my Weekly, or should I say fortnightly since that’s what it will be this week, up date. Luckily I am still able to get blog updates on my phone and ipod, so I have been able to keep up with the blogs I follow, which I really enjoy doing. Due to all this craziness I have only finished one book, fortunately it was a good one!

Claire Tomalin first came to my attention when I heard snippets from her Dickens Biography on the radio, and since I have a teeny hatred for hardbacks (they are expensive, you can’t really read them in the bath and you certainly cannot carry them about in your handbag) I decided to wait until it came out in paperback. Yes, I realise it is available now, but I am supposed to be on a book buying ban, which I forgot about until just now and I bought two books from a charity shop this morning, but they were only 50p each, so how could I refuse? But anyway, we will forget about that mini transgression, and move on to Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen.

Jane Austen is an author I imagine most people have heard of, maybe they have only heard of one of her novels, or seen an adaptation on TV, but I think it is safe to say that she is a well known British author. But like most authors, it is her novels that hold the deepest interest for me. I did not study Austen at school, so came to her novels in my late teens, starting with the obvious, Pride and Prejudice, and finishing last year with Persuasion. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of her novels, and admire her style of writing and how cleverly she has captured the trials and tribulation, loves and losses of all her characters…if only my own love life was like a Jane Austen novel! Despite all this, I knew very little about the woman herself: what inspired her? Why did she never marry? And something as simple as how many brothers and sisters did she have? So I was in dire need of a good Austen biography, and, although I have only read this one, I don’t think I could have picked anything better if I had tried.

Jane Austen: A Life is an incredible biography. It is well thought out, detailed, full of interesting snippets of Georgian life and the lives of the Austen family, and a completely engrossing read from start to finish. Tomalin offers detailed descriptions of the lives of Austen’s relatives and how they impacted on her and her writing, which was fascinating to read about, as it is obvious that Austen would not have succeeded without the input and support of her family, as female authors were a rarity in early 1800s Britain. It was great that Tomalin didn’t stop exploring the lives of the relatives as soon as Jane died, and instead discussed their achievements, and what they did with Jane’s letters, the majority of which were sadly burnt by various relations.

I know Jane Austen is almost synonymous with the city of Bath, and it was great to read about her experiences in the city. I was surprised and also quite pleased that one of the first house the Austen family inhabited in the city was on the same street as one of my brother’s old houses.

Tomalin dedicates several chapters to detailed discussions on Austen’s work, and these were possibly my favourite chapters. Tomalin offers valuable insight into all of Austen’s writing, from her novellas to her more popular novels, and I loved reading these sections. They really made me think about my own experiences with Austen and I cannot wait to reread all her novels with Tomalin’s comments in mind, as I know they will only benefit my reading.

I don’t like folding down the pages of some of my books, but I have made three tiny exemptions to my copy of Jane Austen, so I must have done so for very good reasons. I haven’t looked at them again until now, so who knows what I will find. Oh yes, so I have highlighted two particular quotes from Austen’s writing that I found somewhat significant to myself, both of which that made me smile for different reasons. The first comes from the novella The Watsons, and is on the subject of teaching, as a newly qualified English teacher, I do enjoy quotes about teaching.

‘ I would rather be Teacher at a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like.’ Elizabeth, better informed about the harsh realities of women’s lives, replies: ‘I would rather do any thing than be Teacher at a school…I have been at a school, Emma, and know what a Life they lead.’

Not sure I would have chosen a career in education back in Georgian times. The next quote also links to being single (yes this is very much on my mind at the moment) and is from Austen herself to a niece who is umming and ahhing over who to marry.

‘Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor.’ How true!

The final fold was on the last page, primarily due to the last paragraph. It is incredibly long, so I am not going to retype it, but it speaks about Jane at various points in her life; as a child who loved reading, as a young adult who missed out in love right through to her prolonged illness that led to her early death. It is a poignant last paragraph, and reminded me why I had read the book and just what an incredible woman Jane Austen really was.

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