Non-Fiction Review: Jane Austen

Jane Austen by Claire Tomalin
Jane Austen: A Life 
by Claire Tomalin

4 out of 5 stars on GoodReads

This biography of Jane Austen does a very thorough job of seizing on every letter, every mention, every tiny detail that can be gleaned about the famous author; unfortunately, that isn’t much. Jane’s sister, Cassandra, destroyed many of her letters after Jane’s death. Jane’s brothers and nephews and nieces didn’t preserve her letters as faithfully as they should have. The result is that there are few original writings left from one of the best-loved authors of all time, and little is known of her day to day life.

However, the author does a wonderful job of piecing together letters from cousins, diary entries of nieces and neighbors, along with the few portraits and tin-type photographs of her family and friends.
In fact, I felt like the author spent too much time focusing on the cousins and aunts and friends, whom I didn’t care about, and too little time actually describing Jane. The book was too long, and I got bored with the endless stories about the neighbors.

I did like that when the author indulged in conjecture about some detail of Jane Austen’s life, it was clearly explained that it was only an educated guess. That way I could trust which were the verified facts, and which were only imagination.

I also enjoyed the chapters that focused on her work, analyzing the main characters and the deep themes in her books, and comparing those to her personal life at the time. There is some good insight into her writing and the extraordinary power of her imagination!

If you want a quick overview of Jane Austen’s life, this is NOT the book for you. If you want details about every person she ever knew, you would enjoy this. Just be prepared to forget which brother is which, because she had a lot of brothers and twice as many sisters-in-law (because some of her brothers married multiple times.)

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