Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Review of Becoming Jane Austen

This is an accessible biography of Jane Austen for the general reader. The author also includes a lot of genealogical information, maybe more than one needs, about Jane's parents, grandparents, cousins, etc. In addition there's the story of Jane's own romance with Tom Lefroy, which is the centerpiece of the movie Becoming Jane. The movie has some incidents in it that are not in this book; for example, in the movie, Jane elopes with Tom and then changes her mind and goes home. Apparently that didn't really happen. In reality, she waited for him for three years while he was in law school and he didn't come back to marry her.

Jane had two more marriage proposals, one of which she briefly accepted before changing her mind. Apparently at some point she decided she did not really want to be married at all, and she devoted herself seriously to the craft of being a writer. This was, however, some time after she had already published Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice, both of which were written when she was quite young.

After finding out from this book that Jane wrote Mansfield Park and Persuasion later in life, as an "older" and more experienced woman, I was inspired to read them again. They are a bit darker than her earlier works. That used to put me off, but now I understand that they are this way because of her greater understanding of the often tragic situation of women in her time. She was apparently particularly upset at the way her brothers repeatedly impregnated their poor wives, so that the women gave birth every 18 months or so, and then finally died of exhaustion. One gets the impression that she was rather glad she never married.

Another interesting thing I learned from this book was that Jane Austen hated cities and could only work well on her writing in the country. I know the feeling. Learning this about her made me feel better about the fact that I think I work better at my projects in the quiet and isolation of the country. I had always thought that was something weird about me.

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