Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Peter Leithart/JANE AUSTEN

After the first 25 pages or so, this short biography of Jane Austen becomes very interesting. A few things I learned:

  • In her girlhood, Austen entertained her brothers with gruesome tales, but the works we know her for were considered oddly pedestrian in a culture that embraced Romantic and Gothic literature. (Charlotte Bronte had no love for Austen.)
  • Austen dedicated Emma to the Prince Regent only out of obligation after the Prince's librarian gave her permission to do so. In truth, Austen didn't think much of the Prince.
  • While Austen held deep convictions regarding Christianity, she detested moralizing and shied away from emotional displays of her religious sentiments.
  • Austen had a lot of nieces and nephews whom she liked spending time with and writing letters to. But her brother edited out many of her sharp-tongued witticisms before publishing these letters. (The originals still survive.)

Even though this biography is only about 150 pages long, I felt like I knew Austen well after finishing it. One of my favorite features was Leithart's many comparisons of other Austen biographies and his accounting for their differences. For example, he claims that a biography written by Austen's brother portrayed a more socially acceptable Austen--a sort of Victorian domestic goddess that didn't include Austen's sharp and candid observations about other people. I highly recommend this as a great place to start a study of Austen's life.

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I received this book for free from the publisher but was not obligated to write a favorable review. These opinions are my own.


moonrat said...

awesome. definitely up my alley.

Cheryl said...

If anyone has recs for other Austen biographies, I'd love to hear them. I wouldn't mind delving in a little deeper than a book as short as this one can go.