I love Jane Austen. That has never been a secret. During my teenage year, Sense and Sensibility and steady Elinor were touchstones, then once I was a little older and in sixth form, Persuasion became my favourite. As recently as last year, Emma was read, and adored. I would probably still rank them as Persuasion, Emma, S&S, P&P, with Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park ranking far below. But despite adoring Jane’s novels, I never knew much about Jane.
Lucy Worsley’s biography, Jane Austen At Home seemed like it would be accessible (and it had a cute cover). I borrowed it from the library. This would come back to bit me, as I wasn’t much in the mood for reading when I first took it out. In fact, the first weekend I had the book, I took myself off to the Lake District for Beatrix Potter’s house, exhibitions, and walking. I was reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. As a general rule, I am really not a fan of biographies – I find myself getting confused about dates and names and importance of people. I don’t understand how I can navigate the most convoluted plot with ease, but a biography has me frowning and flipping back a few pages at a time.
The thing about biographies is that I really need to take my time. Unlike fiction, I can’t just keep reading, desperate to get to the end. So, at the point where my library fortnight was coming to an end, I was about a third of the way through the book. Then, I got a library recall notice – I had to take it back on the Saturday (return date) because someone else had requested it. I had about two evenings to read two thirds of the book. Ordinarily, this would be a breeze – I regularly need three hundred page books in a few hours. However. That thing I said about taking my time with biographies? Reading 300 odd pages in two evenings seemed a little daunting. I succeeded, however, and I confess I think my appreciation of the book has been dampened a little by the fact I read it to a deadline, rather than ambling along at my own steady pace.
My overwhelming opinion is that it is good enough – I closed the book with the impression that it’s a whole lot of guess work because Cassandra burnt most of her letters from Jane, and the family “tidied up” her life to fit with the prevalent Victorian values. I do know more about the cost of living in the time, and that Jane liked to mock people (which I already knew, so it doesn’t count much as learning). Also, that far too many people in her life were called Mary!
I did like the way Worsley presented things, prefacing with “we don’t know, but I like to think this…” and sometimes weaving a story out of what is known to fill the gaps for what is not. She’s good. I’ve been told to check out some of her BBC programmes by my historian friend, so I’ll think about that. I liked that this is a book about women – lots of unmarried and widowed women, their bonds and their work. Kudos for that.
My only complaint was that it is really quite long, not by the standards of the books I usually read (400 words is barely anything) but because I was trying to read so much information at once that I struggled to recall apparently important details later in the book. I’m looking forward to going back to the nice, easy Harry Potter series, now that I have returned the book to the library. Requestor, I hope you enjoy.