What’s it all about?:
On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.
This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.
What did I think?:
I have to admit to having a bit of a tentative relationship with Jane Austen when I was younger. I studied her novel Mansfield Park for English Literature A Level here in the U.K. and didn’t relish the process when I was doing it! However, it was only afterwards when I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility that I realised what a brilliant novel it actually was and it gave me a newfound respect for her writing. I now consider myself a devoted Jane Austen fan and was delighted when Hodder and Stoughton sent me a copy of Lucy Worsley’s new biography of Jane and the homes that she lived in throughout her life to celebrate the 200th anniversary of her death, bringing fresh insights into her character, family, hopes and dreams and how passionate she was about getting her work published.
Jane Austen At Home is a tremendous piece of non fiction. It’s obvious that the author is, in turn, also passionate about her subject and has carried out meticulous research in uncovering things that may have otherwise remained hidden from the general public. It was interesting to discover that a lot of things about Jane Austen were deliberately erased, like certain letters by her sister Cassandra or various tidbits of information about Jane’s personality – goodness knows why as it was perfectly obvious to me that Jane was a normal (albeit incredibly talented!) human being just like anyone else. She had multiple suitors and marriage proposals rather than being the lonely spinster that has been occasionally portrayed historically. Jane made the decision herself not to marry/have children in the end which was hugely brave at a time when marriage would have given her financial stability especially when at times her family was at risk of becoming impoverished.
I was also fascinated to learn about her work and her struggle to get published in more detail – how long it took, the difficulties she faced etc and was filled with admiration for her determination not to give up and the way she continued writing, in her own unique manner, refusing to change her style to conform with fashion. Of course, an author must draw a lot of inspiration for her characters from those around her but it was quite eye opening to discover who may have influenced some of her most beloved (and not so beloved!) characters in her real life situation. One of my favourite things about this biography was learning how much hardship Jane and her family went through i.e. being forced to move from her childhood home and sell her things, living in unsuitable places where she did not feel comfortable and constantly felt uprooted and their fight for financial security that was denied over and over again purely because they were the wrong sex.
If you’re an Austen fan like myself, Lucy Worsley has written a brilliant, captivating biography that really gets to the heart of what Jane Austen was all about as a person and as a writer. I was hugely compelled all the way through and even bitterly sad towards the end. Although we know Jane Austen died at a ridiculously young age it seems so unfair, being a writer of such promise that didn’t receive half the recognition she deserved in her lifetime. This was actually my first experience of Lucy Worsley’s writing and not only am I excited to see what she does next but I’m determined to re-visit her back catalogue. Thank you so much to Hodder and Stoughton for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):