A number of Jane Austen related books was donated to my Jane Austen group (mine had a ticket – number 100 – to an ‘At Home’ for the Dean and Chapter of Westminster and the Officers of the Order of the Bath). I had heard of this book, but never came across it, so took the opportunity to snap it up for $2.
Here’s the blurb …
The late 18th century world in which Jane Austen lived was one that combined good sense, elegant manners, intelligence and piety with a liberal dash of spirited fun. Drawing on Jane Austen’s letters, novels, and other people’s memories of her, David Cecil sets out to “reconstruct and depict her living personality and to explore it in relation to her art”. The portrait that emerges is of a clear-sighted, observant, strong-minded woman whose witty and ironic representation of her own society has delighted millions of readers for centuries.
Not much is known about Jane Austen’s life and what little is known is not full of excitement and incident, so a bit of authorial poetic license is to be expected. This biography was first published in 1978 and part of the joy in reading it is to compare it to later biographies – this one definitely falls into the ‘Aunt Jane’ category. David Cecil, in his Foreward, tells us he is trying ‘to reconstruct and depict her living personality and explore its relationship to her art’. It is split into three parts – Part 1 (five chapters – The Family, Early Years, Steventon Days, Bath and Southampton), Part 2 (two chapters – Life at Chawton and Fulfilment) and Part 3 (two chapters – Growing Fame and The End). In each section he writes what is known about Jane Austen from various sources and then interpolates her behaviour and reasons for her behaviour (whether you agree or not will depend on your own vision of Jane Austen). David Cecil has a lovely writing style – no convoluted academic sentences – I particularly enjoyed the section where he described the 18th century mind as apposed to the 19th century mind and how Jane Austen 18th century ideas and religion influenced her writing.
Although there is nothing new to be learnt about the facts of her life each biographer brings their own interpretation and therefore something new to the field of Austen studies.