Jane Austen: A Life (Penguin Lives Biographies)
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With the same sensitivity and artfulness that are the trademarks of her award-winning novels, Carol Shields explores the life of a writer whose own novels have engaged and delighted readers for the past two hundred years. In Jane Austen, Shields follows this superb and beloved novelist from her early family life in Steventown to her later years in Bath, her broken engagement, and her intense relationship with her sister Cassandra. She reveals both the very private woman and the acclaimed author behind the enduring classics Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. With its fascinating insights into the writing process from an award–winning novelist, Carol Shields’s magnificent biography of Jane Austen is also a compelling meditation on how great fiction is created.
Blackall and Jane there existed a cloud of mutual indifference. She sensed, humiliatingly, that she was not noticeably sought after at balls, writing to Cassandra, “I do not think I am very much in request—People are rather apt not to ask me till they could not help it . . .” As First Impressions took shape, the Austen family, those eager aficionados of the novel, followed the fortunes of Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley, of Elizabeth and Darcy, as though they were real people, neighbors whose
repetition and of failure is fully felt. And when we read in the same letter that “There was one Gentleman, an officer of the Cheshire, a very good looking young Man, who I was told wanted very much to be introduced to me;—but he did not want it quite enough to take much trouble in effecting it,” we comprehend the undertow of discouragement and a reluctant acquiescence that doesn’t quite manage to disguise itself. In 1798 she spent time in Bath with her uncle Leigh-Perrot and his wife, and it
of petulance radiates from her correspondence. Her parents and sister suggested how she might dispose of some of her possessions. Politely, tartly, she refused. “You are very kind,” she wrote to Cassandra, “in planning presents for me to make, & my Mother has shewn me exactly the same attention—but as I do not chuse to have Generosity dictated to me, I shall not resolve on giving my Cabinet to Anna [her niece] till the first thought of it has been my own.” Mrs. Austen, while acknowledging that
sense of theatrical expansiveness, and its brave exploration of social injustice. Austen quotes (a little desperately) a friend, Mr. Cooke, who claims Mansfield Park to be “the most sensible Novel he ever read.” Her anxious seeking of opinions concerning her novel, and her careful recording of them, gesture toward her own uneasiness with what she had written. She had intended to write about the subject of church ordination, and yet the novel slides away from that subject more often than toward
exercise, and a less than rigorous academic program. Such establishments served a need in their time. Progressive families were often unguided about what to do with their bright young daughters, who required the connection with learning but not the expectations that might follow. Mr. Austen, perhaps, thought the curriculum at the Abbey School too light for the amount of tuition he was paying; he brought both girls home near the end of 1786, shortly before Jane’s eleventh birthday, marking the end