JANE AUSTEN by Claire Tomalin


A Biography
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 The second major Austen biography of the season expertly places the great novelist in her historical moment, without attempting to fully plumb her psyche. Austen, writes Tomalin (The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, 1991, etc.), ``has a way of sending biographers away feeling that, as Lord David Cecil put it, she remains `as no doubt she would have wished--not an intimate but an acquaintance.' '' Tomalin does indeed fall short of conveying the kind of three-dimensional portrait so painstakingly achieved by David Nokes in his recent Austen biography (p. 1012). She speculates on how the novelist's sojourn with a village wet nurse affected her in infancy, on how she handled heartbreak as an adult, and on the impact of the various family crises that marked her later life--guesswork being of the essence for the Austen biographer, given that most of her correspondence was destroyed by her family after her death. But Tomalin doesn't convince with her tentative explanations of what made Austen tick. Be it somewhat lacking in depth, however, the sketch of the famous author that emerges from Tomalin's unassuming, lucid, and concise account of Austen's family life and of her meteoric rise to fame in her last years does do justice to the integrity of her complex character. Her mobile intelligence and biting humor come across smartly. What's more, Tomalin offers impressive accounts of the evolution and meanings of Austen's novels, and of how she and her works related to their literary antecedents, from Samuel Johnson to the popular novelist Charlotte Smith, and to their historical context of revolution and war. Nice historical detailing--attention, for example, to the expense of the paper on which Austen wrote--adds period flavor. Recommended for those seeking a brief introduction to Austen's life, times, and work; those wishing to burrow deep into the author's consciousness will want to consult Nokes. (16 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-44628-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1997


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