The most extensive biography of Austen in decades, meticulously researched and frequently illuminating. Less elegant than...

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JANE AUSTEN: Her Life

The most extensive biography of Austen in decades, meticulously researched and frequently illuminating. Less elegant than David Cecil's A Portrait of Jane Austen (1979), Honan's supplies in learning what he lacks in style. He went back to the manuscripts of family papers rather than relying on Austen's great-nephews' squeaky clean 1913 Jane Austen Her Life and Letters. Honan shows us a prickly, often awkward Austen who lived within an enormous extended family in which snobbery and antagonisms between rich and poor relations ran rife. He shows quite clearly the extent to which, in her difficult heroines Fanny Price and Emma Woodhouse, Austen drew upon experiences and emotions of her own youth. (Unfortunately, Honan tries to enumerate every relationship in Austen's life, necessitating a scorecard to distinguish one Austen from another.) Because Austen's life was so private and outwardly uneventful, earlier biographers tended to focus on her mind or on the manners of her time. Honan widens our view to show how connected this retiring woman really was to the world of the British empire. Two of her brothers were in the Navy; a close family friend, Warren Hastings, was Governor General of India and the center of a huge scandal; and an aunt was accused of shoplifting and spent many months in jail before being cleared. A staunch Tory with passionate political feelings from an early age, Austen was very involved, at least intellectually, with the great historical moments of her age. An enjoyable and useful piece of scholarship that returns us to such novels as Persuasion and Mansfield Park with a much deeper understanding of their biographical and political context.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 1988

ISBN: 0449903192

Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1988