JANE AUSTEN: Obstinate Heart by Valerie Grosvenor Myer

JANE AUSTEN: Obstinate Heart

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This gossipy sketch by a poet and critic accurately outlines the life of the beloved novelist, without however fully sounding the depths of her character. Austen (1775-1817) grew up in the Hampshire village of Steventon, where her father was rector. When Austen was in her mid-20s the family moved to Bath for a few years, before returning to quiet retirement in the Hampshire countryside. Throughout her life, Austen was trapped by her family's genteel poverty and by her restricted status as an unmarried woman. She found an outlet in composing novels, which she began to publish, anonymously, in 1811, starting with Sense and Sensibility. Her novels were sensationally popular, but she never received much personal recognition. In 1817, an illness (now believed to have been Addison's disease) tragically cut short her life. Until her brief professional success, Austen lived what was by conventional standards an uneventful life. She never ventured out of England, never fought for a cause or fell into scandal. Drawing from memoirs by friends and acquaintances, and in particular from remaining letters (Austen's sister and confidante Cassandra destroyed their correspondence from bleak periods), Myer ably stitches together a patchwork account of Austen's family life, social scene, tentative and failed romances, and literary pursuits. But without a solid record of the novelist's disappointments or lack thereof, Myer's title conceit, that Austen's ""obstinate heart"" led her to refuse unworthy suitors, seems somewhat beside the point. Also, while Myer dwells on Austen's sometimes vicious sense of humor, she doesn't really convey the radical creativity that Austen invested in ironic pleasantries and cruelties. To Myer, ""making jokes on painful subjects"" represents Austen's ""way of coping"": It might have been more fully explored as a way of life and a means to art. While those made curious by the large (and small) screen versions of Austen's works could do worse, true Austen fanatics will not be satisfied.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Arcade