Friday, January 26, 2018

Nonfiction: Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

I first took notice of Lucy Worsley's Jane Austen at Home when it was nominated for Best History & Biography in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards. I always credit Austen as being one of the primary authors that started my love of reading, and although I tend to shy away from biographies of authors, this one intrigued me. Instead of focusing on her life as a single woman who wrote, this book seemed to look more at Austen's day-to-day life, while also exploring how she managed to accomplish what she did at a time when women were so restricted.

Genre, Themes, History: As mentioned, this book is a biography, and it covers not only Austen's life, but also that of her entire family, and even some members of the extended family. It is the letters of Austen's nieces and nephews that many historians would come to rely on, in addition to the letters written by Austen herself. There were two nieces, Fanny and Anna, whom Austen was particularly fond of, and we are able to learn much from them regarding their aunt's views, humor, and habits. It is well-known that Austen never married, which seems ironic for a woman whose books always ended with the heroine finding a husband. But what Worsley manages to do is point out the differences among the six primary books that Austen published (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey), and how each one reflects what was going on in Austen's life at the time. On the surface, each one ends in a happily-ever-after, making it easy to miss the subtle hints about marriage that Worsley asserts Austen is attempting to make. Of course, Austen did not begin publishing until well into her adult life, which means the first half of the book is spent establishing what her home and family life was like. With ample discussion about her parents, brothers, sister, extended relations, and the homes she would live in and visit, this book is a well-rounded effort to explore a subject already familiar to so many.

My Verdict: It is clear that Worsley has done her research and has a love for the subject matter. The author leaves no stone unturned, almost causing the word "thorough" to be an inadequate descriptor, as she begins before Austen was born and goes through every detail of her albeit short life, right up to her death. Probably the most difficult thing about biographies, aside from accuracy, is making them engaging to the reader, but even here Worsley succeeds, even when describing something as seemingly mundane as one of the many stately homes that Austen would see in her lifetime. But it is Austen's own words from her letters that would be the most interesting, as well as the letters of those close to her. Her books prove her to be extremely clever and witty, and her letters are only further evidence of that fact. Worsley managed to compile her evidence into a volume that is comprehensive without being boring or too heavy.

Favorite Moment: When Austen is able to travel around England without a male escort as she has reached an age and status that allows her this independence.

Recommended Reading: My favorite Austen book will always be Pride and Prejudice, though it was Emma that gave me my first introduction into the author's work. 

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