Being a big fan of the wonderfully eccentric and colourful historian, Lucy Worsley, I was thrilled to snap up a bargain copy of her 2017 biography, Jane Austen at Home from Amazon for my kindle; especially as I had already enjoyed the accompanying TV series on the BBC. I started reading it back in January and enjoyed dipping in and out of it over the following months.
Seeing as homes or acquiring a home is so very central to many of Austen’s novels, in this biography, Worsley takes the reader on an in-depth journey through the homes Jane herself lived in. From her childhood at the Steventon Rectory; to her skittish homes in Bath and Southampton; to more settled years in Chawton Cottage; and finally to where she spent her last few weeks in Winchester. As well as the many great houses and country estates of friends and relations she went to visit. Taking us into the very rooms from which this beloved novelist quietly changed the literary world.
Marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, this new, refreshing look into the story of Jane’s life focuses on how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces, not just the people, that mattered to her. Sadly it wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but instead a life that was often a painful struggle: as an unmarried woman in Georgian England, Jane was beholden to her male relations to provide for her a home, and it was horrible to learn that wealthier Austen relations were not necessarily as generous as they could or should have been.
It is famously said that Jane lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Worsley cleverly peels back the rosy-coloured image of Jane – constructed later by the Austen family for their slightly problematic famous relation – to reveal a passionate woman who remained fiercely independent, earnt her own money, and who had a sparkling wit and sharp tongue. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end perhaps refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.
All in all I thought Jane Austen at Home was a fascinating look into one of my favourite author’s life, through the places and spaces that mattered to her; and all done in Worsley’s marvellously enthusiastic style. I read some of this alongside my comforting re-read of Emma and on finishing this all I want to do is re-read all of Austen’s wonderful novels! Great read.
Have you read this? Have you read any other Jane Austen biographies?