Blame it on Claire Tomalin. After reading her biography, Jane Austen: A Life, my obsession with Jane Austen had begun.
According to letters that survive, Jane Austen’s relatives described her as clever. Yet, she was still the poor relation. Tomalin sees Jane Austen’s social status as an advantage for the writer.
“No one observes the manners of a higher social class with more fascination than the person who feels they do not quite belong...”
The biography reads like a novel, and you can recognize the inspirations for many of Austen’s characters, including the pompous Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice. (Even after 200 years, Mr. Collins can’t be beat for comic conceit.)
This biography also shows that Jane Austen’s comic sense was not limited to her novels. From a letter to her sister, Cassandra:
“Mr. Richard Harvey is going to be married; but as it is a great secret, and only known to half the neighbourhood, you must not mention it.”
Bringing Jane Austen to Life
Before reading this biography, I had not read any novels by Jane Austen or given any thought to the life of Jane Austen.
“The uneventful life of Jane Austen has been the generally accepted view…It was, in fact, full of events…That she was marked by them will become clear in the course of her story; and that she also overcame them and made them serve her purposes.”
That “generally accepted view” was written by both a brother and a nephew of Jane Austen. But through diaries, journals, and letters, Claire Tomalin brings Jane Austen to life.
The earliest of Jane Austen’s letters to survive was addressed to her sister, Cassandra and is the first of many mentions of Tom Lefroy, at that time, a 20-year-old visitor from Ireland. Jane describes Lefroy as a “gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man.”
As Tomalin notes, this letter to Cassandra is the only letter in which Jane is writing as the heroine of her own youthful story.
When Lefroy was an old man, he admitted to his nephew that he had been in love with Jane Austen, but as an eldest son, he was not allowed to risk his future by entangling himself with a penniless girl.
In 1811, Sense and Sensibility was the first Jane Austen novel published. The first printing of the novel sold out and earned Jane Austen a profit of £140 (more than $12,000 today).
“The importance to her of this first money she had earned for herself can be best appreciated by women who have endured a similar dependence. It signified not only success, however modest, but freedom…”
Since this biography, I have read many books about Jane Austen’s life and the era in which she lived. And I blame it all on Claire Tomalin. Thank you, Ms. Tomalin.
See more Books to Read:
The Reader on the 6.27
Once Upon a Tome
No Time to Spare
Read This for Inspiration
Vivian Maier Developed
Books overlooked. Bakes for home bakers. Places unexpected. Find your new favorite thing.