Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The facts we have about Jane Austen's life are sparse (thanks to a few letter-destroying relatives), and much of her life is an absence, drowned out by the bustle of a large and semi-prosperous family. She was self-effacing, and little of her personal thoughts are known beyond the great works of literature she left us and a few letters.
Tomalin's book is well-researched and gracefully written; I am rarely able to finish a biography, but I enjoyed every page. She weaves together the many lives around Austen skillfully, with an eye toward capturing the telling details. I could have used a few helpful reminders in the text to keep the women straight - there are plenty of Marys, Janes, Elizas, Fannys, and Annas/Annes to mix up.
I even teared up at the description of Austen's death, and the grief of her beloved sister, Cassandra. I'll consider forgiving her for the letter-burning, but that ninny Fanny is beyond saving for me.
You will be inspired to reread every one of Austen's novels (don't worry, there are only six completed ones), so be warned!
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