Very little of Jane Austen the person remains for any biographer to get their teeth into. Most of her letters were destroyed by family members presumably anxious about their contents. Claire Tomalin shrewdly speculates on why this could be, concluding from what evidence she can find that while Austen was a dutiful daughter living a simple life with her family, she was also clever, outspoken and provocative. Virtues that seemed, at various times, to unsettle and disturb relatives and friends and made her possibly disliked by some.
The other amazing thing is that there exists only one line drawing to show us what Jane Austen looked like. There is no painting or silouette of her, and the line drawing was done by her sister Cassandra, not a professional artist. The rest of the Austen family all had their portraits painted at some stage. This adds to the mystery, unless a portrait exists somewhere that hasn't been unearthed yet.
Somehow, through clever use of what few letters exist and some thorough historical research, you get a real sense of the time and circumstances that Austen lived through and how those experiences created the novels we are left with today. It's a brilliant and fascinating read that very quickly drenches you in Austen's social and emotional world.