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66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GET TO KNOW THE REAL JANE AUSTEN AND HER BOOKS BETTER
I first read this book shortly after watching the television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I wanted to learn more about the creator of Mr Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet and Pemberly.
The book gives a clear readable account of Jane Austen's life. Remarkable, as most of her letters were destroyed after her death and she never kept a diary. It gives a strong flavour of...
Published on 26 Mar 2002

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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Great read
This is the first biography I have ever finished, and though I found it slower to read than fiction I felt compelled to read it all the way through. As the title tells us it is the life of Jane Austen and Tomalin’s research is mainly from family letters, journals and public records. Of the former there are few to survive especially from Jane and her close...
Published on 13 April 2002 by pennymwood2


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66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GET TO KNOW THE REAL JANE AUSTEN AND HER BOOKS BETTER, 26 Mar 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Jane Austen: A Life (Paperback)
I first read this book shortly after watching the television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I wanted to learn more about the creator of Mr Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet and Pemberly.
The book gives a clear readable account of Jane Austen's life. Remarkable, as most of her letters were destroyed after her death and she never kept a diary. It gives a strong flavour of Regency life in England as it follows the fortunes of the extended Austen family.
What I loved most was the way in which Austen's novels were discussed and possible inspiration for characters or plots given. I very soon "got into" this biography, becoming immersed in the life of Jane and the family; caring about what happened to them.
Even if you have only read one of Jane Austen's books you will enjoy reading Claire Tomalin's biography. Jane was not the prim-and-proper shrinking violet we have been led to believe. Although a dutiful daughter she could have a wicked sense of humour and a biting wit. Claire Tomalin suggests that Austen would have been a modern and forward-thinking writer if transported to the present day.
Newly available evidence on the cause of her death makes interesting reading as does Jane's family tree; the Austens are kept track of right down to the present day.
All in all a good read and a delve into society life at the turn of the nineteenth century.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could this be the last word on Jane Austen?, 31 Dec 2003
By 
John Austin "austinjr@bigpond.net.au" (Kangaroo Ground, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jane Austen: A Life (Paperback)
Jane Austen's stocks rise higher and higher as the years go by. Several of her novels continue to feature in bestseller lists, film and TV adaptations of them abound, and biographies appear regularly. This masterly biography, by Claire Tomalin, is the seventh Jane Austen biography I have read in the past twenty years.
Claire Tomalin examines her elusive subject from very possible perspective. The Austen genealogy is probed, every known neighbour, witness, and every witness's evidence is weighed and balanced, Jane Austen's writings are examined and assessed, and the situations of her brothers' living descendants are sometimes mentioned. Publishing and republishing histories are given, a family tree is included, and the many illustrations are given punchy captions. Gracing (or disfiguring) the cover is the only known pictorial representation of Jane Austen, an unfinished sketch done by her sister Cassandra, a sketch that was not discovered until long after Jane and Cassandra had died and which a niece said was "hideously unlike" her aunt.
Don't assume from all this that the book is merely an exhaustive effort of plodding detection. Sensitive and intelligent guesswork is here. Brilliant deductions are made. What is known, for example, is that the Austen daughters and their parents had no permanent home during the "unproductive" decade when Jane was in her 20s and early 30s. What is also known is that Jane Austen had drafted three of her novels before this, as well as the novella "Lady Susan". The deduction that Claire Tomalin makes from this evidence is that Jane Austen must have protected and cared for her manuscripts like a mother with newborn babies. Carriers would have been unreliable, cases of paper could break and spill, and a penniless young woman could hardly command premium quality cartage.
Other known facts are sometimes given a creative spin. You will read an especially creative and imaginative account of Jane Austen receiving, accepting and then rejecting a proposal of marriage from Harris Biggs.
While all this is very satisfying, the effect of this substantial biography is to leave me still unable to perfectly "place" Jane Austen, an effect that will probably prompt me to read a further seven biographies of her.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of detection as much as biography, 1 Feb 2006
This review is from: Jane Austen: A Life (Paperback)
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not such a plain Jane, 8 Sep 2011
By 
RR Waller "ISeneca" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jane Austen: A Life (Paperback)
With the help of regular excellent television and film adaptations of her books, Jane Austen stock has never been higher and many more people know of her now that ever before. Like many writers and artists, there is not a vast collection of biographical records and artefacts to draw on; her 17th century house museum at Chawton is sparse in its collection, although, like the Brontė's manse at Haworth, it does help to give the flavour of the time and a visit to Bath will add the rest.

Just as Brontė biographers look to Branwell's life for some of the more extreme characters his sisters created, Tomalin uses Austen's life to look for characters, events and settings she experienced then wrote about - a good trait in a biographer and one which links the books clearly to the life, allowing the biographer to root the boks in the life story and "vice versa".

The impression left by Tomalin's biography is that Austen was more dynamic, ambitious and out-going than some of her characters, although there are obviously flavours in Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse, "handsome, clever, and rich" but without some of the less endearing aspects; she is shown to have had a good sense of humour and a wicked wit. In many ways, this is obvious as the author and keen observer of so many wonderful stories which "many could have written but did not".

Some recent information and research into possible causes for her death are also included.

Recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellently written and highly insightful, 30 Jun 2009
By 
L. Foggarty "Scarlett" (scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jane Austen: A Life (Paperback)
Never for a moment dry as biographies can be, an achievement in itself given how little information there appears to be to go on. It may be annoying to modern fans that there appears to be so little information about Austen to be gleaned through her own letters and papers, but this appears to be the way she wanted it. Instead much of the events of her life and her character are pieced together through the letters and recollections of her veritable army of family, friends and neighbours. Some may be diasppointed by this but the results are truly fascinating. The irony that the microscope which Austen turned on society in creating her novels is focused on her own life (however inadvertently) by the members of that society is not lost on the reader. Tomalin also offers fresh insight into the novels themselves in discussing Austen's creation of them, and leaves the reader longing to revisit the well-known novels for themself, as well as Austen's earlier and less well know work. The tantalising prospect of what her last, unfinished novel, Sandition, might have become is dangled and then snatched away. I read this in 2 days - definitley a must for any fan.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive and fascinating, 24 Feb 2008
By 
Jane (Essex, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jane Austen: A Life (Paperback)
This is a biography that works as a fascinating and moving story in its own right. Claire Tomalin uses every available scrap of evidence to put together a surprisingly convincing portrait of Jane Austen as a (then) largely unrecognised genius and thoroughly professional writer, who was nonetheless an active member of a large and interesting family. The book dispels a lot of myths - including the long-held notion that Jane was writing about her own life in those six perfectly-crafted novels. Far from being a quietly contented domestic being, she is shown to be an observer, almost an outsider, in Regency society - someone who could be quite uncomfortable to have around, with her sharp observations and witticisms - but deeply appreciated by close family members and friends.

It's surprising to learn that her cousin had an affair with Warren Hastings, that their daughter's husband was guillotined in the French Revolution, that a brother founded a bank which crashed, that Jane knew about the slave trade and was in sympathy with abolition, and had probably read Mary Wollestonecraft on the rights of women. This is not an uneventful, sheltered life as so often portrayed! Claire Tomalin lifts the veil and shows Austen to be a modern woman making her way in an uncertain and changing world. The unrelenting pressures of money - or the lack of it - make Jane Austen's meagre and belated earnings from her novels especially poignant, bringing her finally some small measure of financial independence and wider recognition.

Whether you're coming to this book fresh from an Andrew Davies TV adaptation, or are a more serious scholar, this is a fascinating read and a very convincing portrait of a much-loved but still misunderstood genius.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Both scholarly and readable., 26 Dec 2010
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This review is from: Jane Austen: A Life (Paperback)
Although I have read all Jane Austen's novels several times over a long period of time, I didn't know much about her life. Claire Tomalin's biography provided exactly what I needed. It is clearly scholarly (it tells you where information comes from and where information is lacking) but it also very readable and engrossing. There is an invaluable map of the various country houses and parsonages which make up Jane Austen's immediate social circle, and an extended family tree to remind you who all the various Jameses, Edwards and Fannies are! A great book for both the specialist and the general reader.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new interpretation of a famous life, 17 Jan 2008
By 
Old Wealden (Pinner, Middlesex UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jane Austen: A Life (Hardcover)
Though there have been many previous books about Jane Austen, Claire Tomalin manages to find a great many fresh facts and offers new interpretations of this writer's life. Perhaps her most startling idea is to reverse the asumption made by various soppy predecessors and point out that Jane Austen's lifelong spinsterhood was not the most tragic thing which could happen to a woman and that, though Austen's life was relatively short, it might have been very much shorter if she had had to bear children. Tomalin writes in a clear chronological way constantly placing the life of every family member in the context of what was going on in the wider world; I was particularly interested in the Austen connections to those who were dispossessed by the French Revolution. The career of her three naval brothers makes an interesting comparison for those fans of the Aubrey and Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. My one quibble is that Tomalin is no literary critic and fails to do justice to the quality of Austen's writing; no-where does she mention Austen's rich ambiguity. But Tomalin is a great writer of historical biography and here she is at the top of her form.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh and revealing biography of a well-loved author, 8 April 2007
By 
BookAddictUK "BookAddictUK" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jane Austen: A Life (Paperback)
Claire Tomalin offers a radical re-assessment of arguably the nation's favourite author in her account of the life of Jane Austen. There is no room her for the prim, endearing and content `Aunt Jane' that was the core of her image for most of the 20th century. In tracing Austen's life from her birth in a Hampshire parsonage in 1775 to her untimely death in 1817, Tomalin reveals first a home-loving child unhappily sent away to school and then an independent minded young woman who resents her dependence on wealthier relatives and prizes the rare times when she has the luxury of leisure to write.

Eminently readable, this biography places Austen not only within a family and locality, reveals the extent to which her connections provided close links to the politics and social trends of her times. Aunt to the illegitimate daughter of Warren Hastings, Governor General of Bengal and the loving cousin of a French émigré, Austen had no opportunity to live a life constrained to the round of local society. Tomalin shows that, schooled with the sons of West Indian slave owners and her father the trustee of an Antiguan sugar plantation, Austen cannot have been unaware of the contemporary debates on abolition and chattel slavery, as some her most ardent admirers would have it. Tomalin's brief but thorough analysis of each of Austen's major work's shows how such issues, fair from absent from Austen's novels, are subtlety worked through by a sophisticated and socially aware, professional author.

One of the real delights of this book is the account of the all too brief time in which Austen could enjoy the fruits of her talents, following the publication of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice: the small income she derived from her novels gave her a degree of personal freedom while the recognition of friends and family provided satisfaction, even if the limited public recognition she obtained made her uneasy.

Many of Austen's letters and her diaries were destroyed by her family - her sister Cassandra and, later, her niece, Fanny, but Tomalin exploits the available material to the full, studying not only what is left of Austen's correspondence and notes but also the correspondence and journals of those who knew or met her. And yet this is more than a mere history. With intelligence and sympathetic deduction and Tomalin provides a more rounded, and more credible, picture of her subject than many Austen biographers have managed, something which amounts to a fresh, revealing and intimate biography.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 29 April 2003
By A Customer
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This review is from: Jane Austen: A Life (Paperback)
A very scholarly book, not just about Jane Austen's writing, but her family and Georgian life in general. At times I found it a little too heavy going, but for anyone who likes Austen, it's a thorough biography and helps to understand where her work comes from.
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