12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
"...a wise and compelling exploration of human nature",
This review is from: Jane Austen (Penguin Lives Biographies) (Hardcover)
This is one of several volumes in the Penguin Lives Series, each of which written by a distinguished author in her or his own right. Each provides a concise but remarkably comprehensive biography of its subject in combination with a penetrating analysis of the significance of that subject's life and career. I think this is a brilliant concept. My only complaint (albeit a quibble) is that even an abbreviated index is not provided. Those who wish to learn more about the given subject are directed to other sources.
When preparing to review various volumes in this series, I have struggled with determining what would be of greatest interest and assistance to those who read my reviews. Finally I decided that a few brief excerpts and then some concluding comments of my own would be appropriate.
On Austen's focus: "Jane Austen chose to focus on daughters rather than mothers in her writing (with the exception of her short and curious novel Lady Susan), but nevertheless mothers are essential in her fiction. They are the engines that push the action forward, even when they fail to establish much in the way of maternal warmth. Daughters achieve their independence by working against the family constraints, their young spirits struck from the passive, lumpish postures of their ineffectual or distanced mothers." (page 15)
On one of her dominant themes: "Because of her bright splintery dialogue is so often interrupted by a sad, unanswerable tone of estranged sympathy, stirred by complacent acts of hypocrisy or injustice, the reader of Austen's novels comes again and again to the reality of a persistent moral anger. It is a manageable anger, and artfully concealed by the mechanism of an arch, incontrovertible amiability." (page 57)
Nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh on her "isolation": "Jane Austen lived in entire seclusion from the literary world; neither by correspondence, nor by personal intercourse was she known to any contemporary authors. It is probable that she never was in company with any contemporary authors. It is probable that she never was in company with persons whose talents or whose celebrity equaled her own; so that her powers never could have been sharpened by collision with superior intellects, nor her imagination aided by their casual suggestions. Whatever she produced was a home-made article." (Page 142)
These brief excerpts guide and inform a careful reader's understanding of Austen's artistic achievement. They also suggest all manner of correlations between her art and personal life. As is also true of the other volumes in the "Penguin Lives" series, this one provides all of the essential historical and biographical information but its greatest strength lies in the extended commentary, in this instance by Carol Shields. She also includes "A Few Words About Sources" for those who wish to learn more about Jane Austen. I hope these brief excerpts encourage those who read this review to read Shields' biography. It is indeed a brilliant achievement.