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Jane Austen: A Life Paperback – 7 Dec 1998
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"[Nokes] strikes an extraordinary balance between detailed analysis and readability, and focuses, with a fiction writer's sensitivity, on the psychological drama in Austen's sedentary existence. The result is a suspenseful narrative, full of surprises."--Charles Wright, "Biography
About the Author
David Nokes is a Reader in English Literature at King's College, London. He is the author of John Gay: A Profession of Friendship (1995), and Jonathan Swift: A Hypocrite Reversed (1985).
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Nokes does a masterful, almost unparalleled job of weaving together quotes from the papers of the Austens and various associates. He assures us that he never puts any words into anyone's mouth. He does, however, freely put thoughts into their heads, some of which are reasonable and some which have no known support. He also draws little verbal pictures to go along with these, reasonable, perhaps, but more suitable for fiction.
Nokes also chooses to begin and end his biography with two imaginative "short stories." Interwoven into Chapter One, "Family Secrets" is a surprisingly long account of the Hancock family, Jane's aunt Philadelphia Austen and her husband Tysoe Saul Hancock, separated from his wife and daughter as he tries to rebuild his fortune in India. He ends with an almost entirely imagined account of Francis Cullum, paid caretaker of Thomas Leigh and George Austen. Since we know very little about Cullum or the health problems of Leigh and Austen, I find this highly judgemental piece absurd, especially in a work that purports to be nonfiction.
I like that the book has the running title of the chapter on the left-hand page and the dates on the right. The Notes fortunately contain the chapter running title as well as the chapter number, so it is relatively easy to match up notes. The sources, except for manuscripts, are unfortunately scattered throughout the notes - it would be nice if at least major sources were gathered into a bibliography.