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on 18 August 2011
This book brings together a collection of memoirs and biographies of Jane Austen written by her brother (Henry Austen) and her nieces and nephews. James Edward Austen-Leigh's memoir is the longest of the collection of works included and, with their permission, made use of the recollections written by his sisters (Anna and Caroline) as well as Henry Austen's notice and memoir and various letters from their Aunt Jane which had come into their possession.

This was an interesting selection of works, mainly because the detailed notes to this edition made it possible to see what information about Jane Austen had been left out of James Edward Austen-Leigh's memoir. It seems that he and his sisters wanted to present Jane Austen in a way that they felt was appropriate for the late 19th century and so certain events or incidents were glossed over. In particular a humorous poem that Jane Austen wrote a few days before her death which had been referred to in Henry Austen's first biography was deliberately not mentioned in James Edward Austen-Leigh's memoir because he and his sisters felt it made their beloved aunt appear frivolous. Additionally, James Edward Austen Leigh and his sisters did not have access to all of Jane Austen's letters that modern scholars have access to as these were then being held by other branches of the family.

For the above reasons I wouldn't recommend this collection to someone who hadn't read a modern biography of Jane Austen. I also think it would be easier to first get a sense of Jane Austen's extended family from a modern biography and I think I would have found this book more confusing if I hadn't previously read one. But despite their occasional failings these writings are one of the primary sources for modern Jane Austen scholars and well worth reading if you want to find out more about the author and her world.

If you are looking for a modern biography about Jane Austen then I found Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen: A Life to be superb.

For clarity, this edition contains the following works:

A Memoir of Jane Austen - James Edward Austen-Leigh (1871)
Biographical Notice of the Author - Henry Austen (1818)
Memoir of Miss Austen - Henry Austen (1833)
Recollections of Aunt Jane - Anna Lefroy (1864)
My Aunt Jane Austen: A Memoir - Caroline Austen (1867)
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on 22 August 2014
I was interested to read J. E. Austen-Leigh's biography about Jane Austen, mainly because he was a relative of hers (her nephew). He was in his teens in the last years of her life (she died when he was about 19 years old), but being part of this close family meant he was fortunate to have spent time with her, her sister and the family in general. With this in mind I was expecting to discover something new about one of my favourite authors, something I hadn't read before or which had never come to light in other biographies. Sadly this was not to be the case...

For a book billed as the 'prime authority for her life' I found it quite dry and emotionless in tone. I appreciate that it was written in the latter half of the 19th century and that certain events and incidents in Jane's life were therefore avoided for the sake of reputation (that of Jane's and her family's) and Victorian decorum, but Austen-Leigh revealed nothing of Jane's life or personality that I didn't already know. In fact her own, fictitious works, make me feel closer to her as a person than this biography did.

Much of Austen-Leigh's work is based around the recollections of others, particularly his sisters Anna and Caroline, of whom the latter spent a great deal of her childhood with aunts Jane and Cassandra. But even these recollections aren't evocative. Much of what is related is factual, with little of the emotion you would expect from someone reminiscing about precious times spent with a beloved aunt. I fully appreciate that in today's sensationalised biographical world, Austen's life would be consider boring and uneventful (points which Austen-Leigh himself makes) but I anticipated something more than an emotionless blow-by-blow account of her short existence.

The one recommendation I CAN make is Kathryn Sutherland's detailed notes at the back of the book, which make it possible to work out the information which was emitted from the original memoir and which therefore helps to paint a more detailed picture. It's clear that Austen-Leigh and his sisters were keen to show their aunt in a certain light, but this makes it all the more disheartening when you consider that in doing so they managed to remove all of the more interesting things that would have helped bring Jane's personality to life for those who never knew her but would have liked to.

If you're looking for the plain facts and figures regarding the life of Jane Austen, you can't go far wrong with Austen-Leigh's memoirs. However, for a more in-depth and emotional look at her life, personality and the times she lived in, I wouldn't recommend this at all.
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on 30 March 2014
I hadn't been aware of this publication. Reading it brought me closer to Jane Austen and her family, rather like an oral contribution to family history, which is one of my interests. An enjoyable experience.
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