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Jane Austen (LIVES) Paperback – 6 Feb 2003
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It is a source of perennial frustration to Jane Austen's admirers that so little is known about her quiet existence as an unmarried woman with no outlet for her ferocious intelligence in genteel, rural England at the turn of the 19th century. Carol Shields, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for The Stone Diaries, has already proved herself a writer who can convey large truths with an economical amount of material, which makes her an excellent choice as Austen's biographer. Shields' brief but cogent text makes persuasive connections between Austen's novels and her life (the plethora of unsatisfactory mothers, for example, and the obvious sympathy for women barred from marriage by poverty and from careers by social custom), but she never forgets that fiction expresses first and foremost an artist's response to the world around her, not actual personal history. In fact, Shields argues, it may well have been Austen's sense that the novels she loved to read didn't provide a very accurate picture of the society she knew that fired her own work. Her merciless portraits of the economic underpinnings of marriage and family relations are in many ways more "realistic" than male writers' dramas of battle or females' fantasies of romantic bliss. As for her life's lack of incident, its one major disruption, her parents' move to Bath, prompted a nine-year silence from their formerly prolific daughter. Shields gleans as much as she can from Austen's letters, while remembering that they too gave voice to a persona not the whole truth, to delineate a quirky, sometimes cranky, sometimes catty woman who was by no means the perfect maiden aunt her surviving relatives sought to immortalise. An Austen biography will never be as much fun as an Austen novel, but Shields does a remarkably entertaining job of discerning the links between the two. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Not much is really known about the life of Jane Austen. But that, of course, has not prevented big 'lives' of her being written. The latest and probably best (by David Nokes) weighed in at more than 500 pages. Nokes is an academic, Carol Shields a novelist - and her 200-page biography does not claim to come up with original research. Instead it combines a survey of the life with some more than incidental reflections on the art of the novel and is a very readable introduction to the work of the woman who actually had to pay to get Sense and Sensibility published! Perhaps Shields is a little simplistic in describing her work as "not a piece of reportage from the society of a particular past, but a wise and compelling exploration of human nature", for the question of her context is more complex than that. And a little eccentric when noticing that toes (yes, toes) are not mentioned in her novels. But this is a useful and refreshing book. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
But I bought it. And I read it. And was pleasantly surprised. Carol Shields has not only written a concise, factual summary of Austen's life, but has added insights into why and how Austen wrote the way she did. There are very few tenuous connections made between Austen's fiction and what may or may not have been happening in her private life, something which happens, unfortunately, all too often in Austen biographies; there is only a fellow author's very applicable views on the evolution of Jane Austen's writing style, the main influences on her writing and eventual emergence as a mature, sophisticated writer.
A concise and enjoyable read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
An excellent short introduction to Jane Austen's life although rather overestimating its frustrations and dealing inadequately with the religious aspects.Published 19 months ago by ManofWords
Interesting take on Austin; piecing together the relatively little information available and making a well rounded storey out of it. An enjoyable read.Published on 3 Dec. 2013 by Manel