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Jane Austen (LIVES) Paperback – 6 Feb 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; New Ed edition (6 Feb. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753812568
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753812563
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 1.7 x 15 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 649,423 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Amazon Review

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.

Review

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.

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: Hardcover
Considering the limited amount of information available about the life of Jane Austen, I was surprised to discover someone else who thought they could add something new to a market already saturated with Austen biographies. Also, having read most of those currently in print (including the 1870 biography by her nephew), I was somewhat sceptical of what this new tome could offer.
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.
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By A Customer on 1 Feb. 2002
Format: Paperback
I bought this book in the hope of eventually tackling the big Austen biographies, such as Tomalin and Noakes and it's an excellent, if brief, account of Austen's life and novels. If, like me, you're holding down a full-time job and don't relish the idea of spending your valuable reading time poring over scads of footnotes then buy this book. Even though it's so short it's surprisingly comprehensive and is, as usual, superbly written by Carol Shields. Highly recommended and cheap at twice the price!
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