For someone who has already plumbed the biographical details of Jane Austen, this book offers a refreshing new aspect. Tracing back along the maternal line, Victoria Huxley reveals the rich and interesting history of the Leigh family.
With the same delight one reads about Elizabeth Bennet being taken out of her relatively humble home situation for a tour of Derbyshire and being invited into Mr Darcy’s circle at Pemberley, one follows with elevated spirits Jane Austen’s visits to Adlestrop and Stoneleigh. Other biographers merely record these visits took place. This book has taken this little bit of Austen history so often passed by, opened it up and brought it vividly to life.
The influences of such visits have clearly contributed to many of the scenes, places, houses and landscapes Jane describes in her novels. Page after page there is a delicious sense of familiarity as one walks the same pathways Jane Austen must have trod. Victoria Huxley writes in a very readable and warm style, yet her research and the inferences she makes resonate with scholarly truth and integrity.
The work is a valuable addition to any collection of Austen biography. It has redressed an imbalance in my understanding of just how well connected Jane was, and of her intimate knowledge and experience of the higher echelons of society and wealth. It has also deepened my understanding of the values, issues and attitudes of the time.
As well as enjoying this book in its own right, it also promises to enhance my pleasure in re-reading Jane Austen’s novels. When I do, it will be with a fresh eye and deeper understanding, together with a more whole view of that great author’s life.