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A Few Facts About "Jane Austen: A Life"

The cover of Claire Tomalin's book, Jane Austen: A Life next to a painting depicting Jane Austen

“Jane Austen: A Life,” along with Jane Austen’s letters, will serve as this year’s text at the Jane Austen Summer Program. Here are a few interesting tidbits about the book and its author, Claire Tomalin.

On Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin was born in 1933 to an English mother and French father.

Her first book, a biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, was published in 1974. Twenty-three years later, “Jane Austen: A Life” was published.

Tomalin has written several books on writers, mostly British, including Jane Austen’s fellow Regency luminary, Percy Bysshe Shelley (“Shelley and His World”).

The Passage of Time

The Austen biography takes a linear approach to Austen’s life, starting prior to her birth to her death and legacy, and the inclusion of many illustrations and portraits provide an interesting visual representation, starting with the Georgian fashions of her parents and aunts, to the Regency clothes we associate her with, and finally to the daguerreotype of her brother, Francis.

Jane Austen and Friends

Austen’s relationship with her family members is common knowledge for most Janeites, but she had several important friendships.

Although Austen turned down Harris Bigg-Wither’s marriage proposal, she was also close to his three sisters.

Another one of Austen’s close friends was Miss Anne Sharp. Writes Tomalin: “Jane found a semblable and made her into one of her very few close friends. ...That she was also a working woman who was later to set up and run her own boarding school in Everton suggests a good deal about what interested and attracted Jane Austen.”

One close friend of Austen’s was Madame Bigeon, her cousin’s long-time retainer, and to whom Austen left a £50 provision upon her death. “Jane had always been good at noticing those who were overlooked by others,” according to Tomalin.

Jane Austen and Her Novels

As we all know, Austen never married or had any children; instead, she would refer to her works as her children. Of “Sense & Sensibility,” she wrote, “I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child.” She referred to “Pride and Prejudice” as her “own darling child.”

In “A Life,” Tomalin gives us a good idea of how it would have been for Austen to write and revise these books while dealing with her family duties and domestic life, as well as moving frequently. “She had been carrying these precious bundles around from place to place, year after year. ...They had to be preserved from water, fire, loss, disintegration and all the hazards of life on the move.”

There’s still time to finish reading Tomalin’s book before the start of the program. And if you have already and want to check out other books on Jane Austen’s life, check out this previous post.


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