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Jane Austen: A Biography by Brian Wilks: A Book Review

Jane Austen: A Biography
Author: Brian Wilks
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Endeavour Press
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 144
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis: Jane Austen, one of the best-loved novelists of the English language, is unique in that her approach to art is without complication. 

     She never attempted to exceed the limitations of her capabilities or of that with which she was familiar, but wrote of ordinary people engaged in familiar pursuits and doing ordinary things. 

     Born the daughter of a country parson, Jane lived what many consider to have been a quiet and uneventful life. Yet in this book, Brian Wilks shows how rewarding a study of this deceptively quiet life can be. 

     Jane was a member of a remarkable family, and her story is one of her close involvement with its members. Personal relationships and their portrayal are the keynote of her art and they are also the key to understanding her life. 

     The successful novelist who, while being asked to dedicate a novel to the Prince Regent wrote to advise her ten year old niece on good “Auntship”, would have preferred to be remembered as an aunt rather than as a famous writer, and the glimpses of her life and family we have in her letters abound with the same wit, liveliness and shrewd observation that are found in her novels. 

     Yet there is also a wider dimension to her life. She lived at one of the most formative periods of English and European history, the time of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars abroad, and of social unrest and upheaval at home. 

     If these events find but a dim echo in Jane’s novels, it is not because she was unaware of them. Through her wide family circle she had first-hand contact with many of the social and political currents of her day: she had two brothers who became admirals and who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, an aunt who narrowly escaped hanging for an offence she did not commit, and a cousin whose husband met his death at the guillotine. 

     These incidents are as much a part of her life as the drawing-room at Chawton where she wrote most of her novels. 

     My Review: Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors of all time. Yet, no matter how many times I have read her books and watched movies and tv adaptations of her novels, I did not know much about her. The only time I have come close to knowing about Jane Austen is Becoming Jane starring Anne hathaway. When I chanced upon Brian Wilks’s biography of Jane Austen, I decided that it was time to learn some facts about my favorite author. This biography highlights her writing career along with her personal life.

     One of the most surprising things that I learned in this novel was that Jane Austen had a dramatic life. I assumed because she lived in the country and was a spinster that her life was probably very uneventful. However, I was very wrong. Jane Austen suffered many tragedies, tribulations, and successes. Jane Austen was also a gossip, which was evidenced in many of her writings. There were other interesting facts about Jane Austen. She had a handicapped brother, and that she was writing when she was only twelve years old.

     Overall, this was a good introduction to Jane Austen for those who do not know much about her personal life. I thought that the author gave quick summaries of Jane Austen’s personal life that I wanted him to discuss in more detail. I also thought that the writing was very dry. Yet, I did find this biography to be heavily researched because he included a lot of primary sources. While I believe that this is a good biography, I do not think it will satisfy the likes of die-hard Jane Austen’s fans who know everything about her life. However, for those like me, who only know a few generalities of her life, and can only infer insight through her writings, I think you will find this biography to be enlightening. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 


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