Jane Austen at Home: A Biography by Lucy Worsley

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography

On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.This new telling of the story of Jane's life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn't all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a pain...

Title:Jane Austen at Home: A Biography
Author:
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Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:400 pages

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography Reviews

  • Kristin Davison

    To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the death of Austen, Worsley has come out with a lively biography that focuses on Austen’s homes (or lack of them). This angle gives an interesting insight into how Austen lived her life day to day and how much this influenced her work.

    Worsley’s style of writing is clear, entertaining and easy to read, I flew through the book. The information that is presented is very well researched and gives a real idea of who Austen really was and what she looked like.

    To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the death of Austen, Worsley has come out with a lively biography that focuses on Austen’s homes (or lack of them). This angle gives an interesting insight into how Austen lived her life day to day and how much this influenced her work.

    Worsley’s style of writing is clear, entertaining and easy to read, I flew through the book. The information that is presented is very well researched and gives a real idea of who Austen really was and what she looked like. What Austen looked like is hard to determine, but Worsley presents a clear image that is oddly familiar. Austen becomes a “modern” woman with a temper and a want of independence.

    This biography packs a punch, I learnt so much from it. It has just the right amount of contextual information is included, informing the reader about the era without overwhelming them or turning the biography into a textbook on the era. Worsley debunks myths about Austen herself and the era in which she lived and wrote. I loved that Worsley includes historical and archaeological evidence, as a hopeful future archaeologist myself, this is refreshing.

    The influence behind Austen’s novels is obviously discussed, but Worsley brings forward new and interesting ideas. The idea of Austen as a “modern” woman who didn’t like having to do domestic chores is explored along with the subtlety of her novels and where the original spark of imagination for her writing came from. I love that Worsley suggests that this may have come from Austen’s time at the Abbey school Reading, though I may be bias as I was born in Reading.

    In conclusion this is a fantastically entertaining book that is completely worth picking up, I now have a list of places I want to visit and stay at along with books to read.

    Dr Lucy Worsley is the Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, covering Hampton court, the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Banqueting Hall, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle. Worsley gets amazing behind the scene access to these properties and often tweets about the goings on. She is an insightful writer having recently released two childrens’ fiction books based on Katherine Howard and Queen Victoria and is also regularly seen on TV, including her latest series Six Wives.

    Twitter = @Lucy_Worsley

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    I would like to thank Lucy Worsley and Maddy Price at Hodder & Stoughton for sending me a physical proof copy! I look forward to reading it :)

  • Tony Riches

    I can say with some confidence that, after reading this book, you will never read Jane Austen’s works in quite the same way again. I also wonder if, like me, your mental picture of Jane Austen is a blend of the famous ‘portrait’ by her sister Cassandra and Anne Hathaway’s memorable portrayal in TV’s (historically inaccurate) ‘Becoming Jane’? If so, you must read this brilliant new work by Lucy Worsley.

    Lucy’s lively style and relish in fascinating details shines new light on the real Jane Austen.

    I can say with some confidence that, after reading this book, you will never read Jane Austen’s works in quite the same way again. I also wonder if, like me, your mental picture of Jane Austen is a blend of the famous ‘portrait’ by her sister Cassandra and Anne Hathaway’s memorable portrayal in TV’s (historically inaccurate) ‘Becoming Jane’? If so, you must read this brilliant new work by Lucy Worsley.

    Lucy’s lively style and relish in fascinating details shines new light on the real Jane Austen. Most of what I thought I knew was right – but lacking the vital context provided as we study the reality of Jane’s home life. In the modern vernacular, we would say she was ‘just about managing’ for most of her time, although Lucy helps us understand what was considered normal in Georgian society – and what was not.

    Jane’s sister destroyed many of her letters deemed ‘personal’ and those which survive have been described as ‘mundane.’ Lucy Worsley disagrees and finds delight in the trivia. She says, ‘...her personality is there, bold as brass, bursting with life, buoyant or recalcitrant as each day required. These letters are a treasure trove hiding in plain sight.’ I was also fascinated to realise Jane knew her letters could be read aloud, often over breakfast, so used a code known to her sister to ensure discretion.

    To return to what Jane might have looked like, Lucy suggests she was around five feet seven, with a twenty-four inch waist (the alarming consequence of wearing tight stays as a girl). She rebukes biographers who describe her as a ‘plump, dumpy woman’ based on Cassandra’s portrait rather than the evidence. Similarly, the romantic image of a lonely writer fits poorly with the known facts.

    I was intrigued by the glimpses of the author’s own formative years. By wonderful coincidence Lucy attended the Abbey school in Reading where Jane Austen was sent as a border at the age of thirteen. (She also stayed at the same house as Jane Austen by the sea in Lyme Regis.) As we approach the two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s death on the 18th of July, I highly recommend this new book, which establishes Lucy Worsley as one of my favourite authors.

    Tony Riches

  • Damaskcat

    I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley.

    Lucy Worsley succeeds in presenting a three dimensional Jane Austen in this fascinating biography. She shows how the Austen family tried to sanitise the picture which was presented to the world after Jane's death but the evidence is still there if you choose to look for it. By reference to previous biographies, primary sources, the novels themselves and the juvenilia the author pieces together a very much more robust picture - warts and all.

    It i

    I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley.

    Lucy Worsley succeeds in presenting a three dimensional Jane Austen in this fascinating biography. She shows how the Austen family tried to sanitise the picture which was presented to the world after Jane's death but the evidence is still there if you choose to look for it. By reference to previous biographies, primary sources, the novels themselves and the juvenilia the author pieces together a very much more robust picture - warts and all.

    It is well known that Cassandra Austen - Jane's sister - destroyed some of her letters after her death to help create the picture of her which has been handed down through the generations. But there is enough evidence in the surviving letters to show that Jane's character was not all sweetness and light. She was someone who belonged to the more robust culture of the eighteenth century rather than the more mealy mouthed and buttoned up nineteenth century culture.

    You only have to read Sense and Sensibility and appreciate the earthy vulgarity of Mrs Jennings to know that Jane Austen must have been aware of aspects of life which would not automatically be associated with a maiden aunt. Her letters show she was something of a flirt and had many possible suitors - all of whom she refused in the end. Jane Austen was very much aware of the facts of life.

    She also had a very well developed sense of the ridiculous and a sense of humour which could see something amusing in most situations. She also enjoyed misleading people and her letters and the novels can be read on many levels and it is very far from clear whether she is joking or being serious.

    This is a book to read and re-read and Lucy Worsley has written what to my mind is one of the best books about Jane Austen ever written. The book contains a comprehensive bibliography as well as an index ad notes on sources throughout the text. If you only read one book on Jane Austen this year then make it this one.

  • Abi White

    I am a massive Janite, but am still Shocked that I have read a biography at such a pace. This really did "feel" more like a work of fiction, and managed to be fun despite doing nothing to gloss over the fact that being a poor unmarried "gentleman's daughter" sounds like my idea of hell.

    I will certainly be seeking out Lucy Worsley's other books, and will be making a pilgrimage to some of the places described in such great detail.

    I cried at the end. Does that count as a spoiler?

  • Teresa

    This is a fantastic read. I've read a few Jane Austen Biographies and some were a bit high brow and I had to trudge through others. It's all change with this one. The chapters were laid out clear and concisely. It started with her early days and went right through in order. As usual the chapter about her death is extremely sad but very well done. I thought I knew all there was to know about Jane but I picked up some new snippets here.

    I was pulled into this book as soon as I started reading. I s

    This is a fantastic read. I've read a few Jane Austen Biographies and some were a bit high brow and I had to trudge through others. It's all change with this one. The chapters were laid out clear and concisely. It started with her early days and went right through in order. As usual the chapter about her death is extremely sad but very well done. I thought I knew all there was to know about Jane but I picked up some new snippets here.

    I was pulled into this book as soon as I started reading. I stopped to do a group read of another book and couldn't wait to get back to it. Enthralled again as soon as I picked it up.

    For anyone who's new to Jane Austen's novels or just Jane herself, I'd highly recommend this book.

  • Nancy

    I have been reading Jane and about Jane for thirty-nine years. I found Jane Austen at Home to be revealing and thoughtful, expanding my understanding, and bringing Jane to life as a living, breathing woman. I so enjoyed every bit of Jane Austen at Home.

    "Miss Austen's merits have long been established beyond a question: she is, emphatically, the novelist of home."Richard Bentley, publishing Jane Austen's novels in 1833

    Worsley offers this quotation at the beginning of her Introduction. The search

    I have been reading Jane and about Jane for thirty-nine years. I found Jane Austen at Home to be revealing and thoughtful, expanding my understanding, and bringing Jane to life as a living, breathing woman. I so enjoyed every bit of Jane Austen at Home.

    "Miss Austen's merits have long been established beyond a question: she is, emphatically, the novelist of home."Richard Bentley, publishing Jane Austen's novels in 1833

    Worsley offers this quotation at the beginning of her Introduction. The search for home is central to Austen's fiction, Worsley contends. Jane herself lost her first home, the Stevenson parsonage, upon her father's retirement. She moved from rental to rental before her eldest brother Edward, adopted into a wealthy family, offered his mother and sisters Chawton Cottage.

    Austen's characters are in need of a home, have lost a home, are concerned about home in some way. Charlotte even enters a loveless marriage with Rev. Collins to have a home. And yet Jane turned down the opportunity to be a woman with a substantial home with the brother of her dear friends.

    The book is about the importance of 'home' and how Jane was impacted by her homes. It is also about family, and friendships, and love affairs, and the greater world, and most of all, Jane's dedication to her novels and how she used the world she knew to create her fictional worlds.

    The book appears in four acts, a nod to Jane's love of theater and plays.

    Act One: A Sunday Morning at the Rectory presents Jane's childhood home and younger years, including her teenage trip to the Bath "marriage mart."

    Act Two: A Sojourner in a Strange Land follows Jane and her family into the series of rental homes, vacations, and visits after her father's retirement from ministry: Bath, Southampton, Lyme Regis, and their Bigg's friend's home Manydown. All of these locations appear in her novels.

    Act Three: A Real Home finds Jane, Cassandra, their mother and Martha Lloyd living in a gifted home provided by Edward (nee' Austen now Knight).

    Act Four: The End, and After concerns Jane's later years, last novels, and illness and death.

    It was interesting to read that, based on a pelisse Jane may have worn, her measurements were 33-24-33 and that she was a stately 5'7" tall. The small waist would have been from wearing stays as a girl. She had high cheek bones and full cheeks with good color, and long light brown hair with a natural curl.

    Jane had many suitors over her life; those who perhaps she wished would make an offer did not, and those who showed interest or did offer she turned down. As Worsley remarks, consider the novels that would never have been born had Jane wed! Had she married she may have ended up like her niece Anna, worn out by age thirty from successive pregnancies.

    Jane died two hundred years ago. Her family lived into the Victorian Age and endeavored to make Jane palatable to the new era by presenting a pious and loving Aunt Jane who excelled at spillikins. The real woman had a sharp wit and acerbic pen which she employed to earn money to live on. And Mrs. Austen, for all her ailments, loved to put dig her own potatoes and muck about in the kitchen garden! No wonder this Austen family seemed lacking in sophistication by Victorian standards.

    The impact of slavery, plantations in the Caribbean, and the Napoleonic Wars on Jane's world and her family are also shown. With brothers in the navy, relatives invested in slave plantations, the bank failure of one brother and an aunt who was charged with shoplifting, Jane's life was anything but sheltered!

    I am asking for this book as a birthday present, to sit on my shelf with my Jane Austen sets.

    I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  • abby

    Jane Austen is a household name, and we know very little about her. Historian Lucy Worsley seeks to change that by focusing on the famous author's life at home-- and lack there of one. What emerges is a story of the precarious business of being a woman in Georgian England. Your home is wherever your male relations deem to keep you. And it was no different for Jane Austen. When her father retired, she lost rights to her beloved childhood home in Stevenson, and all of her possessions, including bo

    Jane Austen is a household name, and we know very little about her. Historian Lucy Worsley seeks to change that by focusing on the famous author's life at home-- and lack there of one. What emerges is a story of the precarious business of being a woman in Georgian England. Your home is wherever your male relations deem to keep you. And it was no different for Jane Austen. When her father retired, she lost rights to her beloved childhood home in Stevenson, and all of her possessions, including books, were sold for the trouble. It began an almost nomadic existence for the unmarried Austen women, dependent on the generosity of more moneyed relations, living wherever they could be stashed conveniently and cost effectively.

    Worsley ties the circumstances of Jane's home life to that of the characters in her novels. For me, it's a bit contrived. Worsley's writing style is enjoyable, and infused with a wit would make her idol proud. Even so, I found this book dragged. There really isn't enough known about Austen to write a full length biography. I commend Worsley for not going down the road of many of her predecessors in trying to sensationalize or romanticize Austen or make her life into more than what it was. However, what that leaves is a short, rather dull story. Is it possible that someone so endearing and sharp in print as Jane Austen was in fact boring in life? Yes, I think so.

    Worsley makes her 350 pages by shifting focus to many of Jane's relatives. I read an advanced copy, so I don't know what changes have been made to print, but a family tree would have been a helpful addition. It seemed like every other female relative was named Fanny, and it was difficult to follow at times. This isn't a bad book, and Worsley is a good writer and historian, but it was a bit of a chore to finish.

    Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me a copy of this book to review.

  • Diane

    I loved this biography of Jane Austen so much that while reading it I was bursting with enthusiasm and couldn't stop talking about it.

    Historian Lucy Worlsey focused on Jane's experiences in her different homes and on how her novels treated life at home. I especially appreciated the details about Jane's relationship with her parents and siblings, the joy of when she got her first writing desk (which I was lucky enough to see on display at the British Library), and the details about how her work f

    I loved this biography of Jane Austen so much that while reading it I was bursting with enthusiasm and couldn't stop talking about it.

    Historian Lucy Worlsey focused on Jane's experiences in her different homes and on how her novels treated life at home. I especially appreciated the details about Jane's relationship with her parents and siblings, the joy of when she got her first writing desk (which I was lucky enough to see on display at the British Library), and the details about how her work finally got published. I have read several books about Jane Austen, and this is one of the most enjoyable for its mix of real life and details from her writing.

    I thought the whole book was fascinating, and the author's examples from Jane's work made me want to reread all her novels. (Although this is not a new phenomenon; on any given day, whatever I'm doing, I'd likely rather be reading a Jane Austen novel. Or watching one of the movies.)

    Anyway, I enjoyed this biography so much that I want to get my own copy and add it to my Austen shelf. "One can never have too many biographies of Jane Austen," is a thing I have actually said.

    Highly recommended for Janeites. Now pardon me, but I need to go watch "Pride and Prejudice" for the thousandth time.

    "For Jane, home was a perennial problem. Where could she afford to live? Amid the many domestic duties of an unmarried daughter and aunt, how could she find the time to write? Where could she keep her manuscripts safe? A home of her own must have seemed to Jane to be always just out of reach. With only a tiny stash of capital hard earned by her writing, the death of her father forced her into a makeshift life in rented lodgings, or else shunted between the relations who used her as cheap childcare. It's not surprising, then, that the search for home is an idea that's central to Jane's fiction."

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