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Jane Austen: A Life (Penguin Lives Biographies) Paperback – May 31, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
There is one serious problem with this biography but I believe that it is the decision of the publisher, not the author. There is almost nothing in the way of documentation: bibliographies, sources, notes. I do like the books that I have read in this series as a good introduction to the various people covered, and as far as I can tell, they are reliable, but one has to trust Penquin's reputation. They are not scholarly.
I would recommend that the reader next consider David Cecil's Portrait of Jane Austen or Josephine Ross' Jane Austen: A Companion, or Debra Teachman's Understanding Pride and Prejudice: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents (The Greenwood Press "Literature in Context" Series), as a look at the author in context of her time. Ross' book has a nice selected bibliography of different types of Jane Austen studies and Teachman has extensive bibliographies of specialized topics.Read more ›
This biography is free of the modern practice of earnestly re-presenting every (usually already well known) fact of a subject's life as if new, supposedly in the name of scholarship. This technique usually results in almost nothing being learned about the subject as an individual, as any personal statement might be interpreted as "impressionistic". Impressions as carefully considered as Carol Shields' are here are something to be proud of. She has used facts to support her ideas rather than the other way around, so we end up with something like a new portrait of her subject, sketched carefully from both the facts and the cogent insights of the author.
In the first chapter, the author quotes George Gissing, who suggested that, "the only good biographies are to be found in novels", and suggests this is because, "fiction respects the human trajectory". Jane Austen, raised on the wryly honest literature of the 18th century, certainly might have agreed, and while Carol Shields has not written a work of fiction, she has written a book that anybody who cares about Jane Austen must read if they want to know her better.
As mentioned in other reviews, this book is readable. Also, there are some flaws in the text (possibly editing error). My fault lies more in the research given to the topice. In the introduction, Shields mentions that she is a writer, but paints herself as more of an amateur enthusiast. There is nothing wrong with this, but if I am reading about the life of Jane Austen, I want to know that the author has researched it (and yes, this is a daunting task).
Here bibliography mentions bibliographies and biographies she has read about Austen. In the text, she mentions letters, but doesn't always quote from them. Where did these letters come from? Knowing this would add some authenticity to the book. Some of her quotes, like a poem written by a brother, don't always seem the best choice. In this case, the poem doesn't always give me the best insight to Jane Austen that one of the other letters may have. If a surviving letter has some insight, I would like to see a quote from that letter.
A lot of the research for the book seems to have come from the novels themselves. The idea seems to be that Jane Austen wrote this because experience "x" was happening in her life. This is conjecture, hard to confirm due to the lack of letters surviving, but conjecture nonetheless.
Any biography you read on Jane Austen will have a sizable bit of guesswork to it. Without seeing the material that Shields is drawing from, that bit seems to be bigger than I like to think.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very Interesting to read about the personal life of my favorite author. This book was very detailed, and easy to read.Published 13 days ago by Tarantino
This book isn't fiction = It's the author's point of view - perhaps a critique, mostly Shield's perspective of the author, Jane Austen, and her writing.Published 15 months ago by Julie P. Weeks
I'm sorry to rate it so poorly, but I honestly could not finish it. I got halfway through and realized every time I read it, it gave me a headache. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Magic Flute
This brief biography offers an quick overview of Austen's life and Shield's interpretation that she and her heroines were searching for a home, something available only to married... Read morePublished on March 22, 2014 by Beth Quinn Barnard
I really appreciated the readability (and brevity) of this book, but it struck me that it was more of an educated person's (in this case, a modern author's) interpretation of Jane... Read morePublished on February 1, 2014 by A reader
There is a respectful casualness to Carol Shield's biography of Jane Austen. I hadn't known about how plain her live was--and yet how vivid and deep her fiction worlds. Read morePublished on April 5, 2013 by Jaime Andrews
This biography of Jane Austen is a good example of - less is sometimes more. There are many biographies of Jane,one of the most revered novelists in English literature. Read morePublished on September 18, 2012 by elizabeth daniel