A Memoir of Jane Austen, by James Edward Austen-Leigh

Jane Austen Cassandra Austen

Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen

For decades I read and reread Jane Austen’s novels and yet refused to touch any biographies or scholarly analysis of her works. Why? I guess I wanted to preserve an unmitigated access to her. She was to remain my Jane Austen. How wrong I was!

I have come full circle and joined online lists. I have read much lately about Jane Austen, though a tiny fraction of what has been published about her (reviews to follow soon).

Now I know that some day I too will write a book about her. It won’t be a “sequel”, any more than I would dare write a sequel to Shakespeare’s or Flaubert’s works. But it will be a homage of some kind, a token of my admiration and affection.

Among the biographies, the earliest was that, published in 1870, by James Edward Austen-Leigh, the son of Jane Austen’s eldest brother James. It is widely available online and was written by someone who was Jane’s nephew and knew her personally. At the same time, it very much bowdlerizes her to conform to Victorian standards, sweeps embarrassing truths under the carpet and sometimes fiddles with her letters. It is an indispensable, if flawed, source.

We had a group read of the Memoir at McGill University’s Austen-L, Janeites, Women Writers Across the Ages and sometimes Eighteenth Century Worlds. Ellen, owner of the last two lists, has put together a beautifully illustrated post recapping the discussions. Enjoy!

The illustration is the mysterious portrait of Jane Austen with her back turned, by her elder sister Cassandra.

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