I have recently read three books about Austen, related to food and names in; Jane Austen and Food, Jane Austen and Names by Maggie Lane, as well as Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen by Jane Aiken Hodge. Although, after reading the books above and thinking I know Jane Austen by now, I was quite captivated by Brian Wilks version of her life. It does not go into too much details, but keeps it on a track which can be compared to a novel in itself. Beautifully written and approaching Jane Austen with a wonderful insight into the person she might have been. It is a personal story of her life and deeds. Like Brian Wilks says in the Foreword:
"’It is a truth universally acknowledged that,’ writers are congenitally wired for communication. The evidence in Austen’s novels of her use of gossip, malicious and otherwise, her use of letters, stories, anecdote, her character assassinations and mischievous exploration of motive and intention, all suggest she would be blogging away with the best of us."This quote shows the essentials of Brian Wilks’ understanding of Jane Austen. He manages to put her novels into our modern world and makes us understand them, her writing and her times. There are numerous quotes from her books to show how she translated her own world into her books.
Although living a ’narrow’ life in the countryside, she was very well aware of the politics and social rules of her time and which she put into her novels. Through her brothers she had access to the navy and its life, the Napoleonic as well as other wars were part of her life. Socially she belonged to the country-side gentry, but through her brother Edward, who was adopted by the Knight family and their sole heir, her social circles widened from her own into the higher circles of the Knights. Edward also provided a house on his estates for Jane, her sister and mother when their father died.
Wilks matches life and customs in England at the time and how real life might have inspired the novels of Jane Austen. As Wilks describes it:
”Despite the rumblings of the industrial and agricultural revolution that were to shift the centre of gravity for the whole of the civilized world, rumblings that steadily grew through each year of Jane Austen’s life, England in the period 1775 to 1817 was stilla rural, picturesque, agricultural society.
Many economic historians see the very years of Jane Austen’s life as the hey-day of the English leisured class.She wrote for many years before she was published and it was only in the end of her life that her books became more widely published and popular. Many were the evenings when she entertained her family with her writings.
”’The cultivation of her own language’ is precisely what Jane Austen set about. Words were to her playthings in her own personal life, and in her writing for publication she developed a sensitivity and confidence that resulted in a fine facility with English prose. It was the society which she found in her home that provoked the enthusiasm for and exploration of styles and techniques that were to become so eloquent a vehicle for her ideas.”Jane Austen was a product of her own time. Her outstanding quality was the possibility to look at her surroundings with a sharp intellect combined with a wonderful sense of humour.
”In the later Austen family it was believed that Jane was a blend of both her parents’ natures: ’If one may divide qualities which often overlap, one would be inclined to surmise that Jane Austen inherited from her father her serenity of mind, the refinement of her intellect, and her delicate appreciation of style, while her mother supplied the acute observation of character, and the wit and humour, for which she was equally distinguished.’"Jane Austen had a lot of inspiration from her own surroundings. The Austen family was very tight and helped each other out through all of their lives. Her many brothers all married and had many children (except her brother George which seems to have been mentally ill). Two of her brother’s were in the navy so she was well informed about what happened there, and we see references to the navy in several of her works. The ’marriage game’ of the country-side was all around her. All in all she managed to put it all into her novels with a grace and wit that still entertains people two hundred years later.
Brian Wilks’ biography of Jane Austen is written with care and a personal approach to her person. Highly enjoyable story of her life and work. Now I am heading for his biography of the Brontës!
Thank you to Endeavour Press for a review copy. The views above are my own personal ones.