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"Jane Austen at Home offers a fascinating look at Jane Austen's world through the lens of the homes in which she lived and worked throughout her life. The result is a refreshingly unique perspective on Austen and her work and a beautifully nuanced exploration of gender, creativity, and domesticity."--Amanda Foreman, bestselling author of Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire
Take a trip back to Jane Austen's world and the many places she lived as historian Lucy Worsley visits Austen's childhood home, her schools, her holiday accommodations, the houses--both grand and small--of the relations upon whom she was dependent, and the home she shared with her mother and sister towards the end of her life. In places like Steventon Parsonage, Godmersham Park, Chawton House and a small rented house in Winchester, Worsley discovers a Jane Austen very different from the one who famously lived a 'life without incident'.
Worsley examines the rooms, spaces and possessions which mattered to her, and the varying ways in which homes are used in her novels as both places of pleasure and as prisons. She shows readers a passionate Jane Austen who fought for her freedom, a woman who had at least five marriage prospects, but--in the end--a woman who refused to settle for anything less than Mr. Darcy.
Illustrated with two sections of color plates, Lucy Worsley's Jane Austen at Home is a richly entertaining and illuminating new book about one of the world’s favorite novelists and one of the subjects she returned to over and over in her unforgettable novels: home.
Lucy Worsley’s newest book, Jane Austen at Home, has been one of the most highly anticipated books of 2017; a year that Janeites across the globe have been recognizing as the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death. As an ardent admirer of all things related to Miss Austen, I read this book as soon as it was released. I also decided to purchase the audiobook and to go back and forth between the two formats of this book. This book is so rich with information from Jane Austen’s life that I would constantly find myself listening to the audiobook and then going back to the chapters in my print copy and adding book darts to mark many of the intriguing and informative places of interest in this book.
This book is broken into Four Acts. Act One: A Sunny Morning at the Rectory, is about Jane’s earlier years, starting in Steventon. This act discusses her early years, along with some of the interesting facts about her parents that probably contributed to influencing Jane’s desire to become an author. The First Act also discusses the effect of the wars that were taking place throughout the world and the impact these had on Jane’s life. We meet her Irish friend, Tom Lefroy, which is a part of her life that still contains a lot of speculation in regards to what truly took place between Jane and Tom Lefroy. The end of Act One describes the difficult process of leaving Steventon for Jane, and her sister Cassandra, who left for Bath with both of their parents.
Act Two: A Sojourner in a Sunny Land describes Jane’s experiences in the city of Bath. Jane actually lived in many places throughout Bath over several years, and this part of the book does a wonderful job describing the places that she lived, the reasons that she probably left each one of these homes, and also some of the things that were going on in her life during that time period, which took place outside of Bath, such as the marriage proposal that she received from Harris Bigg-Wither, which would have allowed her to become the mistress of the beautiful estate of Manydown Park. I learned a lot about the Bigg-Wither family and some of the reasons Jane may have decided to not marry Harris.
Things start to really look up for Jane in Act Three: A Real Home, which talks about the decision of Jane’s brother Edward Knight, to invite Jane, her sister, her mother and their friend, Martha Lloyd, to live at Chawton Cottage. This part of the book is really interesting as well because I learned a lot about the publication processes that Jane went through with Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and finally with her book Emma. I loved learning why Cassandra and Jane argued over the ending of Mansfield Park, which I believe many readers today can still appreciate. We also learn a little bit about Jane’s times in London where she was working on having the final draft of Emma published and we follow her to Carlton House where she was implored (told) to dedicate Emma to the Prince Regent, who Jane actually despised, as many people today already know.
Act Four, The End, And After is the most bittersweet of the Four Acts. These chapters take us through some of the various stressful events that different members of the Austen family went through during this time period and how these events affected Jane. Of course, there’s no way to say that her death was anything but inevitable due to whatever illness she was dying from, but Jane also discusses in her letters how these stresses in her life were really affecting her daily health. The final chapters discuss Jane’s time on College Street in Winchester and her passing away. The epilogue is very interesting because even though it’s brief, it does describe what happened to the homes that Jane lived in many years after she was no longer living in them.
As with nearly every book about Jane Austen’s life, Ms. Worsley asks a lot of questions and challenges her readers to imagine a variety of scenarios based on the information that scholars have uncovered about Jane’s life over the past two hundred years. Therefore, it’s important to know that it is up to the reader to synthesize this information with a critical eye and to realize that there are still many ideas and lines of thought about Jane Austen and her life that we just may never be absolutely certain about. Jane’s letters are even hard to decipher for her true intentions because as Ms. Worsley states, “The tricky thing is that Jane — as always — was joking.”
I love that the book also contained a good amount of information about not only Jane’s background and life, but also about the historical events and prominent people who lived during this time to help the reader develop his or her background knowledge about the Regency era and the people who were influential in Jane’s life as a lady and as an authoress. As someone who is not an Austen scholar in any way, shape, or form, but who reads a lot of work written about Jane Austen’s life and work, I can confidently say that I learned a lot about Jane Austen, her family, and her process and influence as a writer. Even as I listened to the audiobook, I found myself frequently stopping to make marks on the chapters of the audiobook to go back to in the future because so much of this information was absolutely fascinating to me.
The quality of the audiobook also deserves to be discussed in my review. Lucy Worsley narrated the introduction to the book and then the rest of the book is narrated by Ruth Redman, who does a wonderful job narrating the story with a lovely British accent, an engaging tone, and a voice that made me feel like I was listening to Ms. Worsley herself at times. I also loved how certain parts of the text were narrated in different voices when the need arose to highlight a specific story, text, or person throughout the book. It was really a joy to listen to this audiobook!
It’s Giveaway Time
To share my love of this book, I am offering a giveaway of a hardcover copy to one Just Jane 1813 reader. Please comment below this post to enter this giveaway no later than midnight, ET on August 10. The winner will be announced on this blog on August 11, 2017. This giveaway is open to international readers.
I want to thank Lucy Worsley for writing such an engaging and heartfelt book centered around how the places Jane lived in influenced her life and her work. I also want to thank my friend, Rich George, for sending me my own hardcover copy of this book signed by Lucy Worsley herself. I really can’t thank them both enough for this thoughtful gift!
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