Austen’s Life Abridged for the Young

Lives of the Writers:  Comedies, Tragedies (and What the Neighbors Thought); written by Kathleen Krull; illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. Harcourt Brace, 1994. ISBN:  0-15-201032-7


I picked up this book a few weeks ago because it had a chapter on Jane Austen, and so another book to add to my collection, as well as yet another Austen image – and now finally have taken a moment to read it:

Here are some quotes: 

…although she had several proposals, she never married.  She never met a man who appreciated her intelligence and education, and she couldn’t bear the idea of marrying just for money.

Austen was reserved with strangers, who found her arrogant or even fierce, but her family treated her as an agreeable mouse.  None of them thought much about the writing she was always doing; it was just something that kept Jane busy, like the needlework the other women did.

At dinner parties, she didn’t say much, but the next day she might write a letter about ‘another stupid party last night,’ or ‘I was as civil to them as their bad breath would allow.’

As much as she wanted to be a humble sister and obedient daughter, she was also extremely proud of the small sums she earned when her family persuaded her to start publishing her books.  She wrote, ‘If I am a wild beast, I cannot help it.’

She always wore a cap and her clothes were never quite in fashion.

Austen was a world-class aunt … [and to her nieces and nephews] she was a pretty, funny storyteller.

In her obituaries, she was revealed as the author of six novels. [me here: she had only published four at her death, P and NA published posthumously, and all the obituaries did not disclose the fact of her authorship – but I quibble]]

There are a few perfect thoughts expressed about Austen liking Pride & Prejudice better than any of her other books; and Emma being about “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like”; and how few in her own family knew she had written Sense & Sensibility; and how she practiced the “piano” in the morning and prepared breakfast.

I’ll let all this speak for itself – they certainly got some things right, but all this conjecture about her being arrogant and fierce and mouse-like at the same time and being unfashionable and never meeting a man who appreciated her intelligence [surely there must have been some – she just didn’t marry them!] – this is like the updated version of the Victorian view of Austen – I thought we were past all that, and what do we really know anyway? – I just hate to see it perpetuated for a new generation!  [the only source listed in the bibliography is Park Honan’s 1987 biography, Jane Austen: Her Life.] – and not to even mention the “bobble-headed” image [though she is kinda cute!]

If Austenblog’s cluebat is sitting around anywhere, I could surely put it to good use…

Any thoughts??  I’m off to read about Shakespeare…

[Other authors covered:  Murasaki Shikibu; Miguel de Cervantes; William Shakespeare; Hans Christian Andersen; Edgar Allen Poe; Charles Dickens; Charlotte and Emily Bronte; Emily Dickinson; Louisa May Alcott; Mark Twain; Frances Hodgson Burnett; Robert Louis Stevenson; Jack London; Carl Sandburg; E.B. White; Zora Neale Hurston; Langston Hughes; and Isaac Bashevis Singer.] – and the book by the way, won numerous literary awards:  Horn Book Honor Book; PW’s Best Book of the year; Booklist’s Editor’s Choice; SLJ Best Book of the Year; ALA Notable Book; etc…

All quotes from the book, pp.25-27; Austen illustration, p. 24; see the author’s website here.

[Posted by Deb]

5 thoughts on “Austen’s Life Abridged for the Young

  1. None of them thought much about the writing she was always doing; it was just something that kept Jane busy, like the needlework the other women did.

    Oh, for heavens sake!


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