Austen Biography

[NOTE:  if the reference is available online, a link will be included]

Jane Austen Biographies:

Austen-Leigh, James Edward. A Memoir of Jane Austen  (1870). The source for many biographies that followed. James-Edward Austen-Leigh (known as Edward in the family) was in his late teens when his aunt died (his father was Jane’s eldest brother, James). Both aunt and nephew grew up at the Steventon parsonage. Writing in older age, Edward not only remembered aspects of his aunt’s life and the world as it was when she was alive, he also sought out her letters – sometimes getting no cooperation from relatives, but in a couple instances gaining valuable ‘reminiscences’. The second edition also included several unpublished Austen works, including the canceled chapter of Persuasion. [KM]
          *HTML at
          *Page scans at
          *various viewing options via Internet Archive

Austen-Leigh, Mary Augusta. PERSONAL ASPECTS OF JANE AUSTEN (1920).  Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh was the daughter of James-Edward and Emma Austen-Leigh. In 1911 she published for private circulation the wonderful biography of her father; but him she knew; for him she could consult his diaries, those of her mother, their letters and family reminiscences. Mary Augusta was born in 1838 – therefore twenty-one years after the death of Jane Austen. [KM]

Austen-Leigh, William and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh. JANE AUSTEN HER LIFE AND LETTERS: A FAMILY RECORD (1913).

Cecil, David.  A Portrait of Jane Austen.  London:  Constable, 1978.

Corringham, Mary.  I, Jane Austen.  London:  Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971.  [A re-creation in rime royal based on the letters of Jane Austen, her novels and comments of her biographers.]

Edwards, Anne-Marie.  In the Steps of Jane Austen.  3rd edition. Newbury, Berkshire:  Countryside Books, 1991.  A travel guide book with walking tours of Austen places:  Steventon, Kent, Bath, Devon, Lyme Regis, Southampton, Chawton and environs, London, and Winchester.

Fergus, Jan.  Jane Austen: A Literary Life.  Macmillan, 1991.  A must-have biography.

Firkins, O.W. JANE AUSTEN (1920). This is here because the book was found online.

Freeman, Kathleen.  T’Other Miss Austen.  London:  MacDonald, 1956.

Grey, J. David (managing ed.); A. Walton Litz and Brian Southam (consulting eds.). The Jane Austen Companion: With A Dictionary of Jane Austen’s Life and Works, by H. Abigail Bok (1986). With contributions from leading Austen scholars, and topics ranging from ‘Dress and Fashion’ (Penelope Byrd) to ‘Travel and Transportation’ (Lorraine Hanaway), this is a ‘companion’ volume you will cherish.

Hill, Constance.  Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends.  John Lane, 1901, reprinted 1923.  Full-text online at A Celebration of Women Writers.

Hodge, Jane Aiken.  The Double Life of Jane Austen.  London:  Hodder and Stougthon, 1972.

Honan, Park.  Jane Austen: Her Life.   St. Martin’s Press, 1987.

Jenkins, Elizabeth.  Jane Austen: A Biography. London: Victor Gollancz, 1948; NY:  Pelligrini & Cudahy, 1949.  [and various later reprints]

Laski, Marghanita.  Jane Austen and her World.  London:  Thames and Hudson, 1969.

Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen:  A Family Record; 2nd ed. (1989; 2004). Le Faye takes the original edition of FAMILY RECORD and factors in new scholarship. Pulling away from the idea of Austen’s life and her letters (thus the revised title), this volume centers Austen within her family circle. Highly recommended.

——–. A Chronology of Jane Austen and Her Family (2006). This huge book is recommended because it gathers, for the first time, all of the information any biographer could possibly find to use about the Austens… it is easy to use, with dates on the left, the information in the middle, and the citation on the right. A lengthy and exceptionally useful bibliography (both of unpublished and published materials). If you seek not a narrative about Austen’s life, but the facts upon which said narrative would be based, then keep an eye out for this title. [KM]

________.  Jane Austen [The British Library, Writers’ Lives]. London: The British Library, 1998.

—–, ed. Reminscences of Caroline AustenSame source material as the earlier MY AUNT, JANE AUSTEN: A MEMOIR. Caroline was the younger sister of James-Edward Austen-Leigh; she wrote down her recollections of ‘Aunt Jane’ when her brother was soliciting material for the MEMOIR. [KM]

Malden, Mrs. Charles. JANE AUSTEN (1889). A 19th century biography that is NOT the Memoir – if it’s of interest (well written, well researched) this could be a ‘find’. Part of the Eminent Women Series.

Meyer, Valerie Grosvenor.  Jane Austen, Obstinate Heart: a Biography.  NY:  Arcade, 1997.

Mitton, G.E. Jane Austen and her Times, 1775-1817.  (1905)  Reprinted by Barnes & Noble, 2007.

Nokes, David.  Jane Austen: a Life.  NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.

Pilgrim, Constance.  Dear Jane:  A Biographical Study of Jane Austen.  Edinburgh: Pentland press, 1991. [First published in 1971 by William Kimber.]

Shields, Carol.  Jane Austen [A Penguin Life].  Viking Penguin, 2001; also London:  Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2001.

Spence, Jon.  Becoming Jane Austen: the True Story that Inspired the Classisc Novels.  Hambledon Continuum, 2003; NY:  MJF Books, 2003. [the basis for the movie of the same title, which is not quite true at all…]

Tomalin, Claire. Jane Austen:  A Life.  Viking, 1997; revised and updated edition: Penguin, 2000.  [This is a personal favorite among Austen biographies because it places Austen not only within her family, but within the circle of people who knew her: her Steventon and Chawton neighbors. Tomalin gives a real sense of the period and the place.]

Wilks, Brian.  Jane Austen.  Hamlyn, 1978.


Biography Links:  [in process!]


Jane Austen’s Family Circle:

Hubback, J. H. and Edith C. Hubback. JANE AUSTEN’S SAILOR BROTHERS (1906). A standard volume in the group of family-written biographies; provides information not found elsewhere, prior to its publication, on Jane’s sailor brothers.

Lane, Maggie.  Jane Austen’s Family, Through Five Generations.  London:  Robert Hale, 1984.

Le Faye, Deirdre.  Jane Austen’s “Outlanldish Cousin”:  the Life and Letters of Eliza de Feuillide.   The British Library, 2002.  Le Faye has done a lot of work with Eliza’s letters, which (like Fanny Knight’s diaries) gets noted in her Austen articles and books.

——–. Fanny Knight’s Diaries:  Jane Austen through her Niece’s Eyes.   

Lefroy, Helen and Gavin Turner, eds.  The Letters of Mrs. LeFroy, Jane Austen’s Beloved Friend.  (2007). Reviewed in the Summer 2008 edition of JASNA News, this review is now available online.

A Sexagenarian [James-Edward Austen-Leigh]. RECOLLECTIONS OF THE EARLY DAYS OF THE VINE HUNT and of its founder WILLIAM JOHN CHUTE, ESQ., MP (1865).

Spence, Jon. Jane Austen’s Brother Abroad:  The Grand Tour Journals of Edward Austen.  JASA Press, 2005.  read an excerpt online from JASA, the Jane Austen Society of Australia (you can purchase the book through their website, too). The Edward Austen of the title is Jane’s brother. He was adopted by a childless family and later took the name Knight (he is Fanny Knight’s father; EAK in the Austen literature = Edward Austen Knight.]  Owned Chawton Manor and the cottage in which Mrs Austen, Jane and Cassandra lived after 1809. See also the text “Chawton Manor and its Owners,” below.

Spence, Jon, introductions.  A Century of Wills from Jane Austen’s Family, 1705-1806.   JASA Press, 2001

Tucker, George Holbert.  A Goodly Heritage: A History of Jane Austen’s Family. Manchester:  Carcanet New Press,  1983.

Wilson, Margaret.  Almost Another Sister:  Fanny Knight, Jane Austen’s Favourite Niece.  George Mann Books, 1997.   A biography of Edward Austen Knight’s daughter, Fanny. She was featured, as a main character, in the teleplay JANE AUSTEN REGRETS (2008). 


Jane Austen & Hampshire:

Austen-Leigh, William and Montagu George Knight. CHAWTON MANOR AND ITS OWNERS; A FAMILY HISTORY (1911).

Chute, Chaloner William. A HISTORY OF THE VYNE IN HAMPSHIRE (1888). Chaloner William Chute was a relative to William and Eliza Chute, owners of The Vyne in Jane Austen’s time. An early history. [KM]

Edwards, Anne-Marie.  IN THE STEPS OF JANE AUSTEN (Countryside Books, 1991).  Covers Austen’s haunts in Steventon, Kent, Godmersham, Bath, Devon, Lyme Regis, Southampton, Chawton, Alton, Great Bookham (”Box Hill”), London, & Winchester.

Hawkridge, Audrey.  Jane Austen and HampshireHampshire Papers, No. 6, January 1995.

Hill, Constance. JANE AUSTEN: HER HOMES AND HER FRIENDS (1901); also at Internet Archive.

Howard, Maurice and Edward Wilson. THE VYNE: DISCOVERING A TUDOR HOUSE (1999; 2006).

Irons, Keith.  Steventon and the Austens.  Jane Austen Bi-Centenary Committee, 1975

Le Faye, Deirdre.  Jane Austen’s Steventon.  The Jane Austen Society, 2007.

Willoughby, Rupert. CHAWTON: JANE AUSTEN’S VILLAGE (1998).

——–. SHERBORNE ST JOHN AND THE VYNE IN THE TIME OF JANE AUSTEN (2002). The Vyne is a National Trust property a few miles from Basingstoke, Hampshire, England. Rev. James Austen (Jane’s eldest brother) was the clergyman in charge of its parish, and he dined very often with the owners, William and Eliza Chute. Mrs Chute’s diaries mention being in company with the ‘Miss Austins’ a couple times (there are gaps in the extant diaries), and Willoughby’s small booklet makes use of such materials to give an overview of the estate, the Chutes, and Austen. [KM]


Jane Austen & Kent

Smithers, David Waldron.  Jane Austen in Kent.  Westerham: Hurtwood, 1981



Jane Austen & Bath:


Elliott, Kirsten.  A WINDOW ON BATH: EIGHT WALKS IN BATH (Millstream Books, 1994).


Meehan, John Francis. FAMOUS HOUSES OF BATH AND DISTRICT (1901), pp. 194-203 cover Austen.

Moody, Ellen. JANE AUSTEN AND BATH: Prologue: On Beechen Cliff and Chapter One: Riddled with Untruths.

Nicolson, Nigel.  WAS JANE AUSTEN HAPPY IN BATH?  (Holburne Museum, 2003).

Reeve, Katharine.  JANE AUSTEN IN BATH: WALKING TOURS OF THE WRITER’S CITY (Little Bookroom, 2006).

 Smith, R.A.L.  BATH. 3rd ed. (Batsford, 1948), pp. 92-111 on Austen.

Warner, Richard. EXCURSIONS FROM BATH (1801).


Jane Austen & London: 

[see also the London sources and the Social Life & Customs on the History Page link]

Historical Maps of London: Motco. The same site also offers images of antique prints and panoramas (though these only pre- and post-date Austen’s era at the moment).


Biographies in Jane Austen’s Era, 1775-1817:

[All books listed on this site come with ‘recommendations’, but nothing can be more personal than to list (from an inordinate supply) items not about Jane Austen, but about other people living their daily lives – be they nobility, clergy, or servant, in the era of Austen. History texts, biographies, diaries, books of correspondence, and even novels bring us through the same wars and concerns, sometimes within the same county and sometimes a continent away, getting us closer to those lives and times that compliment the life of our clergyman’s daughter from Hampshire.]

Ayers, Jack, ed. PAUPERS & PIG KILLERS: THE DIARY OF WILLIAM HOLLAND, A SOMERSET PARSON, 1799-1818 (1984). I picked this paperback up in Winchester during Summer 2007 because its time period covered that of Emma Smith and Mary Gosling (roughly, I’m researching 1800-1842); so surprise, surprise when Parson Holland mentions the trial of one Jane Leigh-Perrot! Deirdre Le Faye picked up on that one and mentions Holland in her edition of Jane Austen: A Family Record. [KM]

Bamford, Francis, ed. “DEAR MISS HEBER…”: AN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY CORRESPONDENCE (1936). This book was listed in SEVERAL bibliographies and for Christmas 2007 I treated myself to a copy mail ordered from England. The story of the discovery of these letters is as exciting as the correspondence itself. I will have more to say about this book later. [KM]

Bessborough, Earl of, ed. GEORGIANA: EXTRACTS FROM THE CORRESPONDENCE OF GEORGIANA, DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE (1955). Although Amanda Foreman had access to Georgiana’s actual correspondence at Chatsworth, this is as close as most of us will get to seeing them. A nice selection of her letters. [KM]

Callcott, Margaret Law, ed. MISTRESS OF RIVERSDALE: THE PLANTATION LETTERS OF ROSALIE STIER CALVERT, 1795-1821 (1991). Rosalie’s home still exists in Riverdale Park, Maryland; I’ve visited it, though it is now sadly surrounded by housing rather than the lush fields of Rosalie’s time. An exceedingly interesting book, I first read this in a library copy then simply had to have a copy of my own. Rosalie came from Europe, driven out by the Napoleonic Wars; when her family settled back in Europe, she – now married – remained. Living first in Annapolis, then at Riversdale (yes, the estate is spelled ever so slightly differently from its locale), this separation promoted the letters we possess. So here is an usual look at someone not English, living in America, but writing in a period through which Austen also lived. Did Rosalie ever read any Jane Austen? I’ll have to give the book another look to find an answer to that one. [KM]

Clarke, Norma. THE RISE AND FALL OF THE WOMAN OF LETTERS (2004). Covers the ‘lady writers’ who plied their trade before Austen. [Km]

Cowell, Stephanie. MARRYING MOZART. For me, Mozart is as sacred a subject as Austen; so it was unusual for me to pick up a NOVEL dramatizing bits of his life. But Cowell tells a good story here. It made want a copy of her book on the young Shakespeare. [KM]

Ehrlich, Blake. LONDON ON THE THAMES (1966). This is a interesting look at a locale – London – through the eyes of residents over many centuries, from Dr. Johnson to Winston Churchill. [KM]

Foreman, Amanda. GEORGIANA, DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE (1998). Remembered as one of my favorite biographies of someone living at the end of the 18th/beginning of the 19th centuries. [KM]

Fraser, Antonia. MARIE ANTOINETTE (2001). War, War, War as Scarlet O’Hara might have said. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars… never ending. So a good entry in this list of Austen-era books, for this is a well-written biography of a complicated lady living in dangerous times. I haven’t read it since I first bought it in 2001, but I remember enjoying it immensely. [KM]

Fremantle, Anne, ed. THE WYNNE DIARIES: 1789-1820 (3 vols.) (1935-40). I’ve rather dipped into these than read them all from cover to cover. I bought them because (convolted story coming up…) the Wynnes knew Lord Nelson and he was befriended by Alexander Davison and Davison was married to Mary Gosling’s aunt. Small world sometimes. Still, these books have a winning combination of being diaries written by young ladies who are English but living on the Continent, they also move in some high circles. I quite recently picked up to read the second volume, in which Miss Wynne becomes Mrs Fremantle [KM]

Girouard, Mark. LIFE IN THE ENGLISH COUNTRY HOUSE: A SOCIAL AND ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY (1978). From the dust jacket: ‘Mark Girouard traces the evolution of the country house from the Middle Ages to the world of Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse. Drawing widely from familiar novels and plays, and from virtually untouched records and family archives…’

Goodden, Angelica. THE SWEETNESS OF LIFE: A BIOGRAPHY OF ELISABETH LOUISE VIGÉE LE BRUN (1997). I found that this book, once I read Le Brun’s Memoirs, relied heavily on Le Brun’s retelling of her own life, but that is no bad thing. I read this – yikes! – eleven years ago, when I got interested in Le Brun after seeing her gorgeous portait of the Countess Skavronkaya at the Musée Jacquemart-André (Paris). The wonderful fine arts museum in Ponce (Puerto Rico) has another of her portraits that I’ve seen ‘in the flesh.’ I can also recommend a terrific website, well illustrated with her paintings and containing a lot of information on her life. She painted not only the French Royal Family, but also the aristocracy, some of whom were killed in the bloodbath of the Revolution. The artist escaped to Italy and Russia during the worst years. [KM]

Gore, John, ed. THOMAS CREEVEY’S PAPERS, 1793-1838 (1948; later reprints). This book (and there are several that reproduce his ‘papers’) well compliments the diaries of Charles Greville, and better fits Austen’s own lifespan. [KM]

Gulland, Sandra. The Josephine Triology: THE MANY LIVES AND SECRET SORROWS OF JOSEPHINE B.; TALES OF PASSION, TALES OF WOE; and THE LAST GREAT DANCE ON EARTH. It has been a number of years, but I enjoyed this set when I read it. Montreal’s Musée Stewart even had an exhibition on Josephine about the same time, which I drove up to see. Josphine was a remarkable woman – and her handwriting was even worse than mine! (which is a feat indeed…). If you want something lighter than a biography of her, I’d say ‘pick up these three books’. [KM]

Hedley, Olwen. QUEEN CHARLOTTE (1975). The one and only biography of this queen. Very well-respected work by Hedley, who has written other texts. [KM]

Laclos, Pierre Choderlos de. LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES (1782). There are several translations; or the original, if you’re lucky enough to know French! Charles Greville says of this epistolary novel: “I read the Liaisons Dangereuses through without stopping… It is beautifully written and not uncommonly clever, but the man who wrote it must have had the most depraved heart in the world.” (11 Aug 1819). [KM]

Ledtzer, Mark B. and Jean B. Russo, eds. THE DIARY OF WILLIAM FARIS: THE DAILY LIFE OF AN ANNAPOLIS SILVERSMITH (covers the period of 1792-1804) (2003).

Mavor, Elizabeth, ed. THE GRAND TOURS OF KATHERINE WILMOT: FRANCE 1801-3 AND RUSSIA 1805-7 (1992). I found the French trips especially entertaining, probably because I know more about French in this period. [KM]

Martin, Joanna, ed. A GOVERNESS IN THE AGE OF JANE AUSTEN: THE JOURNALS AND LETTERS OF AGNES PORTER (1998). Governesses figure in Austen, be they the new Mrs Weston (Emma Woodhouse’s former governess), or whether this career choice looms large for someone not too in love with the prospect, like Jane Fairfax. Martin provides a nice overview of the life of Agnes Porter and then presents Porter’s journals and letters, letting Agnes speak for herself. [KM]


Strachey, Lytton and Roger Fulford, eds. THE GREVILLE MEMOIRS, vol I: January 1814 to July 1830 (1936). This is the first volume of the eight-volume set of the complete memoirs of Charles Greville. I would highly recommend this set (printed in a very limited quantity, and therefore hard to found outside of academic libraries) or any of the condensed versions to those studying the reign of Victoria, but, as you can see by the dates this first volume covers, it also sheds a little light on the last days of George III, and the reigns of George IV and William IV. Caveat: A lot of politics and personages; should never be used as a primer for those (like me…) not already well-acquainted with the period. A fascinating inside view of Great Britain up until 1860. [KM]

Tyson, Moses and Henry Guppy, eds. THE FRENCH JOURNALS OF MRS. THRALE AND DOCTOR JOHNSON (covering the year of Jane’s birth: 1775; and also 1784) (1932). These diaries give a view of the French countryside and the French court at the time of Marie Antoinette. Especially useful for anyone interested in the letters or biography of Eliza de Feuillide (and provides an explanation of why ANYONE could watch the royals dine…). Mrs Thrale later remarried (becoming Mrs Piozzi) and her relationship with Johnson was never the same after (she and Boswell merely tolerated each other from the start). Under the Piozzi name, she authored several books. Those interested in Hester Thrale Piozzi herself are recommended to read the six-volume set of her Letters. [KM]

MISS WEETON’S JOURNAL OF A GOVERNESS: 1807-1825 (2 vols.) (1936; reprinted 1969). Like the journals of Agnes Porter, these journals give evidence of a life as lived by one with little money, who made choices in her life and had to live by them come what may. Poor Miss Weeton makes an unhappy marriage and pays the price when her husband will not let her see her beloved daughter. A sobering tale. A feisty woman. [KM]

Wordsworth, Dorothy. JOURNALS (edited by de Selincourt).

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