Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence

Books read in 2011: 1

I was a bad Jane Austen fan and watched the movie Becoming Jane long before I read the biography that it was [albeit loosely] based upon. Did I like the movie? Yes. Was it historically accurate in portraying Jane Austen's life? Eh...not really, I think. I say that based on what I already knew and now also based on reading Spence's Austen biography.

Becoming Jane Austen was for me a quick read. It was interesting and I was extremely pleased with the number of direct quotes from Jane Austen and her family members (mostly from letters they wrote). I loved reading about so many aspects of her life, including her many family members, and I would not hesitate to suggest this biography as a must-read for Austen fans.

That said, I do have a few complaints. First and foremost, neither the title of the biography nor the names of the chapters really make much sense in regards to the content. The chapter titles were completely unnecessary and if anything just put constraints on the author. The title of the biography itself is certainly eye-catching, but as this biography focuses on the history of Jane's family long before she was born as well as her entire life, it is a bit misleading.

On a side note, I have the Hambledon Continuum paperback edition and feel the need to note that the physical quality of this edition is at best poor. I hadn't read 10 pages before the binding cracked down the center, not to mention the fact that they apparently never planned on including the portraits and pictures in the paperback edition and yet forgot to remove the page listing them.

Physical quality of the book aside, I certainly enjoyed this biography despite its faults and rate it 3.5/5 stars.



"...an obsession is an extension of the self and blunts natural feelings for others."

"...it is easier to change your mind than your feelings."

"Eliza...did not consider herself wicked and unscrupulous. She saw herself as lively, clever, flirtatious and independent, qualities she was proud to possess. Of course she always wanted her own way, and she was lucky in that she usually succeeded...she had little sense that her ideas and values were really different from those of other people. She admitted what other people concealed."

"Frank Austen wrote...'though [Jane was] rather reserved to strangers so as to have been by some accused of hautiness of manner, yet in the company of those she loved the native benevolence of her heart and kindness of her disposition were forcibly displayed.'"

"...reason is the servant of passion; reason may procure a kind of happiness, but without passion there can be no joy."

"To Jane, knowledge of a person earned you the right to feel; knowledge enabled you to feel--and to feel justly. This is why she later wrote of the battle of Almeida: 'How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!' She wasn't callous. She cared, as she said, that so many people were killed; but to say she felt for them what she would have felt for people she knew would have been dishonest, the second-hand thrill of the emotional pickpocket."

"'I have no doubt of his suffering a good deal for a time, a great deal, when he feels that he must give you up; but it is no creed of mine, as you must be well aware, that such sort of Disappointments kill anybody.'"

"When [Austen] wrote of Anne Elliot's having travelled from prudence to romance, 'the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning', she was not speaking of romantic love but of a way of looking at the world, courageously and confidently, of approaching life boldly not timidly, imaginatively not conventionally. The world does not come to pay a visit to Anne Elliot; she is forced into the world."

"'She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her...'" Pin It

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