Nonfiction November – Becoming an Expert Janeite

Nonfiction November – Becoming an Expert Janeite

It’s Week 3 of Nonfiction November, and I am off gallivanting around England! I thought it would be a ton-o-fun to talk about the inspiration for my blog name, Jane Austen, this week. Despite my love for Austen, I’ve never really done a deep-dive into her life, and I want to rectify that. 

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Week 3: (Nov. 12 to 16) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Julie @ JulzReads): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).


Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
Published by Vintage on April 27, 1999
Pages: 341
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At her death in 1817, Jane Austen left the world six of the most beloved novels written in English—but her shortsighted family destroyed the bulk of her letters; and if she kept any diaries, they did not survive her.  Now acclaimed biographer Claire Tomalin has filled the gaps in the record, creating a remarkably fresh and convincing portrait of the woman and the writer. 

While most Austen biographers have accepted the assertion of Jane's brother Henry that "My dear Sister's life was not a life of events," Tomalin shows that, on the contrary, Austen's brief life was fraught with upheaval.  Tomalin provides detailed and absorbing accounts of Austen's ill-fated love for a young Irishman, her frequent travels and extended visits to London, her close friendship with a worldly cousin whose French husband met his death on the guillotine, her brothers' naval service in the Napoleonic wars and in the colonies, and thus shatters the myth of Jane Austen as a sheltered and homebound spinster whose knowledge of the world was limited to the view from a Hampshire village. 

I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for over a year. It’s one of the leading Austen biographies, pieced together from various records and accounts. I am sad to think what Austenographies could have been if her letters weren’t destroyed, and diaries had been kept. 


Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley
Published by Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. on May 18, 2017
Pages: 352
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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.

I think Jane Austen at Home will be a fascinating look at how the various places Austen lived shaped her views and her writing. 


A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz
Published by Penguin Press on April 28, 2011
Pages: 255
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Before Jane Austen, William Deresiewicz was a very different young man. A sullen and arrogant graduate student, he never thought Austen would have anything to offer him. Then he read Emma—and everything changed.

In this unique and lyrical book, Deresiewicz weaves the misadventures of Austen’s characters with his own youthful follies, demonstrating the power of the great novelist’s teachings—and how, for Austen, growing up and making mistakes are one and the same. Honest, erudite, and deeply moving, A Jane Austen Education is the story of one man’s discovery of the world outside himself.

My fellow Janeites tend to be of the female persuasion (see what I did there?). So it will be extremely interesting to see how Austen has influenced men (well, an individual man). Austen’s books touch everyone in different ways, and I always enjoy hearing people’s personal stories with the texts.


Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly
on November 3, 2016
Pages: 337
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A brilliant, illuminating reassessment of the life and work of Jane Austen that makes clear how Austen has been misread for the past two centuries and that shows us how she intended her books to be read, revealing, as well, how subversive and daring--how truly radical--a writer she was.

In this fascinating, revelatory work, Helena Kelly--dazzling Jane Austen authority--looks past the grand houses, the pretty young women, past the demure drawing room dramas and witty commentary on the narrow social worlds of her time that became the hallmark of Austen's work to bring to light the serious, ambitious, deeply subversive nature of this beloved writer. Kelly illuminates the radical subjects--slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution, among them--considered treasonous at the time, that Austen deftly explored in the six novels that have come to embody an age. The author reveals just how in the novels we find the real Jane Austen: a clever, clear-sighted woman "of information," fully aware of what was going on in the world and sure about what she thought of it. We see a writer who understood that the novel--until then seen as mindless "trash"--could be a great art form and who, perhaps more than any other writer up to that time, imbued it with its particular greatness.

I am always excited to read about the various ways writers, actors, playwrights, etc comment on society in any given time period. Once finished, I feel this book will give me a different context to consider during subsequent rereads. 

Are there any other Austen-related books I should add to my TBR?

9 Comments

  1. Brona November 14, 2018 / 6:04 am

    If you don’t already have it, then I highly recommend The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne. I’ve also started reading annotated versions of her books – my first one was Persuasion and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

    • Melissa
      Author
      November 16, 2018 / 4:18 am

      Brona- I have the Byrne book on my TBR, so its great to hear that it’s highly recommended.

      I also have a set of annotated versions of her novels on my Christmas list this year 🤞🏼

  2. Brandy November 15, 2018 / 9:13 am

    I have a number of Austen-related books on my TBR too. Jane Austen at Home is probably top of the list for me because I love Lucy Worsley’s TV history specials, but Jane Austen Education sounds really good too and has been on my shelf for ages.

    • Melissa
      Author
      November 16, 2018 / 4:20 am

      I recently acquired a Worsley book on Queen Victoria from Netgalley and am greatly looking forward to reading that soon. I’ve heard wonderful things about her as a writer and historian.

  3. Amanda November 15, 2018 / 1:37 pm

    I love your blog name! This is kind of a tangent but one of my nonfic november books that I meant to get to but haven’t yet is Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees – so about other writers in England of her period. Could be interesting to you on that theme?

    I also am starting for my commute home Pride by Ibi Zoboi as a different ode to Jane. Library due dates are displacing my nonfiction!

    • Melissa
      Author
      November 16, 2018 / 4:22 am

      Thanks! I will check out Not Just Jane!

      I have a retelling of P&P that takes place in India on my TBR/ARC list, and can’t wait!

  4. Eva @ The Paperback Princess November 15, 2018 / 10:26 pm

    This is such a great idea for a post for this week! I need to just copy this entire list because I am guilty of the exact same. I list Jane Austen as my favourite writer every time I’m asked but ask me about her life and I won’t be able to tell you much!

    Also, thanks to you I read the Julia Baird Queen Victoria biography last week. It was a highlight of my reading year, so thanks!

    • Melissa
      Author
      November 16, 2018 / 4:26 am

      Oh wow! I haven’t even gotten to Baird’s QV bio yet (saving it for my flight home from England this weekend) so I’m happy to hear you’ve enjoyed it so much!

      There are so many interesting Austen books out there, it was hard to pick just a few. When my classes for my second BA are in session, I always use the library access to see what new articles about her have been published as well. Her life is endlessly fascinating to me.

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