Jane Austen: A Life

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Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997 - Novelists, English - 578 pages
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In his compelling new biography, David Nokes has reexamined Austen's life and presents a picture of her which is less perfect but more full of dangerous excitement. A devoted aunt with several suitors of her own, Jane Austen nevertheless remained a "maiden", and gave up hope of ever happily marrying. She devoted her efforts to Cassandra and to her writing. Her first full-length novel, originally entitled First Impressions, was both a family favorite and the favorite of critics. Yet it languished in the offices of the London publisher Thomas Cadell, who had "little enthusiasm for a slight, ironic tale with such an unassuming title as First Impressions from a clergyman's daughter in Hampshire. Across the top of Mr. Austen's letter - he had submitted the book on Jane's behalf - was scrawled a note: 'Declined by return of post.'" The book was none other than Pride and Prejudice. Written with the grace and fluidity of one of Austen's own novels, Nokes's Jane Austen: A Life plumbs the extraordinarily close relationship between Jane and Cassandra; lifts the haze from the conflicting accounts of Jane's one great love affair, in the summer of 1801, with a clergyman whose early death bore an uncanny resemblance to the end of one of Cassandra's own affairs; speculates that Jane's father, Oxford-educated Reverend George Austen, in all likelihood profited from opium smuggling, which enabled the country vicar to keep eight children in relative comfort; reveals that one of the houses in which the Austens lived was haunted by murder, and, finally, that Jane herself helped to conceal the best kept - and darkest - of family secrets. As she once wrote in a letter, "If I am a wild beast, I cannot help it. It is not my own fault".

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JANE AUSTEN: A Life

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

While this much-needed revisionist biography sheds new light on the great novelist, it too often obscures the facts of her life behind webs of speculation about what she and her intimates might have ... Read full review

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User Review  - juglicerr - LibraryThing

I would tell a reader with an intensive interest in Jane Austen not to miss this. Nokes takes a contrarian view of some of the major incidents of JA's life, but his arguments are well supported and ... Read full review

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