The Faces of Jane: Two Austen Non-Fictions

Jane Austen's World

Maggie Lane has done a wonderful job in this Austen collection. It is well set out, beautifully illustrated and a perfect introduction to Austen- especially for fans who have discovered her through the recent popularity of her books turned film and television series.

It is a hardcover coffee table sized book- not something you take to bed with you- quite slim but packed full of good material. The book is divided into five chapters which cover everything from Jane Austen the person, to daily life in Regency England and the film adaptations. Each chapter is subdivided into smaller sections which are really just double page spreads on a particular subject.

Don't expect an in depth analysis of any particular subject but do expect a very competent summary. Lane includes a chronology of Austen's life which is useful and easy to read. The only real objection I have is that many of the pictures used in here are not titled and it is difficult to find out where they are from- the illustrations index in the back is quite small and cluttered. For those of you who are thinking of buying this book second hand, watch out that you don't confuse this book with Lane's earlier work on Austen's life. That is a smaller book and is more of a biography tracing her life and travels. In short- a really enjoyable book.

Hardcover - 144 pages (August 1997) List Price: $20.00 Adams Media Corporation; ISBN: 1558507485

Jane Austen: Obstinate Heart

Jane Austen: Obstinate Heart by Valerie Grosvenor Myer

I think Valerie Grovesnor Myer has made a good stab at trying to write to a biography of Austen and she succeeds relatively well. The only trouble is, Austen biographies are all drawn from the same material- very little new information has been turned up in recent years and so biographers are forced to reinterpret the old sources to find a new angle. That really is what this author has done- with only moderate success.


Obstinate Heart has 24 chapters, mostly in chronological order. The complaint that this is more about Austen's family than Austen herself bears through- especially in the first nine chapters. To make her book different, Myer has attempted to find biographical incidents from Austen's own life to explain incidents in her novels. Not a bad thing to do- but I found it overpowering at time- as though she were just going from one incident to another- and sometimes I felt her examples used weren't good ones.

For instance, she likened Jane Austens' brother Edward's adoption by the Knights to Fanny Price's living with the Bertrams in Mansfield Park. Not at all the same situation. In the novel Fanny lived with the family but was never adopted by them. In real life, Edward adopted the new surname of Knight and eventually inherited a large estate and fortune from it. The situation reminds one more of Frank Churchill in Emma- Frank Weston is adopted by his aunt, Mrs Churchill, adopts her name and becomes her heir. That seems that is a much better example- why did Myer use this much less satisfactory one? Another 'problem' is that though she proves that she has read various books on Austen (for instance Deidre Le Faye's collected letters of Austen) she doesn't seem to have done much research on the history of the period.

Myer cites a letter from Austen to her neice Fanny Knight in which she talks of the whole race of 'Pagets'. Myer has clearly used the footnote which is in Le Faye's edition of the letters to explain this remark about Austen's dislike of the Pagets - explaining about Lord Paget's (later Marquess of Anglesey) elopement with Lady Charlotte Wellesley. What both Le Faye and Myer miss is that the year before this elopement there was another High profile Paget elopement when Lord Paget's brother eloped with Lady Boringdon. A little extra research on Myer's part would have revealed this fact. I found the book interesting simply for Myer's 'new' interpretation, but I wouldn't pick it by choice.

If you are looking for a really good biography of Jane - Park Honan's is much better - or Claire Tomalin's. (Both are available in our Giftshop) There are many other great books on the history of the time you could read. Maggie Lane is great and Deidre Le Faye's collection of letters is fabulous. If this is all you can get hold of though, it would do in a pinch.

List Price: $13.95 Paperback - 288 pages (April 1998) Arcade Publishing; ISBN: 1559704357

Anne Woodley is an Amazon Top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Enjoyed this article? Browse our bookshop

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