There’s something about Jane Austen: More biographies to read

A stack of other Jane Austen biographies
From top: “Jane Austen at Home” by Lucy Worsley, “The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things” by Paula Byrne, and “Jane Austen, the Secret Radical” by Helena Kelly.

While next year’s Jane Austen Summer Program will focus on Claire Tomalin’s biography of our favorite author, there are several others you can check out. Here is a small selection to get you going.

‘Jane Austen: The Secret Radical’ by Helena Kelly

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

This is less a history of Jane Austen’s life and more of a feminist reading of Austen’s works. Each chapter focuses on one of Austen’s novels, and Kelly helps put into historical context each one of them. We think we know them like the back of our hands, but how much are we missing that Austen’s contemporary audience would have picked up immediately? While some of Kelly’s arguments seem a bit tenuous or even downright far-fetched, “The Secret Radical” helps modern audiences fill that knowledge gap. John Sutherland, who co-wrote “So You Think You Know Jane Austen?” with Deirdre LeFaye, wrote in the New York Times: “‘Jane Austen: The Secret Radical’ sets out to raise hackles … But, taking a deep breath, I concede that it is, stripped of its flights of fancy, an important revisionary work for 2017.”

‘The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things’ by Paula Byrne

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne
Byrne’s exquisite biography of Austen eschews a linear format in favor of themes and objects: sisterhood, vellum notebooks in which Austen copied her juvenilia, a laptop desk, topaz crosses, and more. NPR described this book as “a dynamic new biography in which Austen lives and breathes,” and it’s hard not to fall in love with the author through this “vivacious, surprising” book.

‘Jane Austen at Home’ by Lucy Worsley

book-athomeHistorian and TV presenter Lucy Worsley, who also happens to be chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, guides us as we travel to the places Austen called home and visited: Steventon, Bath, Godmersham Park, Chawton Cottage and more. This helps us understand the upheaval the Austens, particularly Jane, Cassandra and their mother, must have experienced throughout their lives. Alexandra Mullen writes in the Hudson Review: “Worsley … exuberantly connects the work to the life against the background of the age” and “uses her sprightly energy to pull together a lot of fascinating detailed scholarship.”

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About Zeina Makky

Zeina Makky is a newspaper designer turned web developer, living and working in the D.C. area. Besides Jane Austen, Zeina’s passions include calligraphy, pop culture and chocolate.

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