cover image Jane Austen at Home: A Biography

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography

Lucy Worsley. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-13160-7

This enthusiastic, though often slow-going, biography by Worsley (The Art of the English Murder) delivers a portrait of the novelist in her successive homes, pondering the differences that place makes to Austen’s fiction. As a young girl in Steventon Rectory, for example, Austen became a consummate novel reader who dreamed of joining the cadre of popular female novelists of the time, such as Fanny Burney and Ann Radcliffe. In her years at Steventon, Austen wrote an early draft of the novel that later became Sense and Sensibility and she observed many of the details of domestic life that she would include in her novels. Living for a short time in straitened circumstances after her father’s death, Austen, according to Worsley, refused to sink into misery but instead turned her situation into art. When she moved into Chawton Cottage, Austen completed Mansfield Park, a novel that disparages the idea that an individual’s birthplace is more important than “life experience or talent.” In her final novel, Persuasion, Austen opens with the loss of a home and a period of rootlessness, and ends with the protagonist’s finding a permanent home, brings this thematic preoccupation of hers full circle. Worsley’s careful research delivers no dramatic new revelations about Austen’s life or writing, but Janeites will flock to the book nevertheless for its fresh perspective on their idol. (July)