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Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence

Becoming Jane Austen (2003)

by Jon Spence

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    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Kegsoccer)
    Kegsoccer: After learning about Jane, be sure to pick up her books. This one is perhaps her most well known.

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I've been a fan of Jane Austen's writing since I was 13 years old but I didn't pick up a biography on her until a couple years ago and I finally got around to reading it. Although I've known the basic biographical outline of Austen's life for a long time, it was interesting to get a far more in-depth treatment.

This is the biography that was used as the basis for the film Becoming Jane (and while I know and understood why others had issues with it, I love it) so Tom Lefroy is given a bit more consideration than I would imagine he garnered in other Austen biographies. However, I felt the biography was well-balanced and gave equal space to each phase of Jane Austen's life. I also found the Austen family history included in the book interesting although the continued reusage of the same names in each generation did make it difficult to keep everyone straight at times.

Because Jane Austen did not keep a diary and only some of her letters survive, Spence does make some speculations about her life, emotions, and thoughts that some people may find contentious. I took no issue with his arguments but I can understand why others could and my viewpoint may change when I eventually get to reading Jane Austen's letters. His discussion of themes in her various novels and how they were influenced by her life experience were interesting and the only point where I found it wearing was in his discussion of the fragment Sanditon, which seemed too long. My only complaint is that Spence ended the biography with Austen's death and did not cover the posthumous publication of her last two novels nor give any explanation about the lives of the rest of her siblings which I felt would have been a slightly more satisfying conclusion.

An interesting biography and one I would be tempted to compare with other Jane Austen biographies to see how Spence's interpretations differ with those of previous biographers. ( )
  MickyFine | Jun 23, 2011 |
Becoming Jane is an enlightening read; I do not agree with all Spence's arguments, but he does raise some intriguing points.

Read my complete review here: http://things-she-read.org/2010/05/03/becoming-jane/ ( )
  emperatrix | May 3, 2010 |
Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence is a pleasant read even though the first 30 or so pages of the book is a bit like reading someone's description of a topographical map: lineage descriptions are too tedious. After the initial laying out of the Austen family tree, the pace of the book improves. Spence makes a case that her personal experiences and family history inform her writing much more than a string of classic plays or novels read as a part of her formal education. He certainly indicates that she took plot lines or names from a beloved book or family history and adapted them to her own works, but the significant issue to Spence is that she wrote about her own life and the lives of her family and friends under cloak of fiction. I'm not sure that that idea alone is all that ground-breaking, but the application of that idea to what is known of her life and her novels is interesting to consider. I wish we had more information about her life and that more of her original letters still existed. I assume the point of these sorts of pieces is to inspire readers to go back to the original works and read them with a different set of questions/information in mind. If that's the point, then Spence was successful. ( )
  Voracious_Reader | Mar 28, 2010 |
I actually read the first 2-3 chapters of the book before the library loan expires, then I forgot/confused which exact page I left last, so I am thinking of just starting from beginning again. ( )
  nothingtosay | Jan 16, 2010 |
This was a really fascinating read, but dragged in a few places. I would highly recommend to any Austen fan. ( )
  sarahjanesandra | Apr 21, 2008 |
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To Phyllis Yohe, Franklin Dyal and Mary Stevenson- friends of my youth
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In 1704, the presumed heir to the Austen family fortune, John Austen, lay dying of consumption at the age of thirty-four.
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From the jacket: John Spence's brilliant biography of Jane Austen is an intimate portrait of the much loved novelist. Spence paints a vivid picture (of) Jane's world; her situation and circumstances, their benefits and drawbacks, and the people who influenced her--family and friends, rejected suitors, tiresome acquaintances and unruly nephews. "Becoming Jane Austen" shows how her own personal experiences resonated throughout her work and how one person, above all, affected her life and caught her imagination: the young Irish lawyer Tom Lefroy. It is a world familiar to us from Jane Austen's novels--but in "Becoming Jane Austen", Austen herself is the heroine.
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This volume focuses its attention away from the wider literary and intellectual currents that informed Jane Austen's writing and concentrates on the immediate influences of her life and work. Two people in particular were influential: her cousin Eliza and Tom Lefroy, whom Jane hoped to marry.… (more)

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