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Jane Austen: A Life by David Nokes

Jane Austen: A Life

by David Nokes

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A somewhat revisionist approach to Jane Austin. Nokes indulges in much speculation to arrive at his conclusions, but since there is much to speculate about, it's a worthwhile volume for a serious Austen scholar.
1 vote mebrock | Jan 25, 2009 |
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 anyone with a serious interest in JA should at least ponder them. I wouldn't recommend this as a first-or-only biography of Jane Austen. If the reader is interested in a book of this length, I urge them to try John Halperin.

Nokes does a masterful, almost unparalleled job of weaving together quotes from the papers of the Austens and various associates. He assures us that he never puts any words into anyone's mouth. He does, however, freely put thoughts into their heads, some of which are reasonable and some which have no known support. He also draws little verbal pictures to go along with these, reasonable, perhaps, but more suitable for fiction.

Nokes also chooses to begin and end his biography with two imaginative "short stories." Interwoven into Chapter One, "Family Secrets" is a surprisingly long account of the Hancock family, Jane's aunt Philadelphia Austen and her husband Tysoe Saul Hancock, separated from his wife and daughter as he tries to rebuild his fortune in India. He ends with an almost entirely imagined account of Francis Cullum, paid caretaker of Thomas Leigh and George Austen. Since we know very little about Cullum or the health problems of Leigh and Austen, I find this highly judgemental piece absurd, especially in a work that purports to be nonfiction.

I like that the book has the running title of the chapter on the left-hand page and the dates on the right. The Notes fortunately contain the chapter running title as well as the chapter number, so it is relatively easy to match up notes. The sources, except for manuscripts, are unfortunately scattered throughout the notes - it would be nice if at least major sources were gathered into a bibliography. ( )
  juglicerr | Oct 9, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374113262, Hardcover)

It's refreshing to get such a passionate and contrarian account of Jane Austen's life, though the book's emphasis on thwarted emotions and family misdeeds will undoubtedly displease the more traditional-minded of her admirers. David Nokes, a prominent scholar of 18th-century English literature, views Austen as "a wild beast" (her phrase) transformed by well-meaning relatives into a demure spinster through wholesale bowdlerizing of her letters and personal papers. Nokes's narrative doesn't tell us anything new, but by stressing Austen's ambition and acerbity, he offers a welcome alternative perspective.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:51 -0400)

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