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Jane Austen: A Life

by David Nokes

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2102114,633 (3.69)4
In this new biography of Jane Austen, David Nokes plays master sleuth and storyteller in presenting the great novelist "not in the modest pose which her family determined for her, but rather, as she most frequently presented herself, as rebellious, satirical, and wild."
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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. ( )
  PuddinTame | Oct 9, 2007 |
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In this new biography of Jane Austen, David Nokes plays master sleuth and storyteller in presenting the great novelist "not in the modest pose which her family determined for her, but rather, as she most frequently presented herself, as rebellious, satirical, and wild."

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