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Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

jane-austen-at-home

RATING: 5/5

BLURB: ‘This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived ‘a life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy’.

REVIEW: After a month-long summer break indulging myself by re-reading Harry Potter, I’m back, and with a book that is currently one of my favourites I’ve read this year. Lucy Worsley’s new biography of Jane Austen is one of the best biographies I’ve read in a long time, showing us a completely new side to a woman who is generally believed to have written incredible novels, but otherwise been rather dull. Worsley focuses on the places that Jane called home throughout her lifetime, and how these places inspired her novels, hindered or encouraged her writing, and to what extent they can be perceived as a true home. Despite being a big Austen fan, I had not previously realised just how many times Jane and her family moved around, often dependent on the charity of relatives – particularly her many brothers. After the death of her father, Jane, her beloved sister Cassandra and her mother moved from place to place, two spinsters and a widow with little money to call their own, until they finally settled at Chawton, one of the places most associated with Jane Austen. Between her childhood home at Steventon and her final home at Chawton, Jane moved between a great number of cities including Southampton and, most popularly, Bath. However, as Worsley explains, things could have been very different for Jane had she chosen to marry. Modern readers of Austen’s novels tend to picture her as somewhat frustrated, able to write such beautifully romantic plots into her novels because she longed for such a life herself. Although suitors of Jane’s such as Tom Lefroy and Harris Bigg-Wither are relatively well known, Worsley reveals the real story behind these two relationships, as well as revealing a further three prospective suitors for Jane’s hand in marriage. Had Jane accepted one of these offers, her life would surely have been more comfortable, and she may well have been able to provide for her sister and mother also. Yet, Jane did not settle for any of these suitors – it seems that, perhaps, she was as much in pursuit of real love as the characters in her novels were. This biography therefore shows us the real story behind many of the modern perceptions of Jane Austen, and was written in such a beautiful narrative style that it felt like a novel, making it incredibly easy to read for a work of non-fiction. The book has clearly been thoroughly researched and, despite of course knowing how Jane’s tale would end, was so well-written that I found myself very emotional at the end of the book when Jane’s story came to a close. By introducing us to this hidden side of Jane, witty, fun, sarcastic and full of imagination, Worsley allows us to feel close to Jane; she makes her so accessible that the reader actually feels grief when reading of Jane’s death, despite it having taken place exactly two hundred years ago. This is an incredible biography and I would highly recommend it.

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Nineteen Years Later

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted any book reviews the last few weeks, despite having been off work for the summer and submitting my dissertation, meaning that I have had more time to read than I have done for a very long time. However, I made the decision that after a year of struggling through my Masters, it was time to reward myself by relaxing with my favourite books of all time – the Harry Potter series.

I’ve read these books over and over, but it’s been a good couple of years since I got the chance to become fully absorbed in them all over again, and I loved it. Every time I read them afresh, I discover parts of them I had forgotten. They still make me laugh and cry, and every time the spine crackles open in my now rather old and battered copies, I feel at home as soon as I begin to read the words written there. The thing I love about Harry Potter is it truly is like coming home; reading these books makes me feel safe, comforted and happy in a way that none of my other favourite books can quite match. I find myself savouring every word, almost feeling like I can taste them on my tongue, and marvelling all over again at how Rowling has weaved this remarkable world, and these incredible characters, in a way that has captured the imagination of not just myself, but millions and millions of people.

It seemed all the more appropriate to write this post considering the fact that three days ago, the 1st September, marked the date in which the epilogue took place and Albus Potter set off on the train to Hogwarts, leading us on the journey outlined in the fantastic play ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ (I was lucky enough to see the first installment, but have to wait until March for the second!). Harry Potter has always been a source of inspiration and comfort to me, and I saw elements of myself in many of the characters when I first bonded with these books in my first year of secondary school, a fat, shy, but certainly not stupid eleven year old who was bullied mercilessly right up until A-level years. These books comforted me then and have continued to do so at many difficult points in my life. I found myself in Hermione, with her love of books and learning; in Hagrid, with his no-holds-barred love of animals; in Luna, with her daydreamy nature and the teasing she suffered; in Neville and Tonks with their clumsiness; in Ginny, with her determination and stubbornness. I loved these characters from the first, and have continued to do so. The joy, sadness and nourishment offered by these books is something that I don’t feel can be matched, and is the reason why many of us still continue to think of Hogwarts as our true home, even once the series has ended.

I often regret that I did not discover these books sooner; they were published nearly ten years before I first turned the pages of Philosopher’s Stone. My relationship with Harry Potter has endured since then, however, and I know it will continue to do so – I am sure many more occasions will arise where I feel the need to turn back to these books, with the lessons they teach and the feelings they evoke. One day I hope my own children will find the same things in these books as I do, and that they will continue to inspire them as they have me.