Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Jane Austen: A Life

I'm about half-way through Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen: A Life and really enjoying it. I don't generally read much non-fiction so I've been pleasantly surprised by how engrossing Tomalin's book is. I've just read the part concerned with Tom Lefroy, the young Irishman that Austen briefly knew and probably fell in love with (this affair is the inspiration for the film Becoming Jane, which I haven't seen but which, from all accounts, is pretty dire). Austen mentions Tom in some of her letters and Tomalin's analysis of her writing is sensitive and insightful: is the only surviving letter in which Jane is clearly writing as the heroine of her own youthful story, living for herself the short period of power, excitement and adventure that might come to a young woman when she was thinking of choosing a husband; just for a brief time she is enacting instead of imagining. We can't help knowing that her personal story will not go in the direction she is imagining in the letter; that, as it turned out, it was not Tom Lefroy, or anyone like him, who became her adventure, but the manuscript upstairs. Not marriage but art: and in her art she made this short period in a young woman's life carry such wit and human understanding as few writers have managed to cram into solemn volumes three times the size.

I like the idea that the manuscript (an early draft of Sense and Sensibility) was her 'adventure' in life. And while it seems cruel that two people were unable to marry because of their financial situations (neither Tom nor Jane had money to bring to a marriage), it was probably to the benefit of future generations of readers that she was forced to choose art over love.


Dorothy W. said...

I'd really like to read a biography of Jane Austen at some point; when I do, it'll probably be Tomalin's. I love her so much, but I don't know much about her life.

jess said...

I didn't know much at all about Austen's life either, but I feel like I'm in good hands with Tomalin.