Cover image for Becoming Jane Austen : a life
Becoming Jane Austen : a life
Publication Information:
New York : Hambledon Continuum, 2007.
Physical Description:
xii, 294 p. ; 20 cm.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 AUSTEN 1 2
Book 921 AUSTEN 1 1

On Order



Jon Spence's fascinating biography of Jane Austen paints an intimate portrait of the much-loved novelist. Spence's meticulous research has, perhaps most notably, uncovered evidence that Austen and the charming young Irishman Tom Lefroy fell in love at the age of twenty and that the relationship inspired Pride and Prejudice, one of the most celebrated works of fiction ever written. Becoming Jane Austen gives the fullest account we have of the romance, which was more serious and more enduring than previously believed. Seeing this love story in the context of Jane Austen's whole life enables us to appreciate the profound effect the relationship had on her art and on subsequent choices that she made in her life.

Full of insight and with an attentive eye for detail, Spence explores Jane Austen's emotional attachments and the personal influences that shaped her as a novelist. His elegant narrative provides a point of entry into Jane Austen's world as she herself perceived and experienced it. It is a world familiar to us from her novels, but in Becoming Jane Austen, Austen herself is the heroine.

Author Notes

Jon Spence was born in Georgia, USA and was educated at King's College, London University. Spence lived abroad for many years and towards the end of his life he divided his time between London and Sydney, finally passing away at his Sydney home. He is the editor of A Century of Wills from Jane Austen's Family and Jane Austen's Brother Abroad- The Grand Tour Journals of Edward Austen. He acted as Historical Consultant on the film Becoming Jane.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Jane Austen's quiet life is not very rewarding biographical material. While acknowledging that "there has been a long-observed tacit agreement that Jane Austen's work is off limits to the biographer as a source of information about her life," Spence, professor emeritus of English literature at Doshisha University, Kyoto, nevertheless scours Austen's letters and juvenilia for clues to the people, events, and impressions that helped shape the writer. He sees a connection, for example, between the family background of Tom Lefroy, whom it seemed for a time that Jane might marry, and the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice. Glamorous family friend Eliza de Feuillide is woven in various ways into the work, especially in the character of Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park. He says of Jane's letters, "She takes the most ordinary, insignificant bits of information and effortlessly enlivens them with wit and fresh turns of phrase" --an apt summary of the appeal of her fiction. Spence makes an interesting case, and his book, though academic in tone, will appeal to serious Janeites. --Mary Ellen Quinn

Library Journal Review

Were she alive today, Jane Austen would be astonished to see that she is now more popular than she was during and after the years she wrote her great novels. Recently, film and television adaptations of Emma, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility have sparked an Austen revival, encouraging a new generation of readers to lose themselves in her bitingly humorous and satirical novels of manners and morals, marriage and money, class, and religion. In his revealing biography, Spence (English, Doshisha Univ., Kyoto, Japan) examines Austen's development as a novelist. Drawing on journals and letters, he considers the impact that her personal experiences had on her work and the influence of those who knew her well, especially her flirtatious cousin and a young Irish lawyer whom she hoped to marry. Spence argues that Austen's juvenilia (especially the stories "Love and Friendship" and "Lesley Castle") reflect her cautionary assessments regarding the dangers of a young man's intimate involvement with an older, married woman, as well as her biting satire on the wiles of a flirtatious woman. Although this psychological biography has interesting moments, Spence commits the cardinal sin among Austenphiles of pointing to connections between the fictional characters and the real-life people-a connection that Austen herself virulently denied. Still, libraries with large Austen collections will want to own this work because of its unique focus. Ross's companion provides a helpful map to the politics, architecture, publishing, fashion, and culinary arts of Austen's novels. In brief and humorous essays, Ross (The Monarchy in Britain) tries to make Austen's world more familiar to modern readers by answering such questions as "What was hartshorn?" and "How did Lizzy Bennet `let down' her gown to hide her muddy petticoats?" Ross examines Austen's "common daily routine" at Steventon, the Hampshire village where she spent much of her life, observing that Jane would have had the benefit of a "wholesome, home-produced diet, with fresh milk from her mother's Alderney cows, pork products from the family pigs, and plentiful local fruit and vegetables." These staples provide some helpful indications of the ingredients of the "white soup" that Mr. Bingley promises to his guests in Pride and Prejudice. In the tradition of John Sutherland's Can Jane Eyre Be Happy?: More Puzzles in Classic Fiction, Ross's little handbook offers an extremely useful guide to the world Austen inhabited and that she imported into her novels. For all libraries.-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

1 Legacies
2 Home
3 Scenes
4 The Good Apprentice
5 History
6 Love and Art
7 Place
8 Ways of Escape
9 Money
10 Work
11 The World
12 The Body