Monday, April 2, 2018

Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, by Deirdre Le Faye

Jane Austen The World of Her Novels
Deirdre Le Faye
Published 2002

This beautiful little book is the setting for the story of Jane Austen, her world, and her novels. 

Part I covers the biography of her upbringing, influences, misfortunes, individual family members, and a short history of England and her connection to the rest of the world during Austen's lifetime. 

Part II gives a short summary of her six main novels, as well as The Watsons and Sandition, including descriptions of architecture, towns, current events, customs, and people. It is entertainingly interesting and historically, biographically, and culturally informative.  

Look at these beautiful images: my favorites are these portraits of King George III, his wife, Charlotte, and all of their children (minus one child), painted by British artist, Thomas Gainsborough. 

Portraits of the Royal Family, 1782, by Gainsborough

There are numerous maps throughout the book, taken from The English Atlas, including Derbyshire, Kent, Hampshire, Somersetshire, Hertfordshire, Devonshire, and more.

Map of England and Wales

There are so many beautiful images of drawings and paintings of both men and women, including soldiers in uniform of the day, to illustrate what characters may have worn or what they may have even looked like. When it came to Jane's characters, as well as her settings, it was important for people and places to be extremely realistic.

Bridal dress, 1816
Miniature of unknown young lady by Andrew Robertson.
"Her haughty expression suggests a likeness to
Emma Woodhouse."

The author included many photos, paintings and drawings of cottages, manors, abbeys, inns, halls, and other houses to give the reader an idea of the architecture of time and place of Austen's upbringing or those mentioned in her novels.

Houses in St. Thomas St. Portsmouth,
similar to the one the Price family would have lived in.

There are also images of objects, such as personal belongings of Jane's family or items that were written about in the novels, such as the table cabinet from Northangar Abbey. Until this picture, I was unable to visualize it while I read the novel.

Black and gold japanned table cabinet, 1700,
like the one Catherine Morland
found in the bedroom of Northangar Abbey

Finally, there were plenty of photos of places where Jane grew up or settings from her novels.

The Cobb, Lyme Regis, as it is today - used in Persuasion.

A Room of Her Own

The story of Jane's life initially made me feel slightly melancholy for her because she was not well and died so young. I considered it unfortunate that she wrote stories of match-making, finding love, and ultimately getting married, as if that were all that mattered in the world. Part of me wondered if that was her own heart; and yet, it was not to be because she never found a suitable mate, and before long, she could only focus on her bad health. She died never having someone special to call her own.

Oh, poor Jane, I thought. 

Then it occurred to me: Jane may not have been so bad off after all -- for her time, that is; she had a room of her own. Yes, she did. She wrote! She wrote stories that have endured time. She preserved a culture and a history through her stories. How many woman could have boasted such achievements in the early 1800s? It certainly made me feel better.

Now that I read this, I want to reread all of the Austen novels. ASAP.

Is this book for you?

If you are a fan of Jane Austen, her novels, British culture and history, then yes, you will definitely enjoy this well-written, thorough examination of Jane Austen's life and her important contribution to the literary world. 


Paula Vince said...

I love Jane Austen memorobilia, and this book looks like it's full of visual treasures, so thanks for the heads up. It's so true, in spite of the hardships and sadness she suffered, she managed to tuck herself away and contribute so much to the canon of English literature. I'm re-reading Emma at the moment, for the Back to the Classics challenge.

Fanda Classiclit said...

Hmm... until now I have only read Sense & Sensibility and didn't like it. I still dreaded any Austen, because I fear I might not like it, it's not my tase, etc. You know my taste, Ruth, which book would you recommend me to start with?

Anonymous said...

I am devoted to Ms. Austen and I must therefore get hold of this! In fact I just started on yet another re-read of Persuasions over the weekend! Life without Austen in unimaginable and I agree that her life far better than many women of her time and it reflected in her writings where the heroines were independent, had a mind of their own and did not faint or act like timid dunderheads. However I do feel, that she knew a lot about loving and losing. It is often said that she had an "attachment" with a young gentleman called Tom Lefroy which did not lead to anything as Mr. Lefroy had his fortune to make,which he did, becoming the First Chief Justice of Ireland; but by then Jane was dead and buried! Wonderful review!

RT said...

Thanks for your fine review and critique. Anyone now reading Austen must understand her contexts. This book should serve well all Austen readers, and include myself!

Ruth said...

Yes, I know you did not care for S&S. But if I had to consider what you would like, this could be tough, because her writing is - I think - very consistent. So if you do not care for her style, this could be a problem. Even her topics or themes are similar, such as love, relationships, marriage, and burdensome cultural norms and class levels.

But let's see . . .

Northanger Abbey is comical and has a very gothic feel.
Emma involves a silly matchmaker girl.
Persuasion is more mature and slower pace and about an older relationship.
Pride and Prejudice: our heroine has conviction. Austen mocks the cultural ideals of her time. And it's all wrapped in a perfect ending.
Mansfield Park, I'm sorry, but I was annoyed by the first reading; nonetheless, I believe I need to reread it.

If you are going to read Austen, you should begin with Pride and Prejudice. But you may also want to pre-read about Jane Austen and her style and her ideas, so you are familiar with her. I admit, it is not easy reading. My first read was Pride and Prejudice, and while I loved it, it was really hard for me to understand everything b/c I did not know Jane Austen. Now that I have read all of her novels, and I know a little more about her, I think I need to reread her books b/c I am sure I will have a different perspective on her stories.

Hope that helps.

Ruth said...

This sounds right up your alley. : )

Ruth said...


Yes, this book does talk all about that possible love interest. So I can't help but wonder if it was ultimately marriage that she longed for. I'm sure she did.

Ruth said...

You're welcome.

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I think I have this book! I must run down to the basement and check. Tomorrow.

Ruth said...

I feel like it was through you whom I learned about this book. In fact, you may have been giving it away in a contest. ??? Anyway, that's why I ran out and got it. It looked really fun; and it was.

Fanda Classiclit said...

Thanks a lot, Ruth, your explanation is very helpful.
Judging from what you wrote and from goodreads, I might start with Persuasion. Maybe...

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Yup, I do have it. Haven't read it yet, though. But I'm re-reading Northanger Abbey right now with my niece for high school lit, so maybe I will dip into it now!

Ruth said...

Well, yay ! You have a copy !! Now I wonder who was giving a copy away??? I think you will appreciate it much. : )

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Hee. I've given away several Austen-related books in the past, but this wasn't one of them. 'Tis a puzzlement!