Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

33210463On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.

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.

So before I start this review I should probably admit I am a little bit of a fangirl when it comes to Lucy Worsley.  I love her TV shows and her enthusiasm for her subjects.  She is a must-watch for me and now a must-read with Jane Austen at Home, which I loved.

One of the reasons I loved it was that it made Austen accessible.  I know very little about her life and have tried to read a few biographies in the past but I found them dry.  Here, Austen came alive to me, with her life told through the places she lived and the people she lived with.

Of the places, there were quite a few and not all as I might have imagined in my mind.  After the retirement and then death of her father, for many years Jane and her sister Cassandra (as spinsters) and their mother were basically homeless, moving from house to house and relying on family members to put them up or pay their rent.

Some of these places were grand indeed, others not so much with some being described as cold, dark and damp – not necessarily conducive to writing some of the greatest novels I’ve ever read. But then life for Georgian women wasn’t conducive in general to writing other than letters.

There were domestic chores, a lot, and household management to deal with as well as the perception that their job was to grow up and get married.  Women who wrote weren’t looked up to but often looked down upon and Jane lived most of her life as a writer anonymously, only coming out of the shadows later on when her books had become popular.

One of the things Jane did have on her side though was her family, who not only provided her with a place to live but supported her in her writing.  It was her father who bought her her writing desk and initially acted as her agent (before this role was taken up by her brother) and her sister Cassandra was her life-long best friend who took up more than her fair share of chores to allow Jane time to write.

There were still family politics (when are they not?) but for the most part Jane seems to have had a loving, caring, family and this was nice to read about, making her seem human and not just a slightly mythical figure, sat alone at her desk.  Worsley manages to make Jane a real person, someone with a great sense of humour (often quite wicked) who likes to enjoy herself (money permitting).

What she also shows is a woman who knows her own mind and stands by her decisions, including not to marry (unfortunately, it isn’t completely clear if her writing drove this decision, though it seems likely to have, as so much of her life is known through letters and her sister destroyed a lot of these).

At the end of this book, I found that, for me, Austen is a woman to be admired and one who is not now as cold and mysterious as she first appeared.  Perhaps this will not be such a surprise to Janeites and the like, but I think it will be too many, all of whom I hope read, learn from, and enjoy this book.

Emma x

loved-it

Source: Netgally
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd
Publication Date: 18th May, 2017
Format: ebook
Pages: 352
Genre: non-fiction
Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weir

imageI think I’ve mentioned before my fascination with the Tudors, so when I saw this audiobook at my local library I couldn’t resist. Plus it was Alison Weir, whose books I like in general, regardless of their subject.

Of all Henry’s wives, Anne is probably the most interesting and the one who most influenced English history as it was Henry’s desire to marry her – after eight long years of trying to get a divorce – that led, in part, to his break with Rome and the forming of the Church of England. She is also probably the most disliked of all his wives – reviled, even, at the time for having stolen Henry’s heart from the beloved Katherine of Aragon, and the subject of much gossip and misunderstanding, both before and after her death.

This isn’t the first book on Anne I’ve read and it’s not the first time she has been written about by Weir but I haven’t got bored yet and, here, I found more to peak my interest and help fill in the gaps (possibly) of what I know. I say possibly because little is actually known about Anne, not even what she looked like – there is only one known confirmed likeness of her because they were all destroyed after she was executed. Much of what was written at the time was by people who disliked her and were biased against presenting a likeable or sympathetic person for the most part.

Weir manages to do that, though, allowing a picture of Anne to develop that is not quite the evil home wrecker she is often made out to be. There is no doubt she schemed and played politics but so, it seems, did most people back then. It was the way the world of the royal court worked and it was an accepted part of life. Perhaps that Anne tried to play the game as a woman was part of the problem, as was the fact that she threatened the established power of many of England’s richest families.

It will always be impossible to know exactly who she was and whether she was guilty of the crimes she died for but that is part of the fascination. Weir presents the facts, few as they are, and the conjecture, giving her opinion on what might or might not be true, coming to the conclusion she probably was innocent. I tend to agree.

For those who want to know more about Anne, this is a great book. She really is the focus, not Henry – though there is plenty of him and Cromwell for those interested in them too. It is full of little details, like her having a double fingernail, which make her come alive and feel less like a character, more like a person.

As an audiobook, it was easy to listen too, with good narration and pace. There was plenty to keep me listening, including a great chapter at the end that talked about ghost stories and legends relating to Anne. I have a huge desire now to go start spending nights in Norfolk (her birthplace) looking for a lady in white. I’ll let you know if I find her!

Emma

P.s. If you couldn’t guess, I really liked this book – a recommended read.

Tuesday Intro: 15th September, 2015

Once again this week I’m linking up with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. I really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week, after it sitting on my shelf for about a month, I’m going to attempt to read Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley. I say attempt because the book is huge (672 pages) and it won’t get finished for a while I don’t think. However, it’s for my next book club (the theme of which is biographies or memoirs) so if I don’t get cracking now, I’ll have no chance.

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Here’s what it’s about…

Romantic Outlaws is the first book to tell the story of the passionate and pioneering lives of Mary Wollstonecraft – English feminist and author of the landmark book, The Vindication of the Rights of Women – and her novelist daughter Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

Although mother and daughter, these two brilliant women never knew one another – Wollstonecraft died of an infection in 1797 at the age of thirty-eight, a week after giving birth. Nevertheless their lives were so closely intertwined, their choices, dreams and tragedies so eerily similar, it seems impossible to consider one without the other.

Both women became famous writers; fell in love with brilliant but impossible men; and were single mothers who had children out of wedlock; both lived in exile; fought for their position in society; and thought deeply about how we should live. And both women broke almost every rigid convention there was to break: Wollstonecraft chased pirates in Scandinavia. Shelley faced down bandits in Naples. Wollstonecraft sailed to Paris to witness the Revolution. Shelley eloped in a fishing boat with a married man. Wollstonecraft proclaimed that women’s liberty should matter to everyone.

Not only did Wollstonecraft declare the rights of women, her work ignited Romanticism. She inspired Coleridge, Wordsworth and a whole new generation of writers, including her own daughter, who – with her young lover Percy Shelley – read Wollstonecraft’s work aloud by her graveside. At just nineteen years old and a new mother herself, Mary Shelley composed Frankenstein whilst travelling around Italy with Percy and roguish Lord Byron (who promptly fathered a child by Mary’s stepsister). It is a seminal novel, exploring the limitations of human nature and the power of invention at a time of great religious and scientific upheaval. Moreover, Mary Shelley would become the editor of her husband’s poetry after his early death – a feat of scholarship that did nothing less than establish his literary reputation.

And here’s how it starts…

In London, England, on 30 August 1797, a newborn baby fought for her life. Small and weak, she was not expected to survive. Her mother struggled to deliver the afterbirth, but she was so exhausted a doctor was called to help. He cut away the placenta but had not washed his hands, unwittingly introducing the germs of one of the most dangerous diseases of the era – childbed or puerperal fever. Ten days later, the mother died, and, to the surprise of everyone, the baby lived. For the rest of her life, she would mourn her mother’s loss, dedicating herself to the preservation of her mother’s legacy and blaming herself for her death.

What do you think – does it spark your interest? Would you keep reading?

Emma

What I'm Reading This Week

This last week, despite being really busy work and life wise, was a good one for me for both reading and blogging. I managed to make it through all the books I had on the go and catch up on some reviews I’ve been wanting to write.  I’m just over three months into my blog now and feel I’ve settled into a routine that works for me and am starting to develop my writing style. One thing I haven’t quite figured out though is how to plan which books I’ll read when – I have a running list but never seem to pick the one at the top…another always seems to be more appealing.

Whilst this isn’t anywhere near the end of the world, as I have just renewed one particular book from the library for the third time, I thought that writing a regular post on what I want to read next might help give me focus.  As I’m actually starting the week with no books on the go because I finished J by Howard Jacobson  last night, this seemed like a good day to start. And, as it’s Monday, I’m linking in with Sheila at Book Journey, who has a weekly post I’ve enjoyed following – It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

So, after a much longer pre-amble than I intended, here are the books on my beside table (or kindle) this week:

The Book: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

The Wake

The Blurb: Everyone knows the date of the Battle of Hastings. Far fewer people know what happened next…Set in the three years after the Norman invasion,The Wake tells the story of a fractured band of guerilla fighters who take up arms against the invaders. Carefully hung on the known historical facts about the almost forgotten war of resistance that spread across England in the decade after 1066, it is a story of the brutal shattering of lives, a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man of the Lincolnshire fens bearing witness to the end of his world. Written in what the author describes as ‘a shadow tongue’ – a version of Old English updated so as to be understandable for the modern reader – The Wake renders the inner life of an Anglo-Saxon man with an accuracy and immediacy rare in historical fiction. To enter Buccmaster’s world is to feel powerfully the sheer strangeness of the past.

The Reason: Because I’ve heard so much about it. I downloaded a sample because I was worried about the language but, having read a few reviews saying it needed to be read aloud and finding this works, I’ve decided I don’t need to be worried and am actually looking forward to reading something which feels completely different.

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

Title: My Life in Middlemarch
Author: Rebecca Mead
genre: Biography, Memoir
Rating: 4 out of 5

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What Is It About?

Aged 17 and desperate to begin life away from her coastal English town, Rebecca Mead was introduced to Middlemarch, often said to be the greatest English novel of all time. The book never left her and, over the course of her life, as she left home and went to college, moved to America and became a journalist, met and married her husband and became a mom, she read it more than once, taking something different from it each time. Here, she revisits the novel, looking at how it reflects Eliot’s life and how aspects of her own life mirror those of the characters.

What Did I Think?

Following on from my reading of Middlemarch, I was really eager to pick up My Life In Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead as I’d heard some great things about it and I was interested to see what she had to say and why the book had affected her so much.

I’m glad I read both books back to back as the original was still very fresh in my mind so I didn’t have to search my memory when Mead references sections of the book and, as my opinions of the characters were still clearly formed, I was able to take a moment here and there to reflect on how her feelings about a character might change mine (or not).