Friday, December 11, 2020

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

"Young people reading Jane Austen for the first time think that the stories are about love and romance and finding a partner. But a happy home is equally as much what all of her heroines don’t have, and yet desire."
Much more has been written about Jane Austen than she had time to write herself in her brief life. But in Jane Austen at Home, historian Lucy Worsley investigates the topic from a new slant: the homes in which Austen lived, and the insecurity she likely felt about not having a secure, permanent home to call her own.

We learn about her family, friends, and (possible) loves here, as well as the routines of her daily life and how chores expected of her surely took away from writing time. All of this is told as we are led through the many homes she lived in during her life. 

Her family lived on the faded edges of gentility. They weren't exactly impoverished, but turning yourself out nicely for a dance or having a home with the proper hallmarks of the upper class was always a stretch for them, and something they often couldn't quite reach.

I really didn't know much about her life. That she struggled financially even as she wrote wonderful books is amazing and sad. That she fought hard to be published, and then didn't earn much when she was, is stunning. That she often hid that she was a writer from visitors, and even after she gained popularity her family praised her more for fulfilling womanly roles than her being a talented novelist, is even sadder. She earned only £650 from her novels while alive, though millions have surely been made off of them (and movie and TV adaptations) since her death.

If you love any of Austen books, or take an interest in writers' lives, or even just want to discover more about women's lives in past eras, you'll enjoy this book. 

I'll admit I picked this book up not only for a bit of Austen, but for a bit of Lucy Worsley as well. In addition to being a writer, Worsley hosts several British programs where she offers up tales from history by weaving together stories of people and buildings and fashion and food, all with a glint in her eye (and often a bit of period clothing on her back). They're delightful to watch, and I encourage you to check one out (in the U.S., they're found on a wide array of platforms, like PBS, Amazon Prime Video, Hoopla, and more). A great one for the holidays is Lucy Worsley's 12 Days of Tudor Christmas, included if you subscribe to PBS Masterpiece or PBS Living on Amazon channels.

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