Who was the real Jane Austen? A retiring spinster who confined her novels to the small canvas of village life? Or a strong-minded woman who took the bold decision to remain unmarried and fashion herself as a professional writer?
In 1870, Jane Austen's nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, published a family memoir of his aunt and inaugurated the tradition of full-length Jane Austen biography. It proceeded from cradle to grave at uneventful pace and with provincial calm.
My book is something different and more experimental.
Rather than rehearsing all the known facts, I focus in on a variety of key moments, scenes and objects in both the life and work of Jane Austen. Objects do not only evoke distant places, but they can also be the bearer of big emotions. Each chapter begins with a description of a real thing, some of them directly from Jane Austen's life, others evoked by her novels.
These objects and images cast new light on her life and her fictional characters, on the workings of her imagination on the shaping of her incomparable fictional worlds. In The Real Jane Austen ($29.99, Harper) I follow the author on her travels, and it sets her in contexts, global as well as English, urban as well as rural, political and historical as well as social and domestic.
Here are some objects that reveal a lot about Jane Austen: