Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

Jane Austen at Home

Synopsis (Amazon)

On 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.

My view:

I think it was a foregone conclusion that I would really enjoy Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen at Home. I have loved Jane Austen’s books for many years, going back to when I was about 12 and read Pride and Prejudice for the first time. I’ve previously read Carol Shields’s biography Jane Austen and Claire Tomalin’s Jane Austen: a Life so there was really very little I learned reading Jane Austen at Home that surprised me or that I hadn’t known before.

I suppose what was new to me was the emphasis on what home life was like during the period of Jane’s life and seeing photos of the houses and places that she had lived or stayed in as a visitor. And I think I gained a better understanding of the social history of Georgian England and of Jane’s wider family connections and what her family and friends thought of her both as a person and as an author.

Lucy Worsley is an historian and has presented several television history programmes. I am not a great fan of her style – the play acting and dressing up – but she writes in a lively, chatty style and reading her book I could easily hear her voice. Jane Austen at Home is both very readable and very detailed, which is not an easy thing to achieve. There is an extensive section at the end of the book, listing sources, a bibliography, notes on the text and an index. There are two sections of colour plates.

Needless to say it has spurred me on to re-read Jane Austen’s books, and I shall probably begin with re-reading Emma, a book I’ve only read once.

I received an e-galley from the publishers via NetGalley for review and part way through reading it I bought a hardback copy to get the finished product.

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (18 May 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1473632188
  • ISBN-13: 978-1473632189
  • My rating: 4*

Six Degrees of Separation: Pride and Prejudice to Digging to America

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month’s chain begins with the universally loved classic, Pride and  Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

Pride and Prejudice

This is a long time favourite of mine, a book I first read when I was about 12 after seeing a BBC adaption. It’s full of wit and humour and timeless characters – foolish people, flirts, bores, snobs, self-centred and dishonest people as well as “good” people like Jane Bennet, who is determined to see good in everyone. Since then I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s books, apart from her Juvenilia books.

17th July was the 200th anniversary of her death and my first book in the chain is a book published to mark that anniversary. It’s a book I’m currently reading: Jane Austen at Home: a Biography by Lucy Worsley.  it focuses on her family and the places she lived during her short life. It really is a fascinating book for Jane Austen fans.

Jane Austen at Home

This leads nicely onto the second book in my chain – another biography of a favourite author, seen through the places she lived. It’s Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill, an overview of Agatha Christie’s life followed by descriptions of the houses and countryside she loved – from Ashfield in Torquay her first home, where she was born and brought up, to Greenway, a Georgian mansion above the River Dart, now owned by the National Trust.  A beautiful book, with many photographs.

Agatha Christie at Home

Next a book also by a Hilary, Ink in the Blood: a Hospital Diary by Hilary Mantel, a short memoir which she wrote during the summer after she won the Man Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, when she was very ill. She had a marathon operation, followed by intense pain, nightmares and hallucinations. Illness she found knocks down our defences, revealing things we should never see, needing moment by moment concentration on breathing, on not being sick and being dependent on others for your well-being.

Ink In The Blood: A Hospital Diary

Blood provides the next link – The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell, crime fiction that absolutely grabbed me apart from the ending. It’s the sort of story that if I was watching it on TV I’d have to peep at through my fingers or even cover my eyes completely until the grisly bits were over. There are bits of graphic violence earlier in the book, which I could just about cope with, but the grisly stuff at the end was a step too far for me. It’s not just crime fiction though as DCI Grant Foster enlists the help of genealogist Nigel Barnes to track down the killer helping to solve the murders using family history.

The Blood Detective (Nigel Barnes #1)

Also crime fiction – and also a bit grisly is The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, the first in the Children’s House thriller series. I loved it and once I started reading I just didn’t want to put it down, even though there are some particularly dark and nasty murder scenes, which would normally guarantee that I’d stop reading. It’s dark, mysterious and very cleverly plotted, full of tension and nerve-wracking suspense about three children, two brothers and their little sister who were adopted.

And so to the last book in my chain, Digging to America by Anne Tyler, also about adopted children. It  captivated me right from the start, with the description of two contrasting families waiting at Baltimore Airport for the arrival of two Korean babies they have adopted. The story develops as the two girls, Jo-Hin and Susan (originally Sooki) are integrated into their families – one American, the Donaldsons, outgoing and confident and the other the Yazdans, American/Iranian, reserved and restrained.

Digging to AmericaI never know when I begin a chain where it will lead. This one has gone from 18th century England to 20th century America, via Iceland, and passing through biographies, a memoir, and crime fiction. ‘Family’ is a theme in all the books in one way or another and adopted children feature in three of them – in Jane Austen’s own family one of her brothers was ‘adopted’ by a wealthy relation and another went to live with another family because of his epilepsy.

Quite surprising, really. I wonder where other chains will go?