A Memoir of Jane Austen: The Beginnings of a Pop Icon

Illustration of Jane Austen after the frontispiece in A Memoir of Jane Austen (1871)“The Memoir of my Aunt, Jane Austen, has been received with more favour than I had ventured to expect. The notices taken of it in the periodical press, as well as letters addressed to me by many with whom I am not personally acquainted, show that an unabated interest is still taken in every particular that can be told about her.” James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen, Second Edition, November 17, 1870

When Jane Austen’s nephew Rev. James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote and published a family memoir of his aunt in 1869, he unknowingly opened the door to her modern popularity, sparking public interest and critical acclaim far beyond the family expectations, planting the seed of a future pop icon.

Illustration of Chawton Church, A Memoir of Jane Austen, (1871)

His publisher Richard Bentley & Son who also held  the copy write on Austen’s six major novels quickly saw the advantage of promoting an author already within their catalogue, and issued the second edition with a new preface by the author, additional content, letters, the fragment of the novel The Watson’s, the canceled chapter of Persuasion, and the novella Lady Susan in 1871. 

Illustration of Steventon Manor, A Memoir of Jane Austen, (1871)

The quote above is from the second edition preface which Austen-Leigh wrote in response to the public and critical reaction. At this point over fifty years had passed since Jane Austen’s death and her books had continued in print without interruption, yet her family is caught unawares, still amazed by the interest in her life and work!

Image of the cover of A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections, Oxford World Classics, (2002)A new edition of the memoirs combined with other family material entitled A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections was edited by Kathryn Sutherland and issued by Oxford World Classics in 2002. It expands on the original memoir and brings together several other family biographies and recollections, making it the definitive authority on her life written by her family members.

In the face of Jane Austen’s current popularity, it appears that she was a bit of a dark horse in her families eyes. One is reminded by Austen’s character Emma Woodhouse who said, “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

Illustration of Steventon Parsonage, A Memoir of Jane Austen, (1871)

  • Read what could quite possibly be the first modern publicity plug for Jane Austen and the Memoirs that her nephew wrote in the 1870 edition of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, the ‘People Magazine’ of it’s day!
  • You can also read the second edition of A Memoir of Jane Austen online at Project Gutenberg

*Illustrations from the second edition of A Memoir of Jane Austen, by James Edward Austen-Leigh, Richard Bentley & Son, (1871)

Please join in and have your share of the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Website Built with WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: