From the desk of Lisa Galek:
Very little has been written about Jane Austen’s life before she started writing at the age of 12. That’s probably because so very little is known about that time. In Young Jane Austen, author Lisa Pliscou focuses on these early years to give us a better understanding of how one of the greatest novelists of all time got her start.
The author begins by letting us know that this particular biography will be a “speculative” one. Since so little is known about Jane Austen’s early years, Lisa Pliscou draws on a wide variety of Austen scholarship to give us a charming portrait of the artist as a young girl. She begins in 1775 with the birth of little Jane—nicknamed Jenny—and takes us up through 1787 when Jane first decides to put pen to paper for the amusement of her family.
Along the way, the author includes short scenes from Austen’s life but presents them in a narrative format. We meet Jane at various moments in her journey—playing with siblings, spending time with her family, lounging in her father’s library, heading off to school with her sister, Cassandra. Each step of the way, the author reflects on what a young Jane Austen might have felt and thought in these moments.
Most Austen biographies I’ve read tend to gloss over Jane’s early years. They focus more on her evolution as a writer and her years as a successful author. The typical Austen biography also tends to be a little more dense and scholarly because it’s just trying to pack so much information into one little volume. But, Young Jane Austen avoids these pitfalls and, as a result, becomes a delightful and infinitely readable story.
The subject matter is narrow and nicely tailored to folks who would have an interest in a young author—probably young people themselves. The writing is also the antithesis of scholarly. While the author manages to educate the reader and convey all kinds of amazing and interesting information about Jane Austen, her style is simple, sweet, and easy to understand. The tone reminded me a lot of another well-written book for and about young women—The Daring Book for Girls.
The most enjoyable part of the entire book—and there were many—was the annotations that the author included to go along with her short imaginings of Jane’s life. She uses various sources to draw a picture of Jane Austen’s early years and then goes through, chapter by chapter, giving us little snippets of background information. I was impressed with her ability to take vast volumes of Austen scholarship and research and distill those down into a series of very clear, easily digestible paragraphs that really helped to illuminate Austen’s life story.
The book benefits from being adorably designed as well. It’s a dainty volume that’s printed with full-color pages and contains charming illustrations by Massimo Mongiardo. The beginnings of each new chapter feature a line drawing illustrating a scene from Jane’s life. Borders, letters, and soft colors throughout really add to the vivacity and feel of the whole book.
The one drawback to the story is that it’s incredibly short. The author includes about 20 chapters, but each is only around a page or two. She then repeats those chapters complete with annotations from various biographies, letters, and scholarly works. In total, there are only around 75 pages of original material, which might be disappointing for some readers. I know it was for me. The story was so compelling and well done that I didn’t want it to stop when Jane Austen turned 12!
Young Jane Austen is an absolutely charming book and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants an easily digestible account of Jane Austen’s early years. Given that the writing is so clear and simple, the book would make a perfect gift for any young person—particularly a young, budding author looking to follow in the footsteps of one of the greats.
4 out of 5 Stars
Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, by Lisa Pliscou
Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing (2015)
Trade paperback & eBook (188) pages
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads
Cover image courtesy of Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing © 2015; text Lisa Galek © 2015, Austenprose.com
Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Thanks for the informative review, Lisa! I had not previously realized how short this book is, nor that it stopped when JA was 12, despite having read a couple of reviews. Even so, it does sound interesting.
It’s always fascinating to know what made one write what they write… and speculations make it more desirable.
I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t want it to end either, but it was so beautifully structured and that alone makes up for it being so short.
I thought it an adorable read, too. It was the first book I read that focused on her formative years and I learned a few things that have me adjusting my perceptions. I like your point about the ‘antithesis of scholarship’ Nice review!
That sounds like a great read!! I haven’t read a book on Jane’s pre-writing life and love that there are illustrations through out!
I enjoyed this book too–it is lovely, charming, and way too short! A wonderful addition to any Austen shelf!