It’ Jane Austen’s birthday! The festivities are especially poignant to me this year after visiting her birthplace and home for twenty-five years on our tour of Jane Austen’s England last fall. Our stop at the former site of Steventon Rectory, and St. Nicholas Church, were my favorite sites along the tour. The original rectory was demolished in 1823, however the site is still viewable as an empty field where cattle now graze. Just up the road is St. Nicholas’ Church where Austen’s father, Rev. George Austen, was rector for forty years (1761-1800). The church is a small, simple, Norman building which was originally constructed around 1200. It has had a series of revisions over the 800 of years that it has been in existence, including the addition of the prominent spire in the mid nineteenth century.
Of all the many Austen related sites that we visited on our 10-day tour, my visit to St. Nicholas Church was the most moving. The neighborhood is very isolated and rural with large oak trees lining the narrow roads and other mature trees, including the huge 900-year-old yew tree, spanning 50 feet, at the front the church property. When we departed the coach, I was immediately struck by the quiet, unassuming, and uncommercial atmosphere we were privileged to enter. The church is surrounded on three sides by a graveyard and many of the local family names Jane mentions in her letters appear on the stones, including the Digweeds and LeFroys. The graves of her elder brother James Austen, who followed her father as rector of the parish, and his two wives are situated there; and inside is a plaque in their memory.
It would not be Jane Austen’s birthday if I did not talk about my favorite Austen books in my personal library. Here is a list of my top-ten favorite biographies, historical bio-ficts and nonfiction books that I have enjoyed over the years. Just click on the links to read a review or to learn more about them.
Jane Austen Biographies
- The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, by Paula Byrne (2013)
- Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin (1997)
- Jane Austen: A Life Revealed, by Catherine Reef (2011)
- Jane Austen (Christian Encounters Series), by Peter Leithart (2010)
- Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harman (2009)
- Jane Austen: A Family Record, by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Austen-Leigh, and revised and enlarged by Deirdre Le Faye (2003)
- Jane Austen: A Life, by David Nokes (1997)
- Jane Austen’s World: the Life and Times of England’s Most Popular Author, by Maggie Lane (1996)
- A Memoir of Jane Austen by Her Nephew, by James Edward Austen-Leigh (1870)
- Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye (1997
Jane Austen Bio-Fict
The entire Being a Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron
Jane Austen’s Life & Times
- Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels, by Janet Todd (2013)
- In the Garden with Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson
- Tea with Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson
- All Things Austen: A Concise Encyclopedia of Austen’s World, by Kirstin Olsen (2008)
- What Matters in Jane Austen: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, by John Mullan (2013)
- Jane Austen’s England, by Roy and Lesley Adkins (2013)
- Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, by Deborah Yaffe (2013)
- Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures, by Claudia L. Johnson (2012)
- Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, by Juliette Wells (2012)
- A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter, by William Deresiewicz (2011)
Happy Birthday Jane!
Cover image of The Complete Novels of Jane Austen courtesy of Race Point Publishing © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose.com