“I do not know whether it ought to be so, but certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.” Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 26
Jane Austen’s World: The life and times of England’s most popular author, by Maggie Lane, second edition, Carlton Publishing Group, London, (2005) ISBN: 978-1844423682
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of the most popular author’s the English language has ever produced. Her six novels have charmed generations of readers – their wit and romance are unforgettable.” Maggie Lane
Author, and Jane Austen scholar Maggie Lane’s lushly illustrated and thoroughly delightful volume on Jane Austen’s life, times and works is one of my Austen favorites in my library. I own the first edition (1996), and I was happy to see that the second edition was released in 2005 with a new cover. I’m not sure if the second edition’s text was updated, so this post will reflect my 1996 copy.
I gravitate to this lovely volume on my shelf when I need a quick Austen escape. Its large coffee table format allows for lush color photographs and period illustrations on each page, and author Maggie Lane was cleverly arranged the keynotes into five chapters, representing important aspects of Austen’s world; Who was Jane Austen? Daily Life in Jane Austen’s England, Society and the Spirit of the Age, The Visual World, and The Immortal Jane Austen. This volume also includes a well written introduction, chronology, helpful index and author’s acknowledgments. Here is an example of the first topic in chapter one…
Chapter One: Who is Jane Austen?
The Woman: We learn about Jane Austen’s birth, family and home environment that nurtured her genius. Her physical appearance, character and personality are described and exemplified by Lane’s thorough research, aptly including insightful quotes from her letters and family reflections.
“Her unusually quick sense of the ridiculous inclined her to play with the trifling commonplaces of everyday life, whether as regarded people or things; but she never played with its serious duties or responsibilities – when she was grave, she was very grave.” Anna Austen Lefroy
Inevitably, comparisons of Austen’s personality lead to the paring of her attitudes and personality with the characteristics of her own heroines. Even though each of her heroines is highly individual, Lane hints at similarities in the characters of Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse and Anne Elliot, and though I agree for the most part, I was amused to see how one can find what they need to suit, by reason and ingenuity.
The chapters are broken down further by topics and continue in chapter one as follows; The Writer, Beliefs and Values, The Letters, The Portraits, Family Background, Home at Steventon, The six brothers, Some female relations, Love and friendship, Family visits, Bath and the West Country, and Return to Hampshire.
Even though Maggie Lane is qualified to write a scholarly treatise, she knows her audience, and her light style is approachable and engaging. She includes enough biographical and historical detail to introduce us to the subject, and not weigh it down with heavy language and minutia. The photographs and illustration have been thoughtfully selected, significant to the topic, and important historically. Her scholarship is exemplary.
This is my favorite Austen book to give as a gift as an introduction to Jane Austen, and as eye candy to the indoctrinated. It has never failed to please, and I hope that we shall see many additional editions for future readers.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Author biography from the publisher: An active committee member of the Jane Austen Society, Maggie Lane has written several highly acclaimed books on the author. These include;
Maggie appeared as a spokesperson for the Jane Austen Society on BBC Television’s Omnibus documentary, Persumption – The Life of Jane Austen. Maggie is the librarian at Bristol Grammar School, the city in which she lives.
Maggie Lane’s life-long support of the education and enjoyment of Jane Austen and her times is renowned. Austenprose sends our sincere congratulations on her recent nomination for the 2007 Jane Austen Regency World Awards in the category of outstanding Jane Austen contribution. We hope that our gentle readers remember to cast their vote for their favorite before May 10th through The Jane Austen Centre’s website.