Jane Austen Biography Recommendations?
May 5, 2008 12:06 AM   Subscribe

What's the most authoritative or well-regarded scholarly biography of Jane Austen?

My wife is wondering. She will be teaching an Austen class in a few months and wants to look at what's currently considered the best.
posted by Karlos the Jackal to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I am not informed enough to say what's the best, but Becoming Jane Austen: A Life is quite good, and probably required reading for someone teaching her life. It's considered a 'pop' bio, but that's not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion.
posted by dawson at 12:35 AM on May 5, 2008

US Amazon link.
posted by dawson at 12:37 AM on May 5, 2008

I don't know if you're looking for "Amazon recommends," but the comments on Halperin's "The Life of Jane Austen" suggest that that's a pretty safe choice. You might also check out the Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen - they would probably list whatever the industry standard is in the bibliography section.
posted by puckish at 12:40 AM on May 5, 2008

What about Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Shields' biography Jane Austen? It appears to be very well regarded. Shields focuses more on examining Austen's life as a writer, instead of trying to fluff up and fantasize the details of her personal life.
posted by zarah at 1:41 AM on May 5, 2008

Best answer: The three main contenders are David Nokes, Park Honan and Claire Tomalin. Nokes is lively and entertaining, but has been criticised for using too much novelistic licence. Honan is scholarly and comprehensive, but I find his style a bit plodding. Tomalin is an experienced biographer, and her book is probably the best of the three.

I haven't read Halperin's book, but I've seen it criticised for inaccuracy. (I wouldn't trust Amazon recommendations if I were you.) As for Carol Shields, one reviewer commented that 'her reading of the life is not startlingly new and tends to echo Claire Tomalin's rather closely'.

If you are looking for an up-to-date scholarly overview of Jane Austen's life and times, try Jane Austen in Context, a collection of essays by some of the leading scholars in the field, including Deirdre La Faye, who edited Austen's letters, and Kathryn Sutherland, who wrote Jane Austen's Textual Lives, an excellent study of the reception history of the novels.
posted by verstegan at 1:54 AM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My wife is currently reading the Tomalin and she says it's quite good. Thanks!
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 12:57 AM on June 15, 2008

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