Jane Austen by Carol Shields
Novelists do not write into a void. They require an answering response, an audience of readers outside their family circle, and they also need the approval that professional publication brings. Next week, next year; surely she would hear soon. This hope must have remained with her, but the impulse to produce more novels withered.
It might be argued that all literature is ultimately about family, the creation of structures – drama, poetry fiction – that reflect our immediate and randomly assigned circle of others, what families do to us and how they can be reimagined or transcended.
The novels of Jane Austen are about intelligent women who contemplate in one way or another if they should remain alone and in some way intact, or become coupled and somehow compromised.
Jane Austen was educated at boarding school between the age of seven and ten, a total of three years in which she was taught dancing, drawing, needlework and a little French. But at home she had access to her father’s library, and read randomly and voraciously with no supervision or censorship.
She died when she was 41.
In this biography Shields concentrates on Austen the writer, rather than Austen the woman. This is one writer writing about another.
In reference to Austen’s ten year silence after the move to Bath, Carol Shield reminds us of the words of Virginia Woolf:
A writer does not need stimulation, but the opposite of stimulation. A writer needs regularity, the same books around her, the same walls. A writer needs self-ordered patterns of time, her own desk, and day after profitable day in order to do her best work.
It is many years since I read any of Jane Austen’s novels, but Carol Shields’ enthusiastic biography has given me the impulse to go seek them out again.