After finishing the book I agreed wholeheartedly with the blurbs on it.
"As near perfect a life of Jane Austen as we are likely to get." Carmen Calil of Telegraph.
"A book that radiates intelligence, wit and insight." The New York Times
The book starts on the day of Jane's birth and concludes after all her siblings die. It gives us that sort of a composite picture of the life and times of Jane Austen. How things were when she was born, how children were reared in those days. Apparently the children were fostered with some woman in the village who cared for them till the time they were grown. It is all about her parents, her siblings, her neighbourhood and her extended family. It gives us a view of all the people that the author was able to locate in her vicinity.
If this makes you think that the lives of those people were dull as ditch water and makes a tedious read, think again. Did you know that Jane Austen's mother wrote wonderful verses? Starting from Austen's mother, many of Austen siblings wrote verses from time to time. Her brother brought out a journal for some time.
Cassandra had Jane's blessing to cull her letters. The sisters were prolific correspondents but the contents of the letters were only for their eyes. Hence, Tomalin is not able to get an unexpurgated look at Jane's letters. She feels sorry for this, so do we. Times have changed and a candid Jane would be very welcome. If we look at her writing, she does tend to be candid in her observations of people. This is precisely why we love her books, this is why they have survived over the years.
The book reads like a Jane Austen novel, full of witty observations. Tomalin also includes a review of her work and feels we would have seen even better novels by Jane if sickness had not cut short her life.
Frankly, though Jane is one of my most favorite authors, I knew nothing of her. I have read only short biographical sketches of her on Wikipedia and suchlike. I have to thank my dear friend Pacifist Immer for having gifted this book to me on my birthday. It was such an eye-opener to have read it.
It has opened my eyes not only to the life and times of Jane Austen, but the painstakingly detailed work done by Claire Tomalin. She has riffled through all the papers of the time that have a mention of Jane Austen or her family. She even read through the diary of a neighbour who knew her. It is clear that the work is very authoritative.
If you love Jane Austen, the book makes you love her more.