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Jane Austen (Penguin Lives)

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,994 Ratings  ·  183 Reviews
Librarian note: a paperback edition with the same ISBN can be found here.

In her brilliant fictional biography, The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields created an astonishing portrait of Daisy Goodwill Flett, a modern woman struggling to understand her place in her own life. With the same sensitivity and artfulness that are the trademarks of her award-winning novels, Shields explo
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Hardcover, 192 pages
Published February 19th 2001 by Viking Adult (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

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Duane
Carol Shields writes novels mostly, and very good ones at that. She won a Pulitzer Prize for The Stone Diaries. This one is a biography, a biography of one of the most beloved authors in English literature, Jane Austen. Austen, even with her success, lived a plain and simple life. Some biographers have embellished the details of her life, romanticized it to the point that Austen herself would probably laugh. But Shields interpretation is simplistic, and one gets the feeling more realistic. This ...more
Karen
Mar 02, 2008 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Rachel, PA, Abby
I enjoyed this slim biography of Jane Austen. Shields does not manufacture a mysterious past for her, but instead focuses on Austen as a writer. It's a less romantic, but more realistic and respectful approach than movies like "Becoming Jane."

She theorizes that Austen's novels are about a search for a home, written in a time when women's only available path was through marriage. From that came the difficult moral choices of staying true to one's self or accepting financial security through an in
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Obsidian
I read this book as part of the Dead Writers Society's Genre Fiction Challenge for June 2016 and the Literary Birthday Challenge for 2016. At this point I am wishing I chose the other book for the genre challenge.

I don't know what to say here besides this entire book read as someone who seemed to think that Jane Austen was not that attractive, was bitter and angry that she was a spinster, and who apparently was jealous that her sister Catherine was away from her.

Shields really doesn't give you
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Gary  the Bookworm
May 07, 2014 Gary the Bookworm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was drawn to Carol Shields' Jane Austin: A Life because I admire Shields' work as a novelist and because I am in the clutches of a severe attack of Austenitis. It hits me annually, sometimes accompanied by a far less pleasurable bout of gout. Thankfully the gout went away, but the Austen fever lingers. Shields' title is a marvel of simplicity, as is her impressionistic biographical sketch. She confesses that there is scant evidence to draw from so she wisely chooses to focus on an analyses of ...more
Sandy
The best outcome of my frustrating experience of reading this speculation about the life of Jane Austen is that I learned the difference between "biography" and "literary biography".

In a modern biography, I expect to find at least (i.e. not only) two elements: (a) some sense of the chronological events and experiences which shaped the personality of the subject; and (b) evidence that the biographer has researched primary source materials. This book provides neither.

The chronology of Jane Auste
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Deborah Markus
Jan 23, 2013 Deborah Markus rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Amazing that so short a book could be so unsatisfactory for so many reasons. Just a few examples:

Shields insists all throughout the book that Austen "longed" all her life to be married, and that any happiness she managed to find was because she learned to live with disappointment. (Shields also mentions how annoying it is when readers conflate a fiction writer's life with her writing, right after "explaining" how much Austen has in common with the heroine of "Persuasion.")

Hold this book carefull
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Cata
Apr 02, 2016 Cata marked it as standby  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, não-ficção
Vou pausar Jane Austen- a Life e HP e a Ordem da Fénix porque vou participar em duas leituras conjuntas nos próximos dias
Antof9
Jan 06, 2009 Antof9 rated it liked it
It doesn't happen to me very often, but I had to look up a word in this book! In the beginning of Chapter 8, the author uses "palimpsest". Please tell me I'm not the only one going for the Webster's right now :)

Palimpsest: (lit., rubbed again) a parchment that has been written upon previously and that bears traces of the imperfectly erased texts.

Here's how it was used: "Pride and Prejudice can be seen as a palimpsest, with Jane Austen's real life engraved, roughly, enigmatically, beneath its sur
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 Carol ♔ Type, Oh Queen! ♔
Jan 29, 2015 Carol ♔ Type, Oh Queen! ♔ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Carol ♔ Type, Oh Queen! ♔ by: Gary the Bookworm
I so wish GR had half stars!

This wasn't quite a 4 star read for me, but was too good to put down as a mere 3!

Shields has a very easy to read writing style. Due to the paucity of information about Jane Austen's life, a lot of the writing is speculative, but Shields gave good reasons for her theories (such as why Austen appeared to have stopped writing whilst living in Bath) & I found myself agreeing with a lot of Shields ideas.



Meg
Sep 25, 2014 Meg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jane-austen
It feels like Jane Austen has always been a part of my life, so much so, that I never thought about reading a biography about her...I didn't need to, she was already a part of my family...an older sister that gave me advice on love and being a strong woman....never mind that we are two centuries apart....and an ocean. I run to her books when I need to feel safe....and curling up in pjs and watching the BBC versions of her books...a cheap vacation.

This year while abroad, it struck me that I coul
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Mary
Aug 06, 2013 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, canadian
This really wasn't a biography. It was an examination of the work of Jane Austen and how the few things that are actually known about her life might relate to that work. It was however, a very enlightening look at the work of a great novelist and the time in which she lived. Shields, an excellent novelist herself, also discusses, at some length, the creative process of the writer. Ultimately there is more speculation here than solid information, but the speculation seems grounded in research and ...more
Laura
Jan 21, 2015 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-read
I feel there's not much to add to what has been said by the other reviewers of this work. It's a very pleasurable and easy read, since Carol Shields is a great writer and manages to constantly keep the reader's attention up - but it can't be defined as a biography, and this is why I only gave it three stars out of five. All the basic biographical informations are there, of course - and I agree that it is difficult to make a whole book out of what little we actually know of Jane Austen, thanks to ...more
Becca-Rawr
Apr 15, 2011 Becca-Rawr rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Jane Austen Fans
After reading Pride and Prejudice I will openly admit I fell in love with Jane Austen as a writer. I was interested in reading more of her work and reading more on her as a woman. The day after having finished her most cherished novel, I went to the library and happened to see this book on the shelf. I thought it was a 'sign,' or at least a clever coincidence, and snatched it up to take out.

This book probably wasn't something I should have started with when Jane Austen's life is concerned. While
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Mary Simonsen
Jul 23, 2012 Mary Simonsen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are interested in whether Jane Austen preferred strawberry to raspberry jam, then you will want to look for a biography other than Carol Shields’ Jane Austen, A Life. However, if you want a broad sweep of the life of the early 19th century author, then this slim volume is the perfect cup of tea. Carol Shields, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Stone Diaries, was asked by Penguin Books to write this biography. Because it was not meant to be comprehensive, I found it an easy read with a ni ...more
Rebecca
I've read all of Jane Austen's books (including the more obscure ones), I've read her letters (Shields may say over and over and over again that there are some that are destroyed - but let that not give you the impression there aren't many left, because there are), I've read several biographies. And I read this book and wondered if this book is about the same woman.

Be that as it may - how we perceive a person, long gone, is always a matter of personal opinions. I do, however, have some issues wi
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Tze-Wen
Aug 05, 2012 Tze-Wen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[This review was originally posted on my blog.]

In this concise biography, Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Shields describes the circumstances that influenced Jane Austen's writing. Shields does not waste time exploring Austen's day-to-day life nor her detailed habits, but succinctly depicts an image of a developing writer and the environment that nurtured her authoring skills. She often refers to James Edward Austen-Leigh's Memoir of Jane Austen and Jane's letters. For those who are interested, she
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P.
Apr 12, 2010 P. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition



I did not like this book, which at first just appalled me. I seriously regretted the decision to read an Austen bio. Then I realized what appalled me was Shields as she reverse-engineered Austen into a 20th century being that I began to feel was just like herself. As she channels not only Austen but everyone in her life, the book is full of 'must have felts' and worse. Occasionally she tells you what an entire room of people were feeling.

I read it because at 185pgs it was short, although it felt
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Brianne
Dec 23, 2015 Brianne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first Austen biography and I really enjoyed it! I really liked that Shields presented a realistic picture of Austen (it wasn't all gushing/positive points only) even if I want to believe that Austen was just perfect. ;)
I liked Shields' writing style so much that I've got another book of hers to read.
I'd definitely recommend it!
rr
One gets what one chooses, at least sometimes. I wanted to read a biography of Jane Austen, but I didn't think I could commit to a longer, scholarly biography this summer, so I read Carol Shield's volume instead. It was conversational and breezy, and it kept me company this week at meal-times, like a lively friend. The shape, size, and feel of the book combined to provide a friendly tactile pleasure, as well. But there's a "probably" or "must have" on almost every page, and I often couldn't tell ...more
Kathy
Feb 01, 2014 Kathy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was not really a biography. I assume the basic facts are right, such as important dates/events in Jane Austen's life, and the names and occupations of her family members and friends. But this book is mostly an educated person's interpretation of what Jane Austen liked and felt about her life, and so it's very misleading. The author is herself an author, and makes assumptions about what Miss Austen felt about her writing, through a lens of a modern author. I can't find any credibility in tho ...more
David Bird
May 12, 2014 David Bird rated it liked it
The pleasure that Shields derives from Austen obviously informs this book, but one feels more told than shown. Any biography of a figure so hemmed in by the family's selective burning of letters and myth-making is likely to depend on a lot of "could have," "would have," "must have."

I have more sympathy when Shields draws upon her own emotions as a writer to enter vicariously into the process of moving from family oddity to published author.

Ultimately, I don't think Shields succeeds in emulatin
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Kimberly
What a great biography! The Jane Austen of popular imagination is quite proper and dainty. Some of that is likely speculation and wishful thinking. The author of this biography, in my opinion, honored her subject incredibly by fleshing her out in all of her complexities and eccentricities within the context of her society and time, just as well as the subject so fully drew her characters. It was a beautiful piece of investigative journalism cutting fact from fiction surrounding the subject's lif ...more
Lobo
Apr 29, 2015 Lobo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Jane Austent én csak mint írót ismertem, vagyis csak a regényeit. Persze olvasgattam róla valamennyit, sőt talán még szigorlati tételem is volt egykor, de részletesen nem különösebben foglalkoztam az életével, csak amennyi tanulmányaim meg a könyvklubunk után rám ragadt. Na de mivel megszereztem a mindenfelé hirdetett Jane Austen naplóját, úgy gondoltam, végzek előtanulmányokat. Az Ulpius ház pedig tavaly a nagy Jane Austen életmű újrafordítások és -kiadások sorában megjelentetett egy életrajzi ...more
Lisa
Feb 06, 2014 Lisa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
this biography is a good one to read if the only other one you've read was the one by Jane Austen's nephew (which everyone seems to agree presents a filtered view of Jane's life).

The one I have enjoyed most is by Paula Byrne - she actually provides context for all the details. an example being excerpt from Jane's letters showing her to be very familiar with the London theatre scene (contrary to the usual assertion that Jane only liked country life).

I found the Shields work to have a few too man
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Kate Irwin-smiler
This is less a biography (which is what I expected, from the title) than biographical meditation on Austen's writings. Her work is examined - briefly - in the context of her life. How were her early work and later novels shaped by the state of her world? What details of her life can be gleaned from comparing what we know and what she wrote? Given the dearth (and edited nature) of contemporaneous records of her life, much of this is speculative. Austen's sister Cassandra destroyed many of their l ...more
Teresa
Jun 16, 2016 Teresa rated it really liked it
A clear-eyed, though affectionate, look at the life of Jane Austen from one of my favorite writers. Shields' words reminded me of how much Shields herself is missed; her theorizing that Austen died from breast cancer is poignant.
Ubah Khasimuddin
this was a good short but dense in material, book about the wonderful author, Jane Austen. Clearly as you read it, you can tell that Shields is definitely a fan of Austen and quite knowledgeable about her subject. I like that we learn about Jane, not as a saint, but as a person. How she wasn't like her characters but that she also had a good sense of humor and wit. I didn't know she had a disabled brother that the family sent away, sad, we never hear mention of him again. Also, Shields explains ...more
Darcey
Jan 11, 2015 Darcey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
Really enjoyed this. Though the prose was occasionally a bit heavy-handed, overall I found Shields' take on Jane Austen's life and works highly readable and wonderfully insightful.
Garrett Cash
This is the first, and assuredly not the last, Jane Austen biography I have read. I thought it would be a good place to start for basic information concerning her life, but the eccentricities and illogical proceedings of the author create a barely reputable atmosphere.

Shields states at the beginning of the book how absurd it is to comb the text of Austen's works for biographical information, and then proceeds to do that very thing for a sizable majority of the book. She also has directional iss
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Pamela
Jan 29, 2013 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Easy to read, it intertwines an analysis of the novels and of what is known about Jane Austen's life. It certainly makes you want to re-read the novels.
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Goodreads Librari...: cover to add 9 24 Jun 25, 2015 03:59PM  
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Carol Ann Shields was an American-born Canadian author. She is best known for her successful 1993 novel The Stone Diaries, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction as well as the Governor General's Award. Her novel Swann won the Best Novel Arthur Ellis Award in 1988.


More about Carol Shields...

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“...she herself loved the character of Elizabeth Bennet. "I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.” 4 likes
“A glance can both submit and subvert; it can be sharp or shy, scornful or adoring; it can be a near cousin to scrutiny – but it almost always assumes a degree of mutually encoded knowledge. A spark is struck and apprehended; the head turns on it's spinal axis; the shoulders freeze; the eyes are the only busy part of the body, simultaneously receiving and sending out information, so that a glance becomes more than a glance. It is a weapon, a command, or a sigh of acquiescence.” 4 likes
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