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Jane Austen: A Life (Penguin Lives)

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  2,073 Ratings  ·  190 Reviews
With the same sensitivity and artfulness that are the trademarks of her award-winning novels, Carol Shields explores the life of a writer whose own novels have engaged and delighted readers for the past two hundred years. In Jane Austen, Shields follows this superb and beloved novelist from her early family life in Steventown to her later years in Bath, her broken engageme ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published May 31st 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 2001)
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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
Mar 02, 2008 Karen rated it really liked it
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
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
Gary  the Bookworm
Sep 08, 2016 Gary the Bookworm rated it really liked it
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
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
Deborah Markus
Jan 23, 2013 Deborah Markus rated it did not like it
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
Apr 02, 2016 Cata marked it as standby
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
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
♬Christmas Carol!
Jan 29, 2015 ♬Christmas Carol! rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to ♬Christmas Carol! 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.

Sep 25, 2014 Meg rated it really liked it
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 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
Aug 06, 2013 Mary rated it liked it
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
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
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
Mary Simonsen
Jul 23, 2012 Mary Simonsen rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jenni Joru
Sep 21, 2016 Jenni Joru rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Miellyttävästi kirjoitettu pieni elämäkerta Jane Austenista. Austenistahan ei jäänyt juuri dokumentteja ja Cassandra-sisko sensuroi kirjeenvaihdon pitääkseen siskon ja suvun mainetta yllä.
Apr 04, 2013 Rebecca rated it it was ok
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
Apr 15, 2011 Becca-Rawr rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 12, 2010 P. rated it liked it

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
Jun 06, 2009 rr added it
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
Oct 16, 2016 Kathy rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
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 ...more
David Bird
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
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 ...more
Dec 23, 2015 Brianne rated it really liked it
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!
Jun 16, 2016 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 11, 2015 Darcey rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 29, 2013 Pamela rated it really liked it
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.
1st read May 2010?

Reread 8/3/2015
Nick Smith
Nov 27, 2016 Nick Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are many biographies of Jane Austen, and many other books besides those that analyze specific themes and subjects of her books. As a literary biography, this small volume peers at Jane Austen's works, and offers us an analysis of the characters, the medium itself, and of course, the author in her times. We cannot understand Jane Austen, in fact, apart from the times she lived in. And in the situations and circumstances of her life, we understand more fully her feelings and her privations, ...more
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
Jul 06, 2013 Cleo rated it liked it
Carol Shields, also a novelist, wrote a biography of Jane Austen, first published in 2001. She explores the life of a writer whose novels have delighted many for the past two hundred years. But relatively little is actually known about Austen's life or what she was like. Shields follows her from her early life in Steventown, to her later years in Bath, her broken engagement, and her relationship with her sister Cassandra. She reveals some of what Austen was like.

There are many, many biographies
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Goodreads Librari...: cover to add 9 24 Jun 26, 2015 12:59AM  
  • The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen
  • Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World
  • Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels
  • Jane Austen's World: The Life and Times of England's Most Popular Author
  • Ten Girls Who Made History
  • A Fine Brush on Ivory: An Appreciation of Jane Austen
  • Jane Austen: A Life
  • Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury
  • Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life
  • Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories
  • A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections
  • Jane Austen's Letters
  • In the Garden with Jane Austen
  • The Friendly Jane Austen: A Well-Mannered Introduction to a Lady of Sense and Sensibility
  • The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World
  • Jane Austen For Dummies
  • Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters: A Family Record
  • Jane Austen: Her Life
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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“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.” 6 likes
“...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
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