Here in the 21st century, where Jane Austen inspires films, spinoff books and even a zombie adaptation, it’s hard to register that she saw little success in her time.
That contrast, between the author’s real life and her afterlife, makes a poignant read of the latest biography.
“Jane Austen at Home: A Biography” tells Austen’s story by way of the numerous homes she occupied in her too-short life. TV historian Lucy Worsley guides us from the parsonage in Steventon where Austen was born to the mansions and damp rentals where she camped until she settled in Chawton, now Jane Austen’s House Museum.
For someone so focused on domestic life in Georgian England, Austen had little say about her own home. As a spinster daughter of a “pseudo-gentry” clergyman, she had no claim to property. Her time in Bath and pilgrimages to the homes of better-off relations underlie the six novels she finished before she died at age 41, with no inkling of the impact she would have.
With clear-eyed sympathy, Worsley traces the wanderings of a woman who let her few chances for prosperity pass by, but who never gave up writing. Worsley delivers a heartfelt case to the world for “the author it would come to love a little too late.”