Unlike Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, this book actually made me want to go out and read Jane Austen's novels. I've never read any them as of yet, and of the film versions I saw snippets of Pride & Prejudice, the BBC miniseries, and the first half of the Keira Knightly version. The latter was dead boring, and the sound was absolutely awful. The whole family despised it and couldn't understand how it was gathering all these positive reviews.
However, I quite liked Bride & Prejudice, which was the Bollywood Indian version, transplanting the politics of 1800s English marriage onto modern day Indian families. Also, Ang Lee's Sense & Sensibility was tolerable - if I ignored the flighty Kate Winslet and the constipated-looking Hugh Grant and focused on yummy Alan Rickman. I have also started watching Clueless, Alicia Silverstone's modern remake of Emma, at least five times, but as of yet I have never seen it all the way through to the end.
Anyhoo - this biography was very interesting. Jane Austen, given the Five Qualities of a "Great" Writer I mockingly listed below, didn't follow any of these qualities either, and I find that we share certain things in common, if I may not be too presumptuous in saying so. Jane Austen, Carol Shields believes, was very comfortable in routine, like I am, and found it nearly impossible to write when upheavals ruined her schedule. When her families moved, when she went to live with one of her (five) brothers to help out with their children, her pattern was disrupted.
She also remained a lonely unwedded spinster until she died (of breast cancer, it is suggested) at age 41. Her family was poor but respectable, and she was preposed to by a relatively well-off family friend, but he wasn't book-smart enough to satisfy her, and she rejected him very messily after first accepting his proposal. I can identify with that kind of dilemma. A used to have a young man at my anime club who I hung out with, and I considered him relatively harmless and genial company until he asked me out on what I assumed was a date. I accepted, rashly, and then as the prospect of spending time alone with him and his woeful speech impediment came closer, I made up some kind of excuse (too much homework, I think) and ran to the nearest bus. I haven't had a serious conversation with him since.
Part of me thinks this was right - if I was physically repulsed by his appearance, manner of speech, and dodgy family history to the alarming extent that I was, it wouldn't have been fair to either of us to have tried sustaining any type of serious relationship. Still, there is a part of me, and who knows, this part might have been in Jane Austen too, that felt I was a shallow, heartless person, rejecting a young man based on his appearance, manner of speech, and dodgy family history. This voice continues to imply that I am no great beauty myself, that I have serious problems dealing with large groups of people and being discrete and reading the emotions of others, and that due to such flaws I have absolutely no right whatsoever to be picky when I could easily become the lonely old cat lady who dies a virgin, as Carol Shields suggests it is likely Jane Austen did.
Still, at least she had her novels - although as an author she remained anonymous for most of her career.