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101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen

From the Introduction:

In the “Biographical Notice of the Author” that was published with two of Jane Austen’s novels after her death, Henry Austen said that his sister’s “was not by any means a life of event.” For a long time this was the popular view of Jane Austen—as a genteel old maid, removed from the hurly-burly of the great world. In recent years we have seen a reconsideration and a revision of this position. The greatest novelist who ever lived in fact saw—at close range—and experienced quite a lot in her too-short life. She was touched by crime, imprisonment, execution, bankruptcy, early and tragic death (again and again), broken engagements, and, on the happier side, deep love and great admiration. In this book we shall see how 101 aspects of Jane Austen contributed to the creation of the most perceptive and enjoyable novels ever written....

What makes Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, and their sister heroines so endlessly fascinating? Some clues can be found in the fascinating life of their creator!

From “Young Jane in Love—Who Was Tom Lefroy?”:

Tom Lefroy was the nephew of Jane’s good friend Mrs. (or Madam) Lefroy and her husband, the Reverend George Lefroy, of nearby Ashe. He was Irish and the same age as Jane, twenty. She met him when he was visiting his aunt and uncle in Hampshire before beginning law studies in London. He had taken his degree at Trinity College in Dublin, where fellow members of the College Historical Society included Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet, who would go on to make history as Irish nationalists and patriots. He had won three gold debating medals, so it seems he was cut out for the law and for Parliament, where he would one day sit.

Tom Lefroy makes a fascinating appearance in the earliest letter we have of Jane Austen’s, written at Steventon on January 9, 1796, to her sister, Cassandra, who was staying with the parents of her fiancé, Tom Fowle. It is a lighthearted, gossipy letter in which Jane wishes Cass a happy birthday and tells her the details of the previous night’s ball—who danced with whom, who looked good—or not. The excerpt below starts with the second sentence of the letter—that is how soon Tom makes his appearance:

Mr. Tom Lefroy’s birthday was yesterday, so that you are very near of an age.... You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself, however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you....

Jane is obviously enjoying teasing Cass about her open flirtation with the young man, just as she enjoyed “shocking” the assembly at the ball. She shows a self-assuredness about Tom’s interest in her—he is “excessively laughed at” because, like her, he is wearing his heart on his sleeve. In this moment she glories in such open display of feeling, but that is something her heroines will be—or will have to learn to be—much more cautious about. Austen seems to say later that it is wrong to make oneself so vulnerable.

In the course of the letter, Tom actually shows up at the Steventon rectory with his cousin George, and Jane must leave off writing....

(From 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen, Copyright © 2007, F+W Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.)


We must confess that we expected something rather different from 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen. We expected something more like a list of overlooked scenes from the novels, or explanations of references to commonplace items or ideas from Jane Austen’s time, long since forgotten. We are glad to have our preconceptions destroyed in this case, because what we received is much richer: a book truly about Jane Austen.

The author, Patrice Hannon (author of Dear Jane Austen), has put together a book packed with biographical information and insights into Jane Austen’s novels. We often are asked to recommend a first Jane Austen biography, and we think this beautifully-presented volume would be an excellent choice for any new or longtime Janeite.

The book is organized in sections relating to Jane’s childhood, young adulthood, her writing career, her later life, and her legacy. Each of the 101 Things explores an aspect of Jane’s life or work, following the timeline of her life and how the things and people she knew are reflected in her novels. As in her first book, the author shows her deep knowledge of and insight into her subject. Ms. Hannon has an engaging writing style, and the book is easy to read without being lightweight; scholarly but not stuffy. Any biographical work about Jane Austen requires a certain amount of authorial speculation, and Ms. Hannon occasionally indulges, but her speculation is intelligent and knowledgeable, which must disarm reproof.

Like many of the Jane Austen-related books currently being published, this book is being positioned as a companion volume for the film Becoming Jane. We hope that viewers of Becoming Jane who are curious to learn more about her will find this volume and discover, as the subtitle claims, the truth about Jane Austen.

—Margaret Sullivan, Austenblog.com

...For anyone interested in the knowledge of Jane Austen’s life and works in a compact and fact-driven format, this book can serve as a great resource and quick reference.

Categorized into seven parts: Birth of a Heroine, Brilliant Beginnings, Silence and Disappointed Love, The Glorious Years, Heroes and Heroines, Untimely Death, and Austen and Popular Culture: From the Eighteenth Century to the Twenty-First, this illuminating guide takes you through all aspects of Jane Austen’s life journey and writing experience, revealing common facts, new insights, and minutia.

If you are interested, as I was, to know which heroine most resembles the author herself, who were the real Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy and why Jane never married, you will not be disappointed in this bright little book that is well researched, engaging, and incredibly practical.