The Sunday Salon-Life and The Writer

oh…hello!  is it sunday already?  and here i am still in robe and slippers!  well, no matter- i don’t mind if you don’t.  rest assured, the coffee is on and will be ready to pour in just a moment.

i was up so late last night (which probably explains my dishabille this morning) finshing  Jane Austen, A Life.  i was intent of having this biography read and settled in mind before tonight’s episode of Masterpiece, which is a look at Miss Austen herself.

do you love reading the lives of writer’s as much as i do?  it isn’t just the major life events that interest me – often, it’s the minute details of their daily life which i find most fascinating.   and Ms. Tomalin satisfies the reader’s desire for those details quite nicely, from her descriptions of Jane’s rough and tumble childhood days, spent in play with her brothers as well as the boys who resided with the family to attend Rev. Austen’s school, to her life as a young woman, attending the younger children, performing good works for the villagers, and writing plays and stories for her family’s amusement.

something else i love about reading writer’s lives – i love connecting events from real life to what comes out on the page.  how do the things that happen to a writer become reflected in their work? how to life’s joys and disappointments, the contentment and the sorrow, shape the writer?

again, Ms. Tomalin does not disappoint in the reader’s quest to make these connections. her discussion of Jane’s brief, doomed attraction to Tom Lefroy, a young Irishman who was a visitor in the village for only a short time, provides an important insight into Austen’s novels.

A small experience, perhaps, but a painful one for Jane Austen, this brush with young Tom Lefroy.  What she distilled from it was something else again.  From now on, she carried in her own flesh and blood, and not just gleaned from books and plays, the knowledge of her own sexual vulnerability; of what it is to be entranced by the dangerous stranger; to hope and to feel the blood warm; to wince, to withdraw; to long for what you’re not going to have and had better not mention.  Her writing becomes informed by this knowledge, running like a dark undercurrent through the writing.”

and so we read Austen’s stories of young women from a different vantage point – not from the pen of a retiring spinster who writes purely from the depths of her imagination, but from the heart of a young woman who has known the thrill and heady excitement of first love, as well as the wrenching pain of unfullfillment and loss.

doesn’t your heart ache for her?  mine does.

here…let’s have another cup of coffee.  try one of these pastries, too.  i think we need  something sweet to cheer us.

certainly other life events were brought to bear on the literary life of Jane Austen.  having completed three novels by age 25, her pen was stilled for the next 10 years.  why?  Ms. Tomalin links this static period to the abrupt removal of the Austen family from their country home in Steventon parish to a city flat in Bath. 

The ejection from Steventon made severe practical difficulties for her; it also depressed her enough to disable her as a writer.  To remove her from Steventon was to destroy the delicate pattern she had worked out, in which she could take her place within the family but also abstract herself from it when she needed to.”

and it wasn’t until the family was settled at last in Chawton Cottage, a permanent home, in a small country village once more, that Jane again began to write, penning her last three novels, and finally releasing her work to the world.

Ms. Tomalin’s portrait of Jane Austen certainly takes us above and beyond the traditional image we’ve been given over the years.  she describes a woman beset with all the dailiness of life, with sorrows and upheavals similar to those every woman must bear, a woman who took these experiences and distilled them into bright, sparkling, humorous, touching stories.

so now i think its time to close the book on my Austen-mania for a while, and move back into the contemporary world. 

but first, i’d best get dressed.


8 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon-Life and The Writer

  1. Claire Tomlin is brilliant isn’t she. I think my favourite is the Peyps but the Austen is good too. I have the film ‘Becoming Jane’ sitting by the DVD player ready to watch, but somehow I can’t get up the enthusiasm to see a fictionalised version. Have you seen it?

  2. Hmm! Seems it’s catching this not getting dressed because it’s Sunday Salon. I’m feeling quite proud of myself for being fully clothed even if I didn’t look at what I slung on. Can’t waste precious time can we?

  3. Sounds like a wonderful book! I’m fascinated by writers’ lives, and while I don’t read many biographies (I should definitely read more) I take lots of time with introductions to novels that detail the writer’s life. I also take a few moments each week to listen to The Writer’s Almanac podcast because the bits Garrison Keillor passes along are so intensely interesting.

  4. Yes, I do love biographies of writers! There’s something about the process of coming to writing that really intrigues me. I haven’t read this one, but clearly ought to! Oh and I have seen Becoming Jane, and thought it was a bit so-so. But it’s a very pleasant and likeable film nevertheless.

  5. I do love reading about the lives of others — writers, artists, world figures — people who have made an impact — large or small.

    I do feel for Jane Austen and I do believe that her life has been translated into her work — as is the case with most authors. Some part of each of us when we write is carried forward. I believe to some degree that is what writing is all about.

    I was also very taken with the life of Beatrix Potter — I had an imagine fixed in my mind of who this woman was – from my own childhood and reading her books to my children, and yet it was nothing compared to what her real life was.

  6. I, too, enjoy biographies of writer’s lives (and of other lives, for that matter!), and am looking forward to delving into this one — after all the Jane A. on “Masterpiece,” I’m really curious about the woman herself.

    Sherry mentioned Beatrix Potter (above), and I, too, am intrigued by her story which indeed is fascinating!

    (I really do love this blog! Every reader should visit!)

  7. Your description of that book has made me want to read it even more. I TiVo’d the Materpiece episode as it was the Superbowl and I wasn’t getting near the telly! Looking forward to watching it.

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