5 Books to learn more about Jane Austen

Hot on the footsteps of my previous post recommending books to read if you like Jane Austen, I wanted to share some of my favourite books about Jane Austen…

There are so many great books about Jane Austen, it’s really hard to choose five of my favourites. There are great history options, travel options, literature options, costume drama options… so perhaps this topic will crop up again and again on my blog, but here is my first list for you to enjoy as the weather stays cool and we all need cosy reads with cups of tea in the evenings!

If you want to walk in the footsteps of Jane Austen…

Jane Was Here: An Illustrated Guide to Jane Austen’s England, Nicole Jacobsen, Devynn Dayton & Lexi K. Nilson

Not only is this book just plain beautiful (follow their Instagram for inspiration), it’s a beautiful combination of places from Jane Austen’s life and locations from her novels, as well as locations used in period drama adaptations of Austen’s novels. I’ve previously written about walking in her footsteps in Hampshire, and this book offers so many more ideas.

If you want the ultimate Jane Austen travel guide, this is it. Plan a trip through the UK, or dream about it, using this lovely book. It has me dreaming of Chawton and of Lyme Regis…

The perfect guide to a Jane Austen holiday, in person or from your armchair!

If you want to understand the importance of her writing…

Jane Austen: The Secret Radical, Helena Kelly

I’m obsessed with this book, plain obsessed. (As you can tell from the intensity of that statement…) Kelly’s book guides us through the life of the author and the worlds of her six novels, explaining to us why a lot of the things we think about Austen are actually wrong, or have been twisted and turned so much in the two centuries between the modern reader and her life as an author. 

“It’s here, in the novels, that we find Jane – what there is of her to find, after all these years, after all her family’s efforts at concealment. It’s here we find a clever woman, clear-sighted, a woman ‘of information’, who kew what was going on in the world and what she thought about it. An authoress who knew that the novel, until then widely seen as mindless ‘trash’, could be a great art form and who did a lot – perhaps more than any other writer – to make it one.” 

From the decline and fall of the aristocracy in Persuasion, to slavery in Mansfield Park, to charity and the poor in Emma, Kelly’s book is so insightful and really pushes us to think about why Austen’s work is so important and so much more than a succession of witty romantic comedies.  

If you want to learn more about Jane Austen’s life…

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, Paula Byrne

Paula Byrne is one of my favourite historians and biographers, and she was also the Jane Austen consultant for the Sanditon TV show. This book is a great exploration of the experience of Jane Austen through objects, which is a really lovely and fresh approach to reading about such a revered author. 

From the topaz crosses, to a subscription list, to a cheque for royalties and a bathing machine, Byrne weaves a wonderful biography of Austen’s story and the world around her.

If you want to understand Jane Austen ‘the brand’…

The Making of Jane Austen, Devoney Looser

Again, a book I am pretty much obsessed with. So many of the images and understandings we have of Austen are shaped by various lenses placed upon her real life and work in the intervening two centuries (something addressed extensively by Helena Kelly), leading Looser to start her excellent book with the line:

“She was not born, but rather became, Jane Austen.”

Looser explores the manufactured creation of Jane Austen, Austen as a brand, the shaping of her work through illustration, dramatisation, politicisation and education. It is so fascinating to think of all the things we pick up about an author from various places, and how it shapes our engagement with them.

Plus, like the rest of the books on this list, Looser has such a wonderful and engaging writing style. I read this in virtually one sitting. 

Devoney Looser’s fabulous “The Making of Jane Austen”

If you want to contextualise the world of her novels…

Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye

Deirdre Le Faye, who recently passed away, was recognised widely as a leading authority on Austen, meticulously working through archival work and presenting the facts of Austen’s life and work. She wrote and edited many works on Austen, but I particularly enjoy this one because it’s really great for contextualising details of not only Austen’s life, the places she went and the spaces beyond, but also the novels. 

You can find information about the ins and outs of each novel’s publication, timelines, explanations of what the different homes mentioned may have been like in practice, ideas about wealth and its origins, and Austen’s own words upon each novel. 

I’m sure I’ll have many more books to recommend with further posts (I already feel like I’ve missed some significant ones in picking just five!) – you can look forward to my Friday posts from now on being about books and film, ready for weekend relaxation!

What are your favourite books about Jane Austen? Share your recommendations with me below!

10 comments

  1. I can recommend Jane Austen and the Clergy by Irene Collins (reviewed here https://calmgrove.wordpress.com/2021/08/24/clergy/) as a reminder of how JA as a member of the lesser gentry had many male relatives and friends whose ‘vocation’ (when not in the law, medicine, army or navy) was to be men of God, all of which circumscribed the kind of life she could expect. But all these other titles you suggest look brilliant too, I can see why you wanted to highlight them!

  2. I’m reading Lucy Worsley’s book right now, impressed, as always, by how much there is still to discover and understand, and how radical and rebellious was her decision to turn down Harris Bigg Withers.
    Maybe she shouldn’t have accepted, but she had the courage to change her mind. Other thoughts ? How much more she could have written, even in her too-sort life, without all the domestic duties, childcare, sewing…

    • Oh Lucy Worsley’s book is GREAT! I enjoyed it so much. Me too! There are so many perspectives to look at Jane Austen and her life from, and it always offers fresh eyes and understanding on various decisions she made and things that happened to her. I think you’re right, I think it was so courageous that she changed her mind – not many would have done!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.