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Jane Austen, Obstinate Heart: A Biography

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At the heart of Jane Austen's story lies a mystery: how a woman of "genteel poverty," the seventh child of a country clergyman, an unmarried spinster for whom life was often a struggle against the indignities of financial dependency, could have produced works of such magnificent warmth and wisdom. Valerie Grosvenor Myer's flawless research proves Austen's books grew from t At the heart of Jane Austen's story lies a mystery: how a woman of "genteel poverty," the seventh child of a country clergyman, an unmarried spinster for whom life was often a struggle against the indignities of financial dependency, could have produced works of such magnificent warmth and wisdom. Valerie Grosvenor Myer's flawless research proves Austen's books grew from the preoccupations of her social set - respectability, financial security, and most of all, marriage. "It is a truth universally acknowledged," begins Pride and Prejudice, "that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." In that one line are revealed the principal forces at work in Austen's novels - and in the world from which they were drawn. For many middle-class women of Austen's day, marriage was paradoxically the only method of achieving independence. Marriage could also be a life sentence. Myer shows that by many accounts Austen was pretty and flirtatious (though occasionally also sharp-tongued), and the object of at least two proposals, but obstinate in her refusal to marry for other than love. Her obstinacy condemned her to reliance on her family for financial support. As Myer points out, it also enabled Austen to write her immortal novels. Using letters, family memories, and of course the novels themselves, Myer provides a detailed and revealing look at Jane Austen - her relationship with her beloved sister Cassandra, her devotion to and pride in her brothers and their children (who remembered "Aunt Jane" with warm affection), and her independence of mind and spirit. Austen's fondest dream was to establish herself not as another "silly female novelist," but as a serious and self-supporting writer. She reveled in the reviews of those of the novels published - anonymously - during her brief lifetime. Yet as Myer shows, no one, least of all Austen herself, could have imagined her posthumous popularity.


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At the heart of Jane Austen's story lies a mystery: how a woman of "genteel poverty," the seventh child of a country clergyman, an unmarried spinster for whom life was often a struggle against the indignities of financial dependency, could have produced works of such magnificent warmth and wisdom. Valerie Grosvenor Myer's flawless research proves Austen's books grew from t At the heart of Jane Austen's story lies a mystery: how a woman of "genteel poverty," the seventh child of a country clergyman, an unmarried spinster for whom life was often a struggle against the indignities of financial dependency, could have produced works of such magnificent warmth and wisdom. Valerie Grosvenor Myer's flawless research proves Austen's books grew from the preoccupations of her social set - respectability, financial security, and most of all, marriage. "It is a truth universally acknowledged," begins Pride and Prejudice, "that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." In that one line are revealed the principal forces at work in Austen's novels - and in the world from which they were drawn. For many middle-class women of Austen's day, marriage was paradoxically the only method of achieving independence. Marriage could also be a life sentence. Myer shows that by many accounts Austen was pretty and flirtatious (though occasionally also sharp-tongued), and the object of at least two proposals, but obstinate in her refusal to marry for other than love. Her obstinacy condemned her to reliance on her family for financial support. As Myer points out, it also enabled Austen to write her immortal novels. Using letters, family memories, and of course the novels themselves, Myer provides a detailed and revealing look at Jane Austen - her relationship with her beloved sister Cassandra, her devotion to and pride in her brothers and their children (who remembered "Aunt Jane" with warm affection), and her independence of mind and spirit. Austen's fondest dream was to establish herself not as another "silly female novelist," but as a serious and self-supporting writer. She reveled in the reviews of those of the novels published - anonymously - during her brief lifetime. Yet as Myer shows, no one, least of all Austen herself, could have imagined her posthumous popularity.

30 review for Jane Austen, Obstinate Heart: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dana Stabenow

    Myer tells Jane Austen's story principally through her own words and the words of her family and friends. This can get a little tedious but it's still all Jane all the time and worth it for little gems like this from her letters Lady Elizabeth Hatton and Annamaria called here this morning; yes, they called, but I do not think I can say any more about them. They came and they sat and they went. and this from the author on Jane's refusal of a proposal On 2 December [1802] came Harris Bigg-Wither's pr Myer tells Jane Austen's story principally through her own words and the words of her family and friends. This can get a little tedious but it's still all Jane all the time and worth it for little gems like this from her letters Lady Elizabeth Hatton and Annamaria called here this morning; yes, they called, but I do not think I can say any more about them. They came and they sat and they went. and this from the author on Jane's refusal of a proposal On 2 December [1802] came Harris Bigg-Wither's proposal to Jane. Seen in the context of her age, her dissatisfaction with life in Bath or trailing round with her parents, and her pinched life of poverty, her refusal of this opportunity is dazzling its integrity...We may think the decision was correct, and also, given the background, heroic. Not to mention which her name would then have been Jane Bigg-Wither, which I personally am grateful we were spared on the title page of her novels. There are interesting tidbits on the genesis of some her most well-known characters like this one The fierce Dowager Lady Stanhope, wife of the second earl and mother of the third, was...the mother of Lady Hester Stanhope, the noted traveller and eccentric. Hester was the same age as Jane and a distant relative on her mother's side. Old Lady Stanhope, whose Christian name was Grizel, was in her seventies, and domineering. Her bossiness provided the model for Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and her mother-in-law's name was, interestingly, Catherine Burghill. and this on Jane's intellectual curiosity ...Jane was reading An Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire by Captain Sir Charles William Pasley of the royal Engineers, which she found highly entertaining and delightfully written. She declared herself in love with the author, as much so as with Thomas Clarkson, author of History of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade (1808), and Claudius Buchanan, author of Christian Researches in Asia (1811). Yet some people are convinced that Jane Austen's interests were purely trivial. Myer concludes on this infuriating paragraph In 1818 the Cambridge University Library, although a copyright library entitled to claim everything publishing in Britain, rejected as unimportant works by Ludwig van Beethoven and by Jane Austen. Between 1817 and 1870 there was only one complete edition of Jane's works. Since then, there have been countless editions, film and television versions, and endless commentaries and critiques. Since her death, Jane's work has made millions for other people. As early as 1930 one of her letters fetched £1,000 and by the mid-1980s a collector paid £900 fr a mere scrap of her handwriting...In her lifetime the produce of her hand and brain was poorly and grudgingly rewarded. A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. Jane had neither and wrote six novels anyway, and for that we shall always be grateful.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lara Lee

    Jane Austin is by far my favorite author, which is surprising since she isn't my typical genre of book. It still can remember my emotions the first time I read Pride and Prejudice. I was completely captured. Her humor and wit inspire me. So when I came across this biography, I was excited to learn all about this fantastic woman. This book is about as complete of a biography as one can write about Jane Austin. She was born on December 16, 1775, lived in England her whole life and never travel from Jane Austin is by far my favorite author, which is surprising since she isn't my typical genre of book. It still can remember my emotions the first time I read Pride and Prejudice. I was completely captured. Her humor and wit inspire me. So when I came across this biography, I was excited to learn all about this fantastic woman. This book is about as complete of a biography as one can write about Jane Austin. She was born on December 16, 1775, lived in England her whole life and never travel from it, then died at 41 years old on  July 18, 1817. She never married and lived a typical experience for a woman of her time. What the book covers is mostly her family life. She had Five active brothers, one brother with a severe disability, and an older sister who also never married.  The most interesting part of this book was the last few chapters when Jane Austen decides to try and publish her books anonymously. She is a poor woman in her late thirties and is thrilled by the small amount of money she is able to earn. She only publishes four of her books in her lifetime and earns a grand total of £600. It is ironic how many millions others have made off of her hard work, but at least she was somewhat famous in her last years. Overall, this book, though, was hard to read. The first two chapter should just be deleted completely. Chapter one focuses on dirtying Jane Austin's reputation and picturing her as a bitter, disillusioned woman. I find that hard to believe even with the evidence presented. Throughout the rest of the book, acquaintances seek out her company and children love her. This doesn't happen to bitter people. Also, what a person writes in private letters and how they act publicly are two different things. Jane Austen's biting humor to her sister doesn't seem to be how everyone else remembers her, but the author of this biography is convinced that everyone was just white-washing Jane Austen's memory. I also know that Jane Austin's novel feels optimistic. If she was bitter, it should have filtered through her writing. I have a big problem with this image of Jane Austen. The second chapter is just a dizzying list of names and relationships in a random order. The summary of Jane Austen's entire genealogy can be placed in the appendix. The stories in this chapter are then repeated in the rest of the book. From here, the book forces itself slowly into chronological order, but the writer suffers from lack of organization. Once you push through this slow beginning, things do pick up, but the strongest part of the book is the last few chapters.  I do recommend this book for hard Jane Austin fans, but the casual reader may find it slow. Either way, I am glad I read it and learned a lot about Jane Austen. It also encouraged me to keep writing!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hazel Mills

    Valerie was a good friend of mine so my review may be a little biased. This book came out at around the same time as two others, David Nokes and Claire Tomalin and all three authors became part of our Jane Austen Group. Valerie's book may not have been as scholarly as Claire's but it may be for that reason that I enjoyed the book. It was well researched and I liked the fact that it used the letters so much. It did jump about a bit and sometimes showed Austen in a bit of a negative light but I di Valerie was a good friend of mine so my review may be a little biased. This book came out at around the same time as two others, David Nokes and Claire Tomalin and all three authors became part of our Jane Austen Group. Valerie's book may not have been as scholarly as Claire's but it may be for that reason that I enjoyed the book. It was well researched and I liked the fact that it used the letters so much. It did jump about a bit and sometimes showed Austen in a bit of a negative light but I did enjoy reading it very much.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jes

    Certainly an interesting read. I can't help but to feel slightly disappointed though. The author followed Jane's letters almost exactly chronologically, but I feel as though we really don't get much of a taste for who Jane was. I'm glad Cassandra kept a lot of Jane's letters (or content from some of her letters) secret. I would not want every thought I ever wrote to the one person I trusted most to be paraded before people after I die. Such an interesting set of circumstances in Jane's life about Certainly an interesting read. I can't help but to feel slightly disappointed though. The author followed Jane's letters almost exactly chronologically, but I feel as though we really don't get much of a taste for who Jane was. I'm glad Cassandra kept a lot of Jane's letters (or content from some of her letters) secret. I would not want every thought I ever wrote to the one person I trusted most to be paraded before people after I die. Such an interesting set of circumstances in Jane's life about money. I feel a sort of kindship with her in that she was frustrated that she couldn't afford things and felt at the mercy of people's kindness. In many ways, I too feel that way. Though, I don't have her confining situation which would make it impossible to change those circumstances. As if Jane were my friend, I'm happy that towards the end of her life she was able to support some of her living (as well as her mother's and her sister's) from the sale of her books. What a feeling of empowerment that must have been. So sad that diseases that we treat now with little fuss took so many people in previous years. If Jane had lived to 1845 like Cassandra, I wonder what other gems of literature might have be written. :) Reading about Jane does make me want to take up her novels again, I will definitely say that!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Louisa Cornell

    One of the most readable biographies of Jane Austen I have ever read. No white-washing. Drawn from correspondence with and between family members, acquaintances, and friends it includes the facts, history, and events of the day, but primarily concentrates on who Jane was as a person. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Julieann Wielga

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I expected to find Jane Austen- An Obstinate Heart, a dry and discontinuous read. What I did not count on was that the lives of these two women, Cassandra- two years older and Jane, neither married, living as poor relations of much more wealthy, worldly brothers and other relatives would be so intimate. It is because I know Jane already. Unlike, every other historical woman, I have her words. I do not have to take anyone else's word about who she was or what she did. I have admired every clause I expected to find Jane Austen- An Obstinate Heart, a dry and discontinuous read. What I did not count on was that the lives of these two women, Cassandra- two years older and Jane, neither married, living as poor relations of much more wealthy, worldly brothers and other relatives would be so intimate. It is because I know Jane already. Unlike, every other historical woman, I have her words. I do not have to take anyone else's word about who she was or what she did. I have admired every clause and every comma. I have been barely able to breathe watching the PBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I have cringed over and over again when Emma spoke sharply to Miss Bates on Box Hill. I have marveled at Fanny and the plays that she and Edward, two cousins acted out in their copious leisure. Jane had 6 brothers, the oldest, James, was a reverend, who had the living of his father. The next a man with a disability about whom we know nothing. Edward was adopted at 16 into family to be a rich man> Henry was a lawyer, business man and finally a clergy. The last two, Frank and Charles and became admirals in the Napoleonic wars. Five married and outlived their wives whose creativity was fecundity. Jane had strong relations with her many nieces and nephews.. Jane's favorites was Franny, who grew up in Edward's privileged household and who may have looked down on Jane's poverty. Jane and her sister had little formal education. They went to two years of something like finishing school. Yet two of fernbrothers went to Oxford. Jane kept abreast of the novelist of the time and seemed to have access to books about serious topics. Family gatherings were enlivened by theater acted out by the siblings. Jane writes all about love and marriage. Certainly her young life was filled with small balls, much dancing and matching. Although, Jane may probably had other offers, we know of one proposal. It was an offer from a rich man. Jane, said, "yes" in the evening, but no in the morning. She could not live with a man who was not her equal and whom she did not love even if it meant being a spinster. I am sure it was a scandal. Jane spoke of her books as her babies. Sense and Sensibility came out in 1811, anonymously, paid for by her brother. Pride and Prejudice was a best seller. Emma and Mansfield Park were a little more serious. She received acclaim. She spoke of her work: as working on a little bit of ivory with so fine a brush which produces little effect after much labour. Sadly, Jane died at 41, most likely of Addison's disease. Her two last novels, Northanger Abby and Persuasion were published posthumously. Her estate of 561 pounds went to her sister.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Peggy Hephner

    Cumbersome read. Fulk of minute details of lace and family calendars, yet this biography does provide important tidbits to a Jane Austen student. Too bad the prose is tedious and the overall organization is odd. Still, I'm glad I read it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jolette

    Well written and diverse.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    WAY to many names to keep up with, so I lost track at times when reading. Also wish the author would have talked more about the process Jane went through when writing her novels.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Informative, but I wish there was more regarding Austen's writing process, how she came up with her ideas and characters, etc.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Camilla

    Of the four Jane Austen biographies I've read this year, this was my favorite one. I was turned off by the cheesy title and struggled to really delve into it, but once I did, I realized how wonderfully comprehensive it was. With other biographies, I learn about specific details or incidents, but with this book I read a detailed chronology of Jane Austen's life, complete with connections to world incidents and family relations. Myer did a wonderful job attempting to use passages from Jane's lette Of the four Jane Austen biographies I've read this year, this was my favorite one. I was turned off by the cheesy title and struggled to really delve into it, but once I did, I realized how wonderfully comprehensive it was. With other biographies, I learn about specific details or incidents, but with this book I read a detailed chronology of Jane Austen's life, complete with connections to world incidents and family relations. Myer did a wonderful job attempting to use passages from Jane's letters to help explain her sentiments and feelings over certain things. She was the first author to suggest that although Jane might have been wary and a little afraid of childbirth, she could have still wanted children rather than just scorned them because she was indifferent. Jane could have been dismissing something she'd never have, or showing sour grapes. At times in other biographies, I was confused by Jane's existing letters because they portray a snide, sometimes outrightly rude or sarcastic person, but Myer helped explain Jane's feelings at the time of the writing and her feelings over the subject of the letters. This helped me to understand Jane better and see her as a kind person with typical human faults in a tough situation with no promise of improvement. Life as a poor gentlewoman in Jane's day was not fun, and it made sense that she expressed restlessness and discontent and at times a little jealousy as she grew older. She had to watch fortune after fortune be entailed away or passed over her particular branch of family, leaving her almost penniless save for her own proceeds from book-writing at the time of her death. This book helped me grow to love Jane Austen the person as well as appreciate the era in which she lived. Myer has to be English herself to be able to explain with such detail and understanding the standards, practices, and beliefs of the day.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    I REALLY struggled to finish this book. Nothing but my love for Jane Austen and the fact that I was reading it for a book challenge made me finish. To be fair, I have only read one other biography, so it is possible I just don't like the style biographies are written in or don't understand the limitations of putting one together. I had a really hard time maintaining any sort of linear train of thought. It felt so disjointed and I really had a hard time keeping all the different people and place I REALLY struggled to finish this book. Nothing but my love for Jane Austen and the fact that I was reading it for a book challenge made me finish. To be fair, I have only read one other biography, so it is possible I just don't like the style biographies are written in or don't understand the limitations of putting one together. I had a really hard time maintaining any sort of linear train of thought. It felt so disjointed and I really had a hard time keeping all the different people and place straight. It was like I was continually getting snippets of people's conversations and then the conversation changed without explaining what was going on or why a certain statement was important. I kept feeling that I needed to have more background about Jane Austen and her family before I read this book, and then it would have made more sense or made many sections which seemed meaningless, more meaningful. It was just really terrible I am sad to say.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Utmost Cookie

    This biography gives a good impression of Jane Austen's quite hard life and dispels her characterization as an always calm, sweet-minded and even prude dainty lady. Instead it paints her as witty, deeply religious and funny but also having a sharp tongue, being quite unforgiving, and annoyed with relatives. Only the last two chapters really discuss her literary work and unfortunately barely mention which writers influenced her most. For a book that lists and compares prices and incomes so often This biography gives a good impression of Jane Austen's quite hard life and dispels her characterization as an always calm, sweet-minded and even prude dainty lady. Instead it paints her as witty, deeply religious and funny but also having a sharp tongue, being quite unforgiving, and annoyed with relatives. Only the last two chapters really discuss her literary work and unfortunately barely mention which writers influenced her most. For a book that lists and compares prices and incomes so often it doesn't provide any contemporary sums and fails the (non-British) reader in giving any sense of scale. Most impressive are the hardships the mostly poor family underwent, how absurdly many children women had on average, the ridiculous medical practices, and how unappreciated Jane Austen was in her lifetime.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ting

    As biographies go I felt this effort was mediocre. I do approve the portrayal of Jane Austen as more than a quiet spinster untroubled by her situation in life. Instead she is depicted as feisty, tart, and sometimes not very calm. She seems not to have been content with the plight of women and their helplessness in a man's world. The pride she took in her writing and the positive reception of her books and its monetary reward meant that to a small extent she was making her own way or at the very As biographies go I felt this effort was mediocre. I do approve the portrayal of Jane Austen as more than a quiet spinster untroubled by her situation in life. Instead she is depicted as feisty, tart, and sometimes not very calm. She seems not to have been content with the plight of women and their helplessness in a man's world. The pride she took in her writing and the positive reception of her books and its monetary reward meant that to a small extent she was making her own way or at the very least contributing to her own maintenance and independence.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Marie French

    This book was nice because it talks about Jane Austen's life and times, but she tends to be very negative and to take a pessimistic view of things that i feel are unwarranted because she is not looking at the bigger picture. I don't believe anyone's life is a picture-perfect, but this author seems to think that every thing that Jane writes is caustic and snappy. Sheesh. Despite this though, it is nice to get a peek into Jane Austen's world and family life. She had such an awesome family!!!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brenda Opperman

    The format, switching back and forth between time periods, was difficult to get used to initially. There were also a lot of characters to keep straight. I wonder how much more complete a biography of Jane would be had her sister not destroyed a lot of correspondence between them. Still, I enjoy reading all things Jane so I'm glad I picked this one up.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Reetta Saine

    Nobody usually remembers this Austen - and sad to say, there's a good reason for that. Quite confusing, messy, too many characters and too many "change of hearts". Finally the right couple ends up together, but why? Beats me.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    A very detailed and informative read about Jane Austen's life. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though occasionally I got a little bogged down in the length of the author's sentences (not a help when one is reading at midnight) and confused about who was who among the myriads of friends and relations.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Interesting read of the life and history of Jane Austen, one of my favorite authors. I had to gloss over some of it as Ms. Myer tended to mention many titled people who were "so wholly unconnected" with Jane Austen. I did enjoy learning a little more about that time period.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chrystal Rico

    I read it cover to cover in two days (it would have been one if children had not interupted)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    It was good, but I can't help feeling that Margaret Lane would have done a better job in clarity and readability. Three and a half stars.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    I skimmed huge chunks towards the end. I feel sorry for Austen. I wish she got a happy ending. :(

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Crowell

    Very nice biography. Learned a lot about JA!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    snore.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Tuleja

    I liked reading about Jane Austen's life but the sequencing and writing by the author was all over the place. Hope to read another biography that will provide a better narrative of Austen's life.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Karen Ciavolella

    This was a book I started last Christmas and just finish in January. Somewhere between I liked it and it was ok.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rub2s

  28. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

  29. 5 out of 5

    Julieann Wielga

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lena Engelin

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