Audrey Hawkridge. Jane and Her Gentlemen (2000)
Somehow Hawkridge manages to give an excellent overview of Jane Austen’s life, a summary of her major and minor works, and an analysis of her male characters and their possible prototypes in her own life in just under two hundred pages. There is little imaginative description, that tool-of-trade for biographers, but plenty of interesting conjecture about Jane’s real-life circumstances and feelings based mainly on the testimonials of her family members and her own personal correspondence. (Note to the wise: if you intend to become a literary figure of lasting repute, do not write personal letters.)
If you have more than a passing acquaintanceship with Austen’s works, this little bio will be of particular interest. It is fun to trace out theories about who her more quirky and eccentric characters were based on. For example, she described a visit from her cranky brother James in these terms: “His time here is spent I think in walking about the house and banging the doors, or ringing the bell for a glass of water” (56). Do I recognize the younger Mr. Knightley, during his visits to Hartfield in Emma? In Mrs. John Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility Jane was also perhaps venting her feelings about James’s wife, the selfish and critical Mary. And Mr. Collins? One can only note that Jane’s father, several brothers, and one rejected suitor were all clergymen–though in Hawkridge’s view, none of these merited her derision.
I’ve always wondered, is Elizabeth Bennet in any way supposed to be a disguised version of Jane herself–complete with the fairy-tale ending she never had? Hawkridge has provided me with an answer.