Tag Archives: biography

#BookReview ‘Jane Austen A Life’ by Claire Tomalin #books #writerslife

As a lifelong Jane Austen fan, how I wish I had read this biography years ago. So many details from Jane’s life, her observations in letters to sister Cassandra and comments about Jane by her own relatives shed a spotlight on characterisations and situations portrayed in her novels. Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin was first published in 1997. Claire Tomalin

Limited by the destruction of so many of Jane’s own letters, Tomalin builds a picture of Jane’s life from the accounts of her family and acquaintances, and of life at that time in Georgian England. The amount of research done must be formidable but Tomalin sets her story of Jane Austen’s daily life against her literary progress, including the times when she was unable to write. She is revealed as having a sparkling and at times dry wit, perhaps more Lizzie Bennet than Emma Woodhouse.  Also interesting is the account of first her father then her brother Henry at getting her books published. On Jane’s death, Cassandra was sole proprietor of Jane’s copyright though Henry continued to negotiate with publishers.

Any writer will be familiar with the reactions of one’s closest relatives to the publication of a new book. The excitement from some quarters, the bemusement from others, and Jane Austen experienced exactly the same. Mrs Austen described Fanny in Mansfield Park as ‘inspid’. It also made me pause to realise that by the age of twenty five, Austen had already written Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. But this was followed by a ten year pause in which she wrote nothing. Only in 1809 did she return to her former pattern of working. What happened to cause this creative halt? Jane’s father retired and so the family were forced to leave the rectory at Steventon; Jane and Cassandra moved with their parents to Bath. Many letters from this difficult time are missing. Tomalin suggests Jane became depressed. She also lacked the physical space and time to write; their lodgings in Bath, frequent outings to the Devon and Dorset coast, and attendance expected at social events, all prevented Jane from writing.

Such is the detail in this wonderful biography that it is difficult to choose highlights. It has made me determined to re-read Austen’s novels now, in the order in which they were written.
BUY THE BOOK

Read the #FirstPara of Pride and Prejudice and about the first edition.

If you like this, try:-
On Writing’ by AL Kennedy
Howard’s End is on the Landing’ by Susan Hill
An Education’ by Lynn Barber

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
JANE AUSTEN A LIFE by Claire Tomalin #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4k9 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Charlotte Brontë A Life’ by Claire Harman #books #writerslife

How did Charlotte Brontë create the character of Jane Eyre? Was Villette really based on a doomed love affair in Brussels? How much of the real author is in these novels? If you have read Charlotte Brontë’s books, you will have asked yourself these questions. The biography Charlotte Brontë: A Life by Claire Harman provides some fascinating answers. Claire Harman

This is the first biography of Brontë I have read and I wish I had read it sooner. Harman tells the enthralling story of the family whose losses, grief, hardship, isolation and disappointments populate the novels of the three sisters – Charlotte, Emily and Anne. It is impossible to write about Charlotte without writing about the family, and particularly about Emily, Anne and brother Branwell. Everyone knows the headline facts about the Brontës – Haworth parsonage, mother and siblings dying, Branwell’s addiction, and the imaginary kingdoms of Angria and Dondal in which the children lose themselves. But Harman makes the history accessible, telling the life of Charlotte in chronological order starting briefly with her father Patrick.

There are clear references to real life appearing in the novels and Harman casts light on the writing process of Charlotte and her sisters. For a novelist, this is required reading. Some of Charlotte’s experiences written about in letters appear directly in her novels, along with paragraphs lifted from journals and lines and passages lifted from works earlier abandoned. Harman extensively quotes Elizabeth Gaskell – who wrote the first biography of Charlotte Brontë published in 1857, based largely on Charlotte’ letters sent to her friend Ellen Nussey – and Charlotte’s correspondence with friends and her London publisher.

It is a tragic story but Harman is never over-sentimental. She is excellent at pairing characters, incidents and emotions in the novels with Charlotte’s real life.

A must read for any novelist who is a fan of the Brontë novels.
BUY THE BOOK

If you like this, try:-
Searching for the Secret River’ by Kate Grenville
Giving up the Ghost’ by Hilary Mantel
On Writers and Writing’ by Margaret Atwood 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
CHARLOTTE BRONTË: A LIFE by Claire Harman #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Xi via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Woman of Substance’ by Piers Dudgeon #biography

The Woman of Substance by Piers Dudgeon is in part an authorised biography of A Woman of Substance writer Barbara Taylor Bradford, and part analysis of how Barbara’s own family history features in her books. The story of Emma Harte’s journey from Edwardian kitchen maid to globally successful businesswoman is well known. Less known perhaps are the connections with Barbara’s own family history. Connections she did not know herself. Piers Dudgeon

Starting with a meeting at the Bradfords’ New York apartment at which he is surrounded by the great and the famous, eating amidst the glittering décor, Dudgeon realises this is the world of the successful Emma Harte at the height of her powers. And then he tells Barbara’s story from her birth in 1933 in Upper Armley near Leeds, born not into the family of a kitchen maid like Emma Harte, but a tidy working class family who were neat and always made ends meet. Barbara is an only child and spoilt by her mother who takes her at every available opportunity to visit the Studley Royal estate where she learns this history of the house, the estate and the family. ‘My mother exposed me to lots of things,” said Barbara. ‘She once said ‘I want you to have a better life than I’ve had.’’ Barbara did well at school and, wanting to write books, decided her best chance was to train as a typist and find a job as a journalist. Which she did, joining the typing pool at the Yorkshire Evening Post and then, through dogged perseverance, moving to the women’s page.

At each significant point throughout Barbara’s story, Dudgeon provides a reference from one of her novels of fiction mirroring fact. A case of Barbara’s sub-conscious curiosity about her own origins finding their way into the backstory of her novels. It is an encyclopedic exercise of genealogy which lovers of the Harte series will enjoy. It is many years since I read the novel, but it made me want to revisit it. At the time when Piers Dudgeon was writing this book, Barbara did not know the true story of her grandmother Edith’s life or the mystery surrounding the birth of her own mother, Freda.

This is a long book which could have been made shorter by cutting some of the extraneous history and for that reason I gave it 4* rather than 5*. But if you are a writer interested in how your real life sneaks into your own novels, you will be fascinated.
BUY THE BOOKPiers Dudgeon BUY ‘A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE’

Piers Dudgeon A Woman of Substance was made into a television mini-series in 1984 [above] with Jenny Seagrove playing the young Emma Harte and Deborah Kerr the older Emma. The series was filmed mostly in Yorkshire, including Brimham Rocks where Emma first meets Blackie O’Neill [played by Liam Neeson] on the moors. Series of the other two books in the trilogy would follow.
BUY THE DVD

A prequel to the Emma Harte trilogy, called Blackie and Emma, will be published in 2020. Read more here.

If you like this, try:-
On Writing’ by AL Kennedy 
Giving up the Ghost’ by Hilary Mantel
An Education’ by Lynn Barber

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE by Piers Dudgeon #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4xX via @SandraDanby