My Austen in August quest to read more about Jane Austen’s life begins with the first ‘official’ biography. Written in the late Victorian period, more than fifty years after she died, A Memoir of Jane Austen is offered to readers as a kind of ‘family record’ of the author. Austen’s nephew, J.E. Austen-Leigh, was responsible for compiling family histories and records into a coherent account of her life.
It’s no secret that A Memoir of Jane Austen is a flawed account, and deeply unsatisfying for Austen’s readers and admirers. Indeed, my own personal opinion quickly came to be that it tells the reader more about Austen-Leigh, and the age in which he was living, than it does about Austen herself.
A Memoir of Jane Austen is responsible for launching the infamous ‘Aunt Jane’ image which has been impossible to shake off, even after more than a century has passed. The tone of the book is a little priggish, and at times you almost feel that Austen-Leigh is sermonising (probably not surprising, as he was a clergyman; in the Austen family the church had become something of a family business, and they churned out clergymen by the dozen).