Thursday, 12 October 2017

A Life of My Own

Claire Tomalin's 1997 biography of Jane Austen is generally thought to be one of the best - extensively researched, clear-sighted and affectionate.  I particularly liked her thoughts on Persuasion:
The warmth and softness of the book is all Anne Elliott's in her responses to people, landscape and season, she and Marianne alone among Austen heroines cherish the beauty and sadness of autumn.
I'd not made a connection between Anne Elliott and Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility before.  That's the thing with Austen, the more you read, the more you see.

Claire Tomalin has just published a biography of her own life which makes for fascinating reading.  There are chapters devoted to her early life with a French father and musical mother, her undergraduate days at Newnham, Cambridge, her marriage to the journalist Nick Tomalin who was later killed on assignment in Israel leaving her to raise three daughters and a young son with disabilities.  There is also a very moving chapter on the loss of one of her daughters who was a student at Oxford.

Despite personal tragedy Tomalin continued to work as a book reviewer and editor with a strong belief in the importance of critical discourse and the power of good writing.  At the age of 53 she left the Sunday Times where she was literary editor and began to write widely acclaimed literary biographies and finds personal happiness when she marries again.

I always like to re-read Persuasion in the autumn, what are your seasonal reading plans?   


Audrey said...

I just got this from the library and I'm so looking forward to reading it, so it's wonderful to hear that you enjoyed it. Did you read Love, Nina, by Nina Stibbe? Claire Tomalin (along with Alan Bennet) was one of the neighbors, which was fun, since I had read and enjoyed her biographies. And I'm so charmed by the idea that she only began writing them when she was in her 50s...maybe there's still hope for me!

As for Persuasion, it's on my re-reading horizon too, but it will probably by an early winter book for me. But reading it in autumn is much better!

Arti said...

I've read Tomalin's bio of Jane Austen and was struck by her sharp and cutting language. Just shows her honesty and boldness of her writing. I remember this in particular, well, I went back to my review post of her book and I quote here, her description of Jane's mother: "Mrs. Austen had a sharp tongue for neighbours, appreciated by her daughter and passed on to her.” I'd like to see what she has to say about herself in her autobiography. :)

Mary said...

I've just got this from the library, too! LIke Audrey, I love to hear about late-starters - I'm still waiting for my brilliant career!

Lark said...

Persuasion is one of my favorite Austen novels. (But then, they're all kind of my favorites.) There's something about Anne that I relate to. Haven't heard of Tomalin, but both bios sound very interesting! :)

Karen K. said...

I've only read her Dickens biography which is excellent, though I tried reading her bio of Katherine Mansfield which was well written and researched but I found Mansfield to be kind of an unpleasant person so I gave up. I also own the JA bio (still unread for so very long!) Her life sounds both tragic and fascinating, so I am intrigued. Thank you for sharing this.

Karen K. said...

Also Persuasion is tied with P&P as my favorite Austen novel. It is very autumnal, isn't it? Also Northanger Abbey with all its Gothic references!

Nan said...

I read a review of this in The Oldie. Such sadness she has had in her life.

Vintage Reading said...

Audrey, no, I must read Love, Nina. Yes, I'm trying to think of other late starters in the literary world. Mary Wesley and Anita Brookner spring to mind.

Arti, yes, it struck me on reading Tomalin's Austen biography that Austen got her gift with words from her mother, even though they didn't always get on!

Mary, I've come up with Anita Brookner and Mary Wesley so far ... still thinking!

Lark, I love Persuasion, too. I think it is my favourite although I am rather fond of Sense and Sensibility.

Karen K, her Austen bio is wonderful. I think the biography of Samuel Pepys is the one she won awards for.

Karen, I never tire of re-reading P&P but I think Persuasion is my favourite. I'm very fond of Northanger Abbey, too.

piseth san said...

i really likes your blog!
You have shared the whole concept really well and very beautifully soulful read! thanks for sharing.

Cosy Books said...

Through the Emily Books blog I've just discovered The Spectator books podcast. The most recent download is Claire Tomalin talking about this very book. As for seasonal reading, it's all about spooky at the moment, but my winter reading plans centre around the Cazalet Chronicles. Also, there's something about walking in the woods that always makes me want to be reading a Jane Austen novel, right then and there. One day I really should do just that.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I really must read more Jane Austen. I've missed the boat with the recent wave of enthusiasm for her work and I know I am continuing to miss out. As a matter of fact, I need to just read more classics!

Vintage Reading said...

Arti, I read your review, I agree with your comments - I've read the Carol Shields biography, I preferred the Tomalin but Shields as a novelist also had a unique insight into Austen's creativity.

Vintage Reading said...

Nan, yes, the book is very moving but uplifting, too.

Piseth San, thanks!

Cosy Books, I think Austen is suited to winter, particularly the snowy scenes in Emma!

Natalie, I'm afraid my classics reading doesn't venture much beyond Austen and Bronte!

sensibilia said...

I've just finished reading "A Life of My Own", having already read some other works by Claire Tomalin. I liked her biography of Thomas Hardy so much I read it twice. "The Invisible Woman" about Charles Dickens' secret mistress is stunning. I found the actual memoir very sad, particularly the loss of her young adult daughter.