Yesterday, on Austen Authors, Cindy Jones, author of My Jane Austen Summer, asked her fellow authors to share where they would like to vacation if they could be dropped into one of their favorite novels. I immediately thought of Elizabeth Von Arnim's The Enchanted April. The setting, post World War I England, is a sad place. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of men who died in the war, there are even a greater number of men who returned home wounded in mind and body. War widows and those who have lost fathers, brothers, and friends walk about in the dreary colors of mourning.
If you are interested in whether Jane Austen preferred strawberry to raspberry jam, then you will want to look for a biography other than Carol Shields’ Jane Austen, A Life. However, if you want a broad sweep of the life of the early 19th century author, then this slim volume is the perfect cup of tea. Carol Shields, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Stone Diaries, was asked by Penguin Books to write this biography. Because it was not meant to be comprehensive, I found it an easy read with a nice mixture of Jane’s personal life juxtaposed with her writing. From the biography:
We think of Pride and Prejudice as Jane Austen’s sunniest novel, and yet it was written during a period of unhappiness. No letters survived from the year 1797, and this is a clue, though an unreliable one. Cassandra, we know, was recovering from the death of her fiancé, and Jane from her disappointment over Tom Lefroy. The household at Steventon had shrunk. Visitors continued to arrive, but the ongoing bustle of life in the country rectory had faded… Theatricals in the barn were a thing of the past. The Austen parents were growing older, and finances, too, were thinner. Yet from this difficult time sprang a fast-paced, exuberant, much loved novel with a new kind ofheoine, a young woman of warmth and intelligence who, by the flex of her own mind, remakes her future and makes it spectacularly.