Author: Deirdre le Faye

Publisher: Frances Lincoln

ISBN: 978-0-7112-3158-0

For lovers of the Hampshire countryside, there can be no greater joy than rediscovering it under the guidance of one of the greatest English female authors of all time, Jane Austen, and that is exactly what this wonderful portrayal of country life, as seen from her perspective, allows us to do. As Deirdre le Faye is keen to tell the reader from the outset, Austen spent three-quarters of her relatively brief lifetime of forty-one years in just such a tranquil rural setting. The insular nature of the society in which Austen lived and wrote, and which runs as a common thread throughout her work, can be seen as circumscribing it to such an extent that there was little else on which to dwell than on property, whether of an animate or inanimate kind. However, what might be seen as a demerit by some might just as easily be seen as a merit by others.

Indeed, the nature and use of land is of prime interest throughout Austen’s writings. Little wonder, then, that such is a central theme of this work, from the impact of land enclosure to a focus on those who worked and managed the land. Le Faye’s vivid and clear descriptions, placing Austen’s work within the historic agricultural context, are so vibrant and full of life that they buoy the spirit up, as well as helping to familiarize foreign readers with the settings in which she wrote.

For those who are already well acquainted with Le Faye’s other works on the life and writings of Jane Austen, among which the most notable are Jane Austen: A Family Record and Jane Austen: The World of her Novels, it comes as no surprise that this guide to the rural backdrop of her life, her letters and her novels is so well illustrated with numerous full-colour portrayals of a countryside that is both beautiful and moving, in both a spiritual and an aesthetic sense. Despite the petite bourgeois nature of Austen’s own family and setting, she was closely familiar with the more rustic scenes of working class life, allowing for the inclusion of pictures of labourers' activities to form an intrinsic part of this study. Instances of such artwork appear in the form of, among others, such reproductions as William Bigg’s “Sunday Morning, a Cottage Family going to Church”, John Boys’s “Ploughman at Work”, and Thomas Rowlandson’s “Labourers at Rest”. Austen’s warmth and involvement with her characters, which in no way, however, prevented her from criticising their flaws, albeit in the gentlest of ways, is clearly reflected in this highly articulate text, which shows at every turn the close intimacy that Le Faye has with all aspects of her subject matter. The landed estates of the aristocracy are also revealed in all their magnificence, with the great sweeping vistas of “The Country round Dixton Manor” and Thomas Sandby’s “View of Box Hill from Norbury Park, Surrey” being only two instances of the reproduction of a multiplicity of grand and gracious paintings and drawings.

All round, Jane Austen’s Country Life is a most insightful volume, and deserves to have much success, both among Janeians and among all those who love the English countryside, and who wish to be transported back to a time when they could ramble more freely, in both body and spirit, about its verdant meadows.

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