A Memoir of Jane Austen


A Memoir of Jane Austen, published in 1869, is the earliest full-length biography of Jane Austen, and the only one written by someone she knew. Its author, James Edward Austen-Leigh (1798-1894), was her nephew, the son of her eldest brother James and his second wife Mary Lloyd.

A Memoir of Jane Austen brings together Austen-Leigh's recollections of ‘dear Aunt Jane’ with the recollections of various other members of the Austen family. It includes edited versions of letters to and from Jane Austen, some of her early works and poems, and pictures of the places where she lived. Austen-Leigh also provides lengthy descriptions of life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, recreating the period for his late 19th-century audience.

How does Austen-Leigh represent his aunt, and why?

A Memoir of Jane Austen gives a very selective account of its subject. Austen-Leigh portrays his aunt as sweet-natured and affectionate, entirely unconcerned with literary or financial success, or the world beyond her social circle. This depiction conforms to Victorian ideals of female behaviour, as well as contemporary views on what a biography should be. 19th-century biographers usually did not pry into their subjects’ emotional lives, nor the parts of their lives that the subjects themselves would not have wanted the public to know.   

A Memoir has played an important role in shaping an image of Jane Austen as conventional, domestic and apolitical. In the past few decades, biographers such as Claire Tomalin and Paula Byrne have begun to challenge this image.

Publishing history

James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote and published A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869. In 1871 he published a second, enlarged edition which included extra letters and recollections, as well as early or incomplete drafts of several previously unknown Austen works.

This edition was published in 1926. It is based on the 1871 edition, and has an introduction, notes and index by R W Chapman, who prepared editions of all Austen’s novels, her letters, juvenilia and minor works.

Full title:
A Memoir of Jane Austen
1926, Oxford, Oxfordshire
James Edward Austen-Leigh
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Status, rank and class in Jane Austen's novels

Article by:
John Mullan
The novel 1780–1832

Questions of status and class are a major preoccupation of Jane Austen’s characters, and of the novels themselves. Professor John Mullan considers both the importance of social status and its satirical potential.

Jane Austen and social judgement

Article by:
Kathryn Sutherland
The novel 1780–1832

Jane Austen’s characters are continually watching, judging and gossiping about others and, in turn, are watched, judged and gossiped about. Professor Kathryn Sutherland explores the ways in which behaviour and etiquette are closely monitored in the novels, and how characters must learn to be skilful readers of those around them.

Related collection items