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.
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.