Monday, September 01, 2014

Who had it toughest? Big Star or Jane Austen?

I've been flipping The Real Jane Austen by Paula Byrne.

I learned that she only saw her name in print twice in her life. On both occasions she was listed as a paid subscriber to a new book. Crowd funding clearly didn't begin with Kickstarter.

When her beloved sister Cassandra went away to marry she thought she would never see her again. Marriage meant childbirth and that often meant death. As it happened the potential husband died before they could be married and so Cassandra came back. Her life, which ended when she was forty-one, was punctuated by sudden deaths of people close to her.

She used to go into her father's church and fill out phoney banns announcing her upcoming wedding to fictitious men. When her father died she didn't go to the funeral because widows and daughters didn't in those days.

When she was twenty-seven a man six years younger proposed to her. She accepted and then changed her mind the following morning.

She had a wealthy relation who was tried for shoplifting a card of lace. If she'd been found guilty the penalty was either death or transportation.

After her death her books were out of print for twelve years, which is longer than the albums of Big Star.


  1. I'm currently reading Bill Bryson's At Home(A short history of private life) - some of the characters, aristocrats or inventors of (now) everyday essentials are as gripping and eye-widening as any tale about well known names I've ever read.

  2. It's a tough call. Both Austen and Alex Chilton fought in light infantry units in wars against the mole people of Hampshire. Both rose to the rank of Captain in their respective units.

    As children both found themselves the unwilling subjects of ancient prophecies that compelled them to travel many miles across dark and dangerous territory in order to confront a seemingly unbeatable adversary whose evil schemes threatened the realm of Albion.

    Both dined at 'Scottings of East Norwich' which is widely regarded as the worst restaurant ever to have existed.

    However I would say that the increased danger of being eviscerated by peacocks in Edwardian England puts Austen a nose ahead of the Tennessee troubadour.