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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"The Writer of the Family" — guest post, excerpt & giveaway from Lisa Pliscou, author of Young Jane Austen!

Our second post of today comes from Lisa Pliscou, author of the recently released Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer. Lisa is giving us a bit of background on Austen's early life and influences among her largish family, a bit of an excerpt of Young Jane Austen, AND a bit of a chance to win a signed copy of the book! 
Have a read through, let us know your thoughts in the comments, and don't forget to enter to win!

        Young Jane Austen: “The Writer of the Family”?

    The oldest brother of Jane Austen is a minor, yet intriguing figure in her life story. Twelve years older than Jane, as a young man James wrote poetry, essays, and theatrical pieces. Their mother Mrs. Austen — literary herself, who as a child was declared the poet of the family — apparently seemed to feel that James was the writer of the family.
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James Austen as a young man.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

    And: more than one Austen biographer has commented that James was her favorite child.
    And: quite a few biographers repeat sentimental Austen lore that James very early, very actively, directed young Jane’s choice of reading material.
    And: James was said to be Jane’s least favorite brother among the panoply of six.
    And: Jane’s relationship with her mother is thought to have been tense, conflictual.
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The redoubtable Mrs. Austen.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

    All these disparate elements, these interesting little tidbits, made me wonder, in researching and writing my Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, if Jane’s creative development as a girl was, in fact, partly fueled by these complex — and not always positive — family dynamics.
    Thus, this little chapter in Young Jane Austen, one of twenty in which the significant events of Jane’s childhood are highlighted, and presented as if through her youthful perspective: 
The Writer of the Family
~ an excerpt from Young Jane Austen ~

Christmas was always a delightful time, but this year brought a fascinating new delight. James was home, and announced that he and his brothers and their friends were going to put on a play! It was a thrilling story called Matilda, and James even wrote a new beginning and ending for it.
How exciting to watch the rehearsals, lively with laughter and squabbles. And what fun to finally sit in the dining parlor and see the actors, splendid in their costumes, saying their lines so well — and to be spellbound by the tale of murder and swordfights, trickery and true love, as it unfolded before your eyes!
Everyone told James how much they liked what he had written and made a great fuss over him, and about the essays and poems he had been composing, too, which he had been reading aloud to the family in the evenings. Mama declared that he was the writer of the family. It was as if, Jenny thought, he had pulled a sword from a stone. Or, rather, a pen from a stone.
And could there be only one writer in a family?
Mama wrote letters — many letters — and also very funny, clever verses.
Papa wrote letters as well, and the sermons which he gave on Sunday.  
Weren’t they writers too?
It was something else to puzzle over.   

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James Austen as envisioned by illustrator Massimo Mongiardo in Young Jane Austen.
    And: with James being ordained as a clergyman when Jane was thirteen, I couldn’t help but wonder if he recommended to her Fordyce’s sententious Sermons to Young Women (which makes a funny appearance in Pride and Prejudice) once too often . . . and ended up being slyly, indelibly, lampooned as the pompous clergyman Mr. Collins. With Jane — the real writer of the family — getting the last, triumphant laugh.

Lisa Pliscou writes for both children and adults. Her work has been praised by the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, the Associated Press, VOYA, The Horn Book, and other media. Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer is her eighth book, and coming next spring is a new edition of her first novel, Higher Education, which was praised by David Foster Wallace, Betsy Byars, Tara Altebrando, and others. Coming in 2017 is a picture book, Jane Austen, the Girl Who Wrote, to be published by Henry Holt and illustrated by Jen Corace.
Find her online: Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Lisa has generously offered up two (2) signed copies of her book, Young Jane Austen, to two lucky Austen in August readers!
US ONLY. Ends September 5th at 11:59pm EST.
Fill out the Rafflecopter to enter.
Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer by Lisa Pliscou
Get It | Add It
188 pages
Published April 20th 2015 by Wyatt-MacKenzie
What was Jane Austen like as a child? What were her formative influences and experiences, her challenges and obstacles, that together set her on the path toward becoming a writer?

Drawing upon a wide array of sources, including Austen’s own books and correspondence, Lisa Pliscou has created a “speculative biography” that, along with 20 charming black-and-white illustrations, offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of young Jane Austen. Also included is a richly detailed, annotated version of the narrative and an overview of Austen’s life, legacy, and the era in which she lived, as well as a timeline of her key childhood events.

YOUNG JANE AUSTEN is sure to intrigue anyone interested in Jane Austen, in writing and the creative process, and in the triumph of the artistic spirit.

Click here to return to the Austen in August Main Page


  1. Poor young Jane! I have two bossy older brothers, and I can't imagine if I grew up being told one was better than I was at something I loved doing, as well as mom's favorite. If Mr. Collins was her lampoon of James, though, perhaps Edmund Bertram was her apology for childish lashing-out? Or maybe not. ;)

    1. Edmund as a sort of literary apology -- what an intriguing notion, Beth! It's yet another mystery surrounding this elusive, beloved author . . .

  2. I loved reading your insightful book, Lisa. This point about James being the writer and the favorite was very striking at the time.

    1. Thanks so much, Sophia! Yes, the more I read about James, the more fascinated I became. I knew he needed to be featured in "Young Jane Austen"!

  3. I loved this post! And how intriguing that Jane's brother James may have been the model for Mr. Collins!

    1. Thank you, Susan! We'll never know for sure, of course, but I too think it's an intriguing "what if."

  4. !!!!!!!!!! relating to this BIG TIME!

    1. Thanks, Cecilia! One of the reasons I wanted to write about James, and how sibling rivalry may have had a significant role in Austen family dynamics, is that I find it hard to buy the sentimental take on Jane's childhood -- that it was a period of unruffled happiness. It sounds like the family was affectionate and highly functional, but . . . well, all families are complex, aren't they?

  5. I've had this on my wishlist for awhile, and this post made me decide I'll have to get it ... if I don't win the giveaway, of course! ;) ~ cindy

    1. Thanks for your comment, Noe! Good luck on the giveaway. :)

  6. I am just now read Jane Austen books- so I would def love to see how this compliments the books!
    Mary G Loki

  7. Thanks for your comment, Mary! One of my goals in writing "Young Jane Austen" was to illuminate some of the links between Jane's childhood and her mature work: I was very much inspired by Louis Auchincloss' remark that "Childhood is a novelist's whole capital."

  8. I enjoyed the book, especially the second part which was annotated. I loved the thought and research Lisa put into this book to show how Jane's childhood may have influenced her writing.

    1. Thanks so much! The research was such a fascinating and joyful process for me, and I think the designer, Nancy Cleary, did a wonderful job ensuring that the resulting annotated section was fun to read. (As opposed to having a fatally dry and academic look.)

  9. I enjoyed the book, especially the second part which was annotated. I loved the thought and research Lisa put into this book to show how Jane's childhood may have influenced her writing.


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