Book review: Jane Austen: A Life Revealed by Catherine Reef


Jane Austen’s popularity never seems to fade. She has hordes of devoted fans, and there have been numerous adaptations of her life and work. But who was Jane Austen? The writer herself has long remained a mystery. And despite the resonance her work continues to have for teens, there has never been a young adult trade biography on Austen. 

Catherine Reef changes that with this highly readable account. She takes an intimate peek at Austen’s life and innermost feelings, interweaving her narrative with well-crafted digests of each of Austen’s published novels. The end result is a book that is almost as much fun to read as Jane’s own work—and truly a life revealed.


As an admittedly fanatic follower of all things Jane Austen, all odes to her genius are welcome additions to the growing body of works devoted to exploring not only her writing, but also her life and the conditions under which she wrote.

There are a number of “adult” biographies (one of which, Becoming Jane Austen by John Spence became the basis for the 2008 movie “Becoming Jane” starring Anne Hathaway). I’ve tried to slog through it but got bogged down by all the references to her large family, distant relations, and relations thrice removed. It’s a bit much to take in.

Reef’s biography, however, is a much simpler account of Austen’s life and writing. At times, it even seems more geared toward middle-grade readers, but I think young adults and, er, older adults will find much in here, as well. It is perfectly suited to middle school and high school students looking for reference material (perhaps for a research paper), but it is not in-depth enough for college-level papers.

For the casual reader, the illustrations and paintings of relevant people and places are an added bonus.

The only potential drawback–which, oddly, is also what makes it more interesting– is that the author tries to draw ties and parallels among events and people in Austen’s life with her works, i.e.–this character was based on this person, and this work was a result of this event. While it’s interesting and even fun to makes such guesses, it’s impossible–and a bit dangerous–to say for sure what Austen was thinking when she was writing.

Jane Austen: A Life Revealed is in stores June 6.

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