Here, firmly rooted in her own social setting for the first time, is the real Jane Austen--the shy woman willing to challenge convention, the woman of no pretensions who nevertheless called herself "formidable," a woman who could be frivolous and yet suffer from black depressions, who showed unfailing loyalty and, in the conduct of her own life, unfailing bravery. In an act of understanding and brilliant synthesis, Claire Tomalin reveals Jane Austen with a clarity never before achieved, one which makes us look upon her novels with fresh and even greater admiration. The world she wrote about--that place of civility and reassuring stability--was never quite her own. As Tomalin shows, Jane Austen's family existed on the very fringe of the world she described in her fiction, struggling to get ahead with little money and no land in the competitive society of Georgian England, sometimes succeeding but often failing with painful consequences. New research in family papers has yielded a rich, tragicomic picture of the Austen clan--their ambitions, their matrimonial alliances, their exotic connections with India and France. At the same time, Tomalin's explorations in local archives reveal a surprising view of the neighbors the family lived among in Hampshire, more extravagant and eccentric by far than anyone depicted in Austen's books. We realize how much closer her genius lies, in its splendid artifice, to the great comic operas of Mozart than to the main tradition of the English novel. But it is in the deeply human portrait of Jane Austen herself that this biography excels. The honesty and directness of her personality (perfect heroines made her "sick and wicked"), her strength in giving up a chance at marriage to follow the path her vocation as a writer required her to take, the warmth and long consistency of her relationship with her sister, Cassandra, the poignancy of her death--Claire Tomalin here captures, with unforgettable skill, the living character of a great writer who is read, reread, read again, and adored, now more than ever.