DUBBED the "queen of TV history" by The Guardian, Dr Lucy Worsley is passionate about making history engaging to the widest possible audience.

Her new biography of Jane Austen will be published in May next year and takes at new look at Austen’s life from the perspective of her bi-centenary. It considers what home meant to the author and tells the story through the rooms, spaces, possessions and places which mattered to her.

Next week, Lucy comes to Chester for an appearance at the Storyhouse where she reveals some of the insights her research has uncovered about the novelist.

"I'll be presenting a power point presentation on Jane Austen which doesn't sound very exciting does it?" laughs Lucy.

"But it will be the kind of powerpoint presentation that will reach the parts other powerpoint presentations fail to reach and will be about Austen and her life and I will also be putting the case for her as being not only a great writer but a great human being."

Dispelling the myth of the cynical, lonely spinster Lucy is determined to offer fans the image of a witty and passionate woman of her time, who refused to settle for the life set out for her.

"For me she was a spinster by choice," says Lucy. "It was a very difficult decision for her to become a professional writer but that's what she did and it's really admirable.

"Once you understand where she was in the world and how she didn't have much money you can see that she has an outside perspective which enabled her to become a novelist.

"She wasn't always happy and comfortable but sometimes it's people who are in a slightly bad situation who can make stuff happen and be creative."

From 1995 a large number of Austen adaptations began to appear, with Ang Lee's film of Sense and Sensibility, for which screenwriter and star Emma Thompson won an Academy Award, and the BBC's immensely popular TV mini-series Pride and Prejudice, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth among the best known. Austen's novels have resulted in sequels, prequels and adaptations of almost every type, from soft-core pornography to fantasy and she remains one of the country's most well read authors.

"I think she is a great artist in the way that Shakespeare is," insists Lucy. "Her books have so many levels: you can read them as gloriously romantic love stories with happy endings or you can also read them as being critical of her society.

"There's an underlying message of 'look how rubbish it is that these Georgian women have to marry for money'. It made then dynamite because they were encouraging loads of other women like her to think like that and that's how things begin to change.

"She wrote them to read aloud as plays and the dialogue is very fizzy which is why they have translated so well into feature films."

Austen is the only woman – apart from the Queen – to now feature on an English bank note something which clearly fills Lucy with delight.

"I'm so happy that there are pictures of her in everyone's pocket," she laughs. "The irony is that that picture is not really her. When she was alive she never had a proper portrait painted because no one cared what she looked like.

"After she died her books caught on and the publishers wanted to know wheat she looked like so they knocked up this image - I find it quite satisfying in a way as she was a very secretive person and I think she would have approved."

Despite Chester's status as one of the UK's most historic cities, its delights remain a bit of a mystery to Lucy who has only visited once before.

"I'm very excited to come and I'm really looking forward to it," she says before revealing how busy she is with filming and writing.

"Later today I'm going to be going back to the 1910s because we're filming something about the suffragettes for BBC One," she says.

"We'll be setting up the headquarters of the suffragettes where I and my fellow campaigners will be planning our bombs and outrages.

"We'll also be doing some scenes in the prison where my comrades and I will have some very bad things happen to us. I've always loved the way so many suffragettes come from the North West and it suits the movement that it started in the most radical part of the country."

As well as her writing and TV work, Lucy is chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces while her talks in theatres and festivals are always well attended adding to the impression that the appetite for history remains undimmed.

"I think society needs history and historians at the moment," she adds. "Analysis, judgement and knowing when someone is lying to you are vital skills.

"Historians can tell you that it hasn't always been like this and if that's the case there's always the hope that things can change."

Lucy Worsley: At Home with Jane Austen is at Chester Storyhouse on Thursday March 15 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £24.50 (each ticket is subject to a £1.50 booking fee) and available from www.storyhouse.com /Booking line: 01244 409 113.


I prefer being in control but I'm stealing myself to see where the questions take us and I'm hoping it's to some interesting places.