LUCY Worsley, "the undisputed queen of TV history" swaps the screen for the stage at York Theatre Royal to present her York Literature Festival talk, Jane Austen At Home, on Wednesday night.

The festival event is prompted by Dr Worsley’s new biography of Jane Austen, which takes a fresh look at the writer’s life from the perspective of her bi-centenary, telling the story through the rooms, space, possessions and places that mattered to her. Dispelling the myth of the cynical, lonely spinster, Lucy instead offers a portrait of a witty and passionate woman of her time.

Making television history programmes is but one strand of Dr Worsley's work. "For many, many years, I've given talks in the evening. That's what museum curators do, give talks," she says.

Wednesday's talk will be her first time at York Theatre Royal. "I was always very keen on acting," she reveals. "When I was a cub scout leader, I cast myself as Cinderella one year and Snow White the next!"

Shouldn't you be discussing Jane Austen and Lucy's book, you say? Good point. Here goes. "I have the advantage of having made a TV programme about Jane Austen, so I had the information available," says Lucy. "I'd laid my head everywhere she'd laid her head and then went round the country again with my film crew, thinking they'll be surprised by how impoverished some of those places were, as well as the beautiful houses they would have expected.

"I also had access to her letters that were so witty and sharp and made people laugh." All will come in handy for what will "basically be a powerpoint presentation", says Lucy. "It's all about the visuals."

Powerpoint, yes, visuals, yes, but what will draw the audience to the Theatre Royal is Lucy's thoughts on Jane Austen. "I think the reason that we keep coming back to Jane Austen's books and we still talk about her is that she's timeless, in the way that Shakespeare and Dickens are timeless, and people can see themselves in her books," she says.

"The Jane Austen that I like to talk about is the one that faced challenges and went up against her family's expectations. That's the side of her that appeals, sometimes bitter, sometimes naughty, sometimes subversive, though there are others who will see her as a prim and proper aunty."

The historian's role is to "work hard to trace things about her because Jane Austen was quite secretive". "I'm very conscious that everyone has their own internal biography, but I like to be open, though Jane was very private, but you can glimpse the real person in her letters," says Lucy.

Were the letters private too? "You open a whole can of worms there, but the letters weren't entirely private because they would have been read at the breakfast table," says Lucy.

She was particularly interested in the "physical world" of Jane Austen, the aforementioned houses where she had lived. "I believe objects can tell you about her," she reasons.

"You can stay in a house in Sydney Place, in Bath, which is now a holiday home, and visit the place where she was happiest, in Lyme Regis, which is key to the story of Persuasion, as well as some of the big mansions, such as Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire."

Summing up what drove Jane Austen's writing, Lucy says: "I think it all came down to her social status. This is the historian's word," she says. "Jane belonged to the pseudo-gentry; there was land in her family, but her parents and siblings didn't own land, so they had to make do and mend and gloss things over.

"Once Jane decided not to get married, to concentrate on her writing, she broke free of the system, and her family would pretend she wasn't a great novelist but was just 'Saint Aunt Jane', when the pseudo-gentry's expectation was that the world you aspired to was to marry a member of the gentry.

"What the family couldn't handle was that she was difficult but a brilliant writer."

York Literature Festival presents Dr Lucy Worsley: Jane Austen At Home, York Theatre Royal main house, Wednesday, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at