Jane’s Fame (2009), by Claire Harman

janesfame

This book was on my Austen in August reading list.

Jane’s Fame, despite its deliberately frivolous title, is an interesting book for Austen lovers and haters alike. Claire Harman charts the emergence of the ‘Austen myth’, dealing with the way that she has been co-opted, desired, and possessed by readers and critics alike. Throughout, Harman looks at the way Austen has been marketed, written about, and criticised.

The first chapter of the book deals with the details of Austen’s life; Harman stresses Austen’s dedication to her chosen craft, suggesting that the ‘unproductive Bath years’, where it is commonly assumed that Austen wrote no new material, were in fact devoted to a painstaking and continuous process of editing. It’s a pretty logical assumption to make, because one of the defining characteristics of Austen’s prose, particularly of the first three novels, is how highly ‘polished’ they are; this was clearly the result of several years’ work. Moreover, Harman stresses Austen’s love of reading and her continued engagement with the best writers of the age, male and female: Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Letters

janeaustensletters

This book was on my Austen in August reading list.

There is something decidedly voyeuristic about reading the private correspondence of another person. Even if that person happens to have died almost two hundred years ago.

Collections of Jane Austen’s letters have been around since the 1930s, when R. W. Chapman first began assembling them for historians and lovers of the famous author to peruse at will. Since then many have been rediscovered, and the collection has grown with every new edition.

So what might prompt someone to read the letters of Jane Austen? For many historians and scholars, it is a case of wanting to discover more about the life and mind of one of English literature’s greatest heroes. They approach them, no doubt, hoping that her day-to-day correspondence will enlighten the material she presents us with in her novels. Continue reading

Spring, Study, and Other Related Things

springrelatedthings What’s that hint of warmth in the air? Is it really time to shed the scarves and socks already? Yes, sadly my favourite season of the year is drawing to an end. And although I occasionally like the breezy warmth and the petal-strewn gardens of spring, this year I’ll be spending most of my time inside, studying for my classes and bemoaning the fact that all too soon, we’ll have to apply sunscreen before going outside to check the mailbox. Thanks, Australia. Continue reading

A Memoir of Jane Austen (1871), by J.E. Austen-Leigh

memoirofjaneaustenMy Austen in August quest to read more about Jane Austen’s life begins with the first ‘official’ biography. Written in the late Victorian period, more than fifty years after she died, A Memoir of Jane Austen is offered to readers as a kind of ‘family record’ of the author. Austen’s nephew, J.E. Austen-Leigh, was responsible for compiling family histories and records into a coherent account of her life.

It’s no secret that A Memoir of Jane Austen is a flawed account, and deeply unsatisfying for Austen’s readers and admirers. Indeed, my own personal opinion quickly came to be that it tells the reader more about Austen-Leigh, and the age in which he was living, than it does about Austen herself.

A Memoir of Jane Austen is responsible for launching the infamous ‘Aunt Jane’ image which has been impossible to shake off, even after more than a century has passed. The tone of the book is a little priggish, and at times you almost feel that Austen-Leigh is sermonising (probably not surprising, as he was a clergyman; in the Austen family the church had become something of a family business, and they churned out clergymen by the dozen). Continue reading

Mansfield Park (1814), by Jane Austen

mansfieldpark

I read this novel as a part of the Austen in August reading event. You can see my Master Post here.

On the inside of my aged copy of Mansfield Park is an inscription. It reads, “To Sara: I hope you enjoy this as much as you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice. From Your Sister.”

For many Austen readers, this sentiment would be met with a quiet chuckle. My poor eleven-year-old sister could have had no way of knowing that what she was giving me (paid for by several weeks’ laborious saving of her pocket-money) was not so much a wonderful gift as an obligation to read. To please her, I ploughed through the thick tome, and then put it down, resolving never to read it again.

I’m sure that this pattern of events is not unusual for Jane Austen’s troublesome third novel. ‘Hardcore’ Austen fans finish the book with a quiet and shameful sense of relief that it is over. Even critics sometimes have a hard time finding much to like in Mansfield Park, particularly in comparison to Austen’s other novels. Continue reading

Austen in August 2014: Master Post

austeninaugustIf there’s one thing I never get tired of, it’s reading Jane Austen. So when I found out that The Lost Generation Reader was hosting this year’s Austen in August reading event, I just had to join. Austen in August invites us to read anything Austen, from the novels, to reimaginings, to biographies. It’s a little too good for a weak-willed lit major to refuse. So let’s forget for a moment that this month is also my Back-To-Uni month, my I’m-Behind-On-My-Thesis month (which, to be fair, could also be applied to just about every other month so far this year), and my General-State-Of-Panic month. Anybody else feel an anxiety attack coming on? Don’t worry; I’m powering through the panic, and reading Jane Austen instead. Continue reading

Top Ten Authors Whose Books I Own

ShelvesIt’s no secret that I own a lot of books. My tiny Ikea bookshelf is crammed, and on most shelves the books are stacked in two rows, one in front of the other. And since this week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt from The Broke and the Bookish asks which author’s books appear on our shelves the most, I thought I’d do a little bit of a bookshelf review. One bookshelf-clutter-related accident later, I gave up on trying to catalogue every book I own, and set out with bandaged finger to find the authors who stood out to me the most.

Top Ten Authors Whose Books I Own

(This episode of Top Ten Tuesday is brought to you by the Society For The Prevention Of Bookshelf-Related Accidents. Remember, kids: clutter can kill. Always rearrange your bookshelves with a buddy.) Continue reading

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), by George Orwell

NineteenEightyFourPlease note that there are some spoilers in the last four paragraphs; I don’t go into a great amount of detail, but do be careful if you haven’t read the end of the book!

This book is #77 on my Classics Club List.

Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there were still privacy, love, and friendship … His [mother] had sacrificed herself to a conception of loyalty that was private and unalterable. Such things, he saw, could not happen today.

(Part One, Chapter III)

Almost everybody knows that chilling phrase, ‘Big Brother is watching you’. At some uncertain age, we all inevitably grasp the significance of those words, even if we have never read the book which gave birth to it. What’s more, the phrase seems even more apt today than it was when the book was first published. Though the year 1984 has long passed us by, Orwell’s novel is still hugely relevant to its readers. Continue reading

Castle Rackrent (1800), by Maria Edgeworth

castlerackrentThis book is #3 on my Back to the Classics list for 2014, and #49 on my Classics Club list.

Oh, dear. I fear I may have bitten off more than I can chew these past few weeks, first with A Sentimental Journey and now with Castle Rackrent. Eighteenth-century literature has certainly done an excellent job of kicking my butt with these two short novels.

I originally wanted to read Castle Rackrent because I studied another of Edgeworth’s novels, Patronage, a few years ago. I enjoyed it immensely, and figured Castle Rackrent would be more of the same.

Sadly, it was not to be. Castle Rackrent is the story of a wealthy Anglo-Irish family told through the eyes of their faithful old servant, Thady. A succession of four equally unpleasant masters is what we’re presented with, complete with the story of their unhappy wives and their reckless spending of ancestral money. Continue reading