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

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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

My Favourite Classics (Top Ten Tuesday)

favouriteclassicsEvery week the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish prompt bloggers to compose a Top Ten list based on a weekly theme. This week’s theme is ‘Top Ten Favourite Classic Books’. Since I don’t think I’ve actually shared a list of my favourite books yet, I thought today would be as good a chance as any to share some of them with my lovely readers. :)

So here they are, just for you… Continue reading

A Sentimental Journey (1768), by Laurence Sterne

sentimentaljourneyThis book is #6 on my Back to the Classics list for 2014.

Well, it’s been a while since I posted a book review. But fear not! I haven’t been neglecting my reading. In fact, now that the winter break has begun, I’ve finally been able to focus on Books I Actually Want to Read, rather than constantly struggling through the tyranny of Books I Must Read For Class or Risk Failing. Meanwhile, I’ve got a backlog of reviews that I’m hoping to share with you all, starting with another travel-inspired tome.

There are several reasons why I wanted to read Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. Not only is it a turning-point in the history of travel writing, it also makes fun of the self-obsessed and narrow-minded travel accounts of older generations, something I’m sure almost everyone enjoys, if only in small doses. Sterne’s novel was also a precursor to the approach of Romantic writers like Goethe, whose Italian Journey I read earlier this year. Continue reading

… And We’re Back. (Plus My Top Ten Favourite Book Titles.)

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Regular readers may have noticed I’ve been rather silent these past few weeks. It’s been about a month since I last posted, a fact which I was amazed to discover when I logged on this morning for the first time in a long while. There is a (fairly) good explanation for this, and for my neglect of my favourite blogs and websites.

Here in the southern hemisphere it’s that most joyous time of the year: winter. Unfortunately, before we can all enjoy wrapping ourselves in blankets and sipping warm tea of a chilly afternoon, university exams loom over the immediate future. As a long-standing Arts student I don’t actually have exams, but I did have to write roughly eight thousand words’ worth of essays before the semester was over. So, naturally, the past few weeks have been spent in a kind of robotic sleep-eat-work-sleep routine, punctuated by the occasional anxiety attack (complete with paper-bag breathing exercises) and sleepless night.

Despite this routine (or perhaps because of it), I have finally made it through to the other side of the semester.  Continue reading