Some Things I Thought About Emma (1815) by Jane Austen

Austen EmmaI am thoroughly ashamed of myself. Emma was supposed to be one of my Austen in August reads last year, given that it was published at the end of 1815. Sadly, thanks to university deadlines and the tiny inconvenience of moving halfway across the world, I wasn’t able to complete it. But after more time than I’m prepared to admit, I finally come to you with my thoughts on my re-read of Emma. If it seems incomplete, ill-informed, or just plain wrong, I’m going to go ahead and blame that on the fact that it took me about six months to finish. If I hadn’t caught the flu a few weeks ago – Austen being one of my go-to illness cures – I might still be ‘reading’ this book (by which I mean it would have been sitting by my bedside silently judging me, as only the best books can). I hope you find it interesting. I hope you don’t come away from this silently thinking I really should give up studying literature. I know I found myself wondering.

Some Things I Thought About Emma

All of Austen’s novels are about possession and belonging. It’s hardly surprising, considering the kind of world she was born into – a world where one’s worth was most often determined by how much one was worth. Continue reading

Everyone’s Got An Austen: Everybody’s Jane (2011), by Juliette Wells

Everybodys JaneI read this book as part of the Austen in August reading event.

One of the truly curious things about Austen is just how many different incarnations of her there are. In the space of two hundred years, the ghost of Austen has been conjured in many different forms: saint, saviour, genius – and of course, more recently, in a wider and wider variety of guises: lover, detective, even bloodsucking and immortal vampire.

Biographies of Austen, and accounts of her work, frequently try to chip away at the layers and layers of disguises she has been coated with, in an effort to get a little closer to the ‘real’ Austen, to what she ‘really’ thought and ‘really’ wrote. But for me, as for many, the ‘real’ Austen (impossible to ever recover now, try as one might) is sometimes less interesting than the various ideas that people have of her. Partly, because it says a lot about the society they’re living in, and partly because it says a lot about individual desires and experiences. Continue reading

Images of Austen: ‘Reading’ the New Jane Austen Waxwork

ImagesAusten2N.B. I wrote this post last year, when the Jane Austen waxwork had just been announced. It’s hard to say whether the waxwork had as much of an impact as I thought it would when I wrote this post, or whether it was just another media gimmick to distract us from all the real stuff actually happening in the world. Either way, it led to a great deal of musing on my part, the larger portion of which I share with you below.

Last year, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath announced an astonishing breakthrough: finally, after years of dull, disappointing images of the famous author gracing book covers and coffee mugs around the world, they had at last discovered what Jane Austen actually looked like. Hurrah! Cried Austenites everywhere. Finally, a release from the tyranny of the one authoritative portrait of the author! Finally, an image of the writer we can show our children! Finally, an image of a woman we would actually want to be friends with! And how was this miracle achieved? Well, by the patient efforts of a forensic scientist, who spent the better part of three years on a quest to discover the ‘real’ Jane Austen.

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A Lit Major At The Movies: Mansfield Park (1999)

Mansfield Park 1999Last year I re-read Mansfield Park. And made a surprising discovery.

I actually liked it. All those years of avoidance, staring at it on the shelf and wondering whether it would ever do anything more other than round out my collection of Austen’s work – what a waste.

So when I found myself loving the book, I naturally wondered whether perhaps my younger self had also been unfair on the movie adaptations of the novel. In particular, the 1999 version directed by Patricia Rozema. So I tracked it down and gave it another go. And what I found was, if not the most enjoyable viewing experience (or, indeed, true-to-the-book adaptation), at least a thought-provoking one.

The 1999 version of Mansfield Park is a darker, more sombre version of Austen than those made earlier in the decade. This turn-of-the-millennium Austen hints at the changes that are going to begin appearing in Austen adaptations of the noughties: an interest in the grungy, the suppressed; in sex, and in the characters who frequently hover on the periphery of Austen’s narratives (domestic servants and, in this particular adaptation, slaves on the sugar plantations owned by the Bertram family). Although we never really see either slaves or servants, these individuals are conspicuous in their absence.

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Why Jane Austen? (2011), by Rachel M. Brownstein

Why Jane AustenThis book is #3 on my Austen in August reading list.

I’m sure I’m not the first person who has frequently found themselves, after revealing their appreciation of Austen’s novels, being asked that impertinent question, the one that drives just about every fan of the famous writer up the wall: ‘Why Jane Austen?’.

It drives us crazy because it is so often difficult to put into words why we read – and love – Austen’s novels. And it’s difficult, too, because the question implies that there is little reason for people in the modern world to be reading two hundred year old ‘love stories’. The question can be delivered in a tone of genuine curiosity or, alternatively, of resounding condemnation (‘Why Jane Austen? Wasn’t she that spinster woman who wrote books about women falling in love because she was trying to fill some sort of void?’ Incidentally, these are the ones I’d dearly love to reply to by returning the favour, and stuffing the particularly gaping void that is their mouth with passing vol-au-vents. But since I don’t want to be thrown out of the first annual meeting for the local Wine and Cheese club for assaulting one of my fellow gastronomes, I desist). Continue reading

Cover[t] Designs: Jane Austen Cover To Cover (2014), by Margaret C. Sullivan

Jane Austen Cover To CoverI read this book as part of the Austen in August event, hosted by Roof Beam Reader.

If you like pretty books, then prepare to drool in an unsightly but endearing way. There’s nothing more appealing to a cover design nut than a book about cover designs, especially one that has such a pretty design itself. The publication of a book exploring the various physical manifestations of Austen’s novels was probably only a matter of time, considering how many editions of her works have been published in the two hundred years since she first began writing.

And Austen, with her wide appeal – from literary critics, to passionate fans, to the casual reader – is perhaps one of the most interesting topics when considering the marketing of classic books to readers from all walks of life. Is she chick-lit? Satire? A nostalgic portrait of a pre-industrialised Britain? High-brow literature, or the eighteenth century equivalent of the Harlequin romance? Continue reading

Austen in August 2015

austeninaugustrbr-buttonIs anybody else’s mind simply blown by the realisation that is is August again, already? Mine certainly is. But August means Austen in August, the super-fun reading event that celebrates everything Jane Austen.

I’ve got a much shorter to-read list this time around, mostly because I don’t know how much time I’ll get to read this month. So I’ve only got a few choice selections:

  1. Emma – this will be my Austen re-read for the month, as 2015 marks two hundred years since its publication (I know, Miss Woodhouse looks simply amazing for two hundred – how does she do it?) Completed (finally); review here.
  2. Jane Austen Cover To Cover by Margaret C. Sullivan Completed; review here.
  3. Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein Completed; review here.
  4. Everybody’s Jane by Juliette Wells Completed; review here.

Bonus: A review of the 1999 film version of Mansfield Park, and a post on the new Jane Austen waxwork.

As you can see, this year I’m continuing my theme of reading books dedicated to dissecting the Jane Austen phenomenon.

Are you participating in this month’s event? What will you be reading?

Searching for Jane Austen (2004), by Emily Auerbach

searchingforjaneaustenWell, here it is at long last – the final book I read for this year’s Austen in August readathon. Let’s forget for a moment that it’s already December, shall we?

In the first chapter of Searching for Jane Austen, entitled ‘Dear Aunt Jane: Putting Her Down and Touching Her Up’, Emily Auerbach wonders:

Why … do readers of The Ancient Mariner, A Christmas Carol, and Moby-Dick give little thought to the marital status of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Dickens, and Herman Melville (or should we call them Samuel, Charles, and Herman)? When we think of Milton’s Paradise Lost, do we wonder about John’s marriages (he had three)? Was there a Mrs Chaucer?
Rudyard Kipling (did he marry? do we care?) felt moved to write a verse tribute in 1926 called not “Austen’s Writing” but “Jane’s Marriage,” beginning with the writer ascending into heaven … Finally “Jane” finds every woman’s true reward: not immortality or pride in her own craft, but Mr. Right.

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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