This more than just a book on Jane Austen, this is a book on Jane Austen Fans. They are called ‘Janeite’s’ after Rudyard Kipling’s famous short story “The Janeites” about a group of soldiers recovering from injuries in the First World War – and the secret, almost Mason-like, society that has been formed in the world by her fans. If only this were true!
Deidre Lynch has collected together nine essays on Austen. The collection deals with the rise and fall of Jane’s popularity as an author with the public and with literary critics through the ages and in different countries. Some of these authors are at the foremost of Austen research. William Galperin, Chapter 4, is one of the names I recognise best from my past reading. His essay on Austen’s earliest readers is a fascinating historical perspective that blends in well with Claudia Johnson’s essay (chapter one in this book).
For Americans reading this book you might be most interested in chapter seven by Mary A. Favret “Free and Happy: Jane Austen in America” – which also touches on the diabolical mess of a movie made in 1940 – Pride and Prejudice starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier.
There are two interesting departures from the simple discussion of critics and culture in this book – although both essays focus on questions often asked by Austen Fans. Chapter 5, by Clara Tuite, is on the strange and ambiguous nature (to our modern ears anyway) of entails. This issue is most relevant to Austen’s book Pride and Prejudice where the Bennett girls will be left almost penniless because of an entail – a matter which means they must marry.
The other chapter of interest is Chapter 8 by Roger Sales. It regards the matter of servants – or very much the lack of them in Austen.
This book is by no means one that you would read cover to cover in a single sitting. It is an academic work and is fully footnoted etc. Some of these essays, though, are highly readable and enjoyable. I have a feeling that most people will treat this as some kind of university text and throw it away the moment they have passed their course. However, if you are an Austen Fan, or are interested in her as an author then I would recommend this. It is an excellent and varied collection which manages to answer some of the key questions asked by Austen’s fans on her works. It is also a great historical look at her fans through the ages, and the reasons for the ardency of afficiandos. At least take a look at chapter one and see if Austen is the author for you.
The Janeites, by Diedre Lynch
Princeton Univ Pr; October 15, 2000
Visit Princeton University Press for a list of contents.
Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites,
the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.
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