200 years after it was first published, John Mullan, professor of English at University College London and a specialist in eighteenth-century literature, is arguing that Jane Austen’s Emma belongs alongside the works of Flaubert, Joyce and Woolf as one of the great experimental novels.
Mullan argues that Emma was not revolutionary because of its subject matter, but was revolutionary in its form and technique. “Its heroine is a self-deluded young woman with the leisure and power to meddle in the lives of her neighbours. The narrative was radically experimental because it was designed to share her delusions.”
“Telling the story through the consciousness of characters whose understanding of events is partial, mistaken, deceived, or self-deceived”, says Mullan, was an entirely new technique, and it’s this kind of innovation that made her novels, and Emma in particular, stand out from the rest.
Austen’s idiosyncratic punctuation, that system of exclamation marks and dashes, allows for a kind of dramatised thought process. Yet because it is still in the third person, we can judge Emma even as we share her thoughts. She is a person worth our sympathy because she is capable of acknowledging and feeling sorry for her mistakes.
Mullan’s full article praising Emma and its innovation can be read here.
Without a doubt the novels of Jane Austen are classics. But what makes a classic a classic?
This week the Jane Austen News came across a wonderful article which gave us one of the best explanations of what makes Jane’s novels “classics” that we’ve ever come across.
“The function of literature is to act as the dominant note of the period in which it is born. Good literature is that treasure, which despite traveling the passage of time, not only remains relevant but also acquaints the reader with the past — with the way of the world as it was as well as with problems and the prevailing mood of the society.”
We absolutely agree! Although, if anyone has a better description of what makes a classic “classic” we’d love to read it in the comments below.
This month is Women’s History Month, and as such we thought we’d mentions a few of the Jane Austen News’ top picks for influential books (aside from those of Austen!) from a few prominent female authors throughout history: books which empowered the women of their day, controversial books which challenged the status quo, and books which continue to be an inspiration to women today.
1. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
Perhaps one of the very first books to promote feminism, though the term didn’t exist yet, Wollstonecraft wrote in detail on the idea of women as the natural and intellectual equals of men and deserving of equal treatment and opportunities.
2. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Woolf’s long-form essay pointed to the vast, systemic educational and economic failures that stifled the women writers who had come before her. (Jane Austen gets more than a very good mention.)
3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
This might seem an odd choice on some levels, but Jo certainly didn’t let her gender hold her back, despite opposition at times. This book is a great example of the female characters within it combining forces to succeed. “Sisters are doing it for themselves” perhaps?
There are too many to mention, and plenty more that we love dearly, but these three give a nice spread of writing eras, styles, and ideals.
Uplifting stories about kindness and community are proving a hit on bestseller lists, and they’ve proved to be such a popular read in fact that publishers have given them their own genre title: Up Lit.
Up Lit began to become really popular about two years ago with the publication of the bestseller The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. The novel tells the story of 10-year-old Tilly and her best friend Grace, endeavouring to uncover the whereabouts of their missing neighbour. It’s set in 1970s English suburbia and filled with tenderness, companionship and nostalgia. Its author, former NHS psychiatrist Joanna Cannon, says it is an exercise in wish fulfilment.
Rachel Joyce, author of international bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, adds that it’s not all sweetness and light though. “It’s about facing devastation, cruelty, hardship and loneliness and then saying: ‘But there is still this.’ Kindness isn’t just giving somebody something when you have everything. Kindness is having nothing and then holding out your hand.”
As we were finding out about this new genre, we couldn’t help but feel that a good number of its defining aspects – kindness, compassion, unlikely friendships, broken people who become fixed – are all features of Jane’s novels that we particularly enjoy. So perhaps we need to make ourselves a to-read list of Up Lit!
(Do you think that any of the storylines within Jane’s novels, whether main or minor, have Up Lit overtones? Colonel Brandon and Marianne perhaps?)
If you, as we know some readers do, prefer not to buy any books in hardback unless they’re a special case which you know you’ll read over and over again (Jane Austen novels definitely fall into this category), or you simply make a practice of only buying paperbacks, you might like to hear the latest from Lucy Worsley.
In May last year she released her critically acclaimed book, Jane Austen at Home, which explores how and why Jane lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. A short time ago on March 10th she gave her followers on Twitter a sneak peek of the paperback version of her book along with its release date (April 19th).
Good news if you’re a paperback devotee; you haven’t got long to wait. Though if you want something to read in the meantime, we can really recommend Rachel Knowles’ What Regency Women Did For Us, (which we have signed paperback copies of).
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