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A Reader of Fictions: Main Titles - Rachel Portman (from Emma)

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Main Titles - Rachel Portman (from Emma)

Why Jane Austen?

Author: Rachel M. Brownstein
Pages: 285
Publisher: Columbia University Press

Brief Summary:
Rachel M. Brownstein attempts to explain the current fascination with Jane Austen. Although not hugely successful in her own time (which is not to say that lots of people did not read her books then, but just that she was never a huge name during her lifetime), Jane Austen is now one of the most beloved and well-known authors in the world. What keeps bringing readers, like the author herself, back to Jane Austen?

In Why Jane Austen?, Brownstein successfully walks the line between readability and scholarship. She clearly discusses topics with an academic's eye, but the writing is not dense, difficult to understand or boring. There is some possibility that this book will be more meaningful to those who already have a familiarity with Jane Austen's work, but it could also be useful for those who have steered clear of her work but want a working knowledge of her works and life.

My only criticism of Why Jane Austen? is that it seems to wander away from the thesis quite a bit, with many of these wanderings not seeming to support the overall argument particularly. Really though, the overall question is never, to my mind, satisfactorily answered; Brownstein's explanation is essentially what my off the cuff answer would be if asked.

Why read it you may ask? Because above and beyond the so-called thrust of the novel, there is a ton of delightful literary analysis and historical information to enjoy. Reading through this academic publication is like nerding out over all of Austen's books at once (all of which I now really want to reread, even the dreary Mansfield Park).

I also love learning about some of the other authors of the time, such as Byron and Charlotte Smith. The discussion of the film versions, especially of Amy Heckerling's Clueless, were charming and made me look at them in a new light. I also now want to reread Ian McEwan's Atonement, even though it was a slog the first time; I never noticed the ties to Austen (and am not particularly sure from the summation how much I agree with that argument, which by the way has little to nothing to do with why we read Jane Austen) and am curious to see if I can find them, even though the novel was a painful, heart-wrenching slog the first time through.

If you love Jane Austen or nerding out over authors in general, this is a really great read. From an academic standpoint, Brownstein clearly knows what she is talking about and has compiled a useful collection of footnoted and references. Reading this could give you a good list of other works to use for a paper on 'dear Jane.'

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Blogger Nori said...

Interesting. I also just love the cover.

July 5, 2011 at 8:15 AM  
Blogger bas1chs said...

Sold! I had never heard of this book but I will add it to my wish list. Thanks for reviewing it.

March 24, 2012 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Happy to do it. This is awesome for reveling in one's obsession with Jane Austen!

March 25, 2012 at 11:04 AM  

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