From the first publication of Pride and Prejudice to recent film versions of her life and work, Jane Austen has continued to provoke controversy and inspire fantasies of peculiar intimacy. Whether celebrated for her realism, proto-feminism, or patrician gentility, imagined as a subversive or a political conservative, Austen generates passions shaped by the ideologies and trends of her readers' timeand by her own memorable stories, characters, and elusive narrative cool.
In this book, Rachel M. Brownstein considers constructions of Jane Austen as a heroine, moralist, satirist, romantic, woman, and author and the changing notions of these categories. She finds echoes of Austen's insights and techniques in contemporary Jane-o-mania, the commercially driven, erotically charged popular vogue that aims paradoxically to preserve and liberate, to correct and collaborate with old Jane. Brownstein's brilliant discussion of the distinctiveness and distinction of Austen's genius clarifies the reasons why we read the novelist-or why we should read her-and reorients the prevailing view of her work. Reclaiming the rich comedy of Austen while constructing a new narrative of authorship, Brownstein unpacks the author's fascinating entanglement with readers and other admirers.
Brownstein has written a delectable hybrid of biographical and cultural criticism, struck with brilliant splashes of memoir. On reading, you feel as if you just finished Pride and Prejudice, you Skype a brainy friend who knows Austen inside out--the conversation is so delicious, you'll whip through Persuasion just so you can talk to her tomorrow! Why Jane Austen? Why the movies, miniseries, museums, sequels, novelizations, prequels, criticisms and zombies? Read this book and you'll know. Then put it on the shelf next to those six novels, even richer now for this lady's attentions.
Honor Moore, author of The Bishop's Daughter
This vital handbook for Janeites is both a store house of diverting facts and a history of literary obsession, gracefully steering the reader through a maelstrom of conflicting views on Jane Austen's life and times. A fascinating account of how Austen has been glorified yet exploited by film and television over the decadesso Mr. Darcy lives forever to woo Elizabeth, whether wearing the face of yesterday's Laurence Olivier or today's Colin Firth.
Fay Weldon, author of Chalcot Present
Why Jane Austen? is a warmhearted, personal, and humane meditation on Austen and Austenolatry. It is also, in the tradition of Becoming a Heroine, smart, witty, eloquent, and joyfully wide-ranging, a mixture of anecdote, cultural criticism, biography, literary history, and close reading. By bringing serious literary thought to a wider audience, this book is accessible to anyone acquainted with Austen's novels. It performs one of the most important services of humanistic scholarship.
William Deresiewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter
Rachel M. Brownstein's smart and often charming book reengages and reinvigorates Lionel Trilling's question, 'why we read Jane Austen'a matter that Austen scholars know is of cultural as well as personal import. Brownstein writes with the assurance and comfort of a senior scholar surveying the terrain. She is opinionated in the best sense, but she also writes from a place of considerable and valuable self-consciousness. Parts of her book serve as memoir: of her life as a teacher, as a scholar asked in public and private social encounters to serve as representative and explainer of Austen the cultural icon, as a reader whose contexts for Austen have changed with changing geography and social meanings. It is one of Brownstein's contentions that, reading Austen and seeking her, we find ourselves.
Mary Ann O'Farrell, Texas A&M University, author of Telling Complexions: The Nineteenth-Century English Novel and the Blush
This book will delight devoted readers and students of Jane Austen and may inspire readers who have disliked Austen in the past.
Along the way, the reader, too, may discover in Brownstein's book what the author discovers in Austen: a means of transporting ourselves to a more gracious and better-ordered world.
An intriguing discussion of one of history's literary giantesses.
...her brilliant critical insights and comprehensive survey of Austen studies - including its excesses - merit a wide readership.
...the hours spent reading this book are as enjoyable as conversing with a perceptive and sympathetic friend, and as a rewarding as being guided by a superb teacher.
AcknowledgmentsAbbreviationsIntroduction1. Why We Read Jane Austen2. Looking for Jane3. Neighbors4. Authors5. Why We Reread Jane AustenAfterwordsNotesIndex