Today is #JaneAustenDay, marking the online celebration of her birthday. Born on a stormy night in 1775, she was the seventh child of Rev. George Austen and his lady Cassandra of Steventon, Hampshire. Her modest beginning stands in strong contrast to her international fame today. In observance, I am participating in a blog tour organized by TLC Blog Tours for a new Austen book worthy of your consideration, The Lost Books of Jane Austen.
Scholar Janine Barchas and I share a passion for Jane Austen and book collecting. In the early 1990s, I started my search for illustrated editions of Jane Austen’s novels, while she was hunting for the early inexpensive editions of Austen’s works that were marketed to Britain’s working-class folk. At the time I was actively collecting I was unaware of this niche of Austen’s novels, and until I read the description of this book, I did not know that they existed. However, Barchas presents the important story of these forgotten books in The Lost Books of Jane Austen, a heavily illustrated and informative new book for Jane Austen fans, book collectors, graphic artists, and Anglophiles.
Chronicling the print history of a classic author through the nineteenth century could be a very dry enterprise and more scholarly than the general reader could fathom. I am happy to share that there is much to celebrate and enjoy for all levels of readers in The Lost Books of Jane Austen. Barchas knows her audience, and like a skilled playwright, screenwriter, or novelist she starts off her exploration with a snappy opening line. ”Cheap books make authors canonical.” Zing!
The word cheap makes me wince. How it could be associated with my favorite author is so contrary to the elegant editions of her novels on my bookshelves and her delightful prose between their covers. I was doubly surprised to discover that the low-cost books explored in this edition played a very important part in the development of Austen’s readership and reputation to the general public. Through the early publication of inexpensive paperback editions, a commuter could purchase one of her novels for pennies at a railway station, a housekeeper could collect soap wrappers and redeem a copy as a promotional prize, or a schoolchild could be presented one as an award. This targeting of Britain’s working-class had a strong impact on the development of Austen’s fame as a literary giant. She was beginning to become everyone’s Jane.
One of the reasons why I was unaware of these editions of Austen’s work is because they are scarce. Printed at a low cost using inexpensive materials, these hardscrabble editions were read, re-read, and then tossed into the bin as they fell apart. Barchas scoured the Internet and specialty booksellers with the zeal of Indiana Jones searching for the Holy Grail to dig for the books that are represented in this volume. Some are faded and tattered like an old Teddy bear, others are cherished gifts inscribed by teachers to their students for their scholarly achievements, or to a loved one for a special event in their life. Also included are editions of a bit better quality that are bound with boards or leather. There is information on the entire publishing history of Austen’s work here. It is a treasure-trove for collectors and admirers of her work.
This coffee table-sized book should be given pride of place in your Austen library. It can be perused casually or intensely scrutinized. I was especially touched by Barchas’ investigation of the lives of the previous owners of the books that were inscribed, something that I enjoy doing also, yet have not run across documented in the book before. As a book collector, when you own an older edition of a book you inherit its history, known and unknown, and when you pass, you become part of it.
Barchas has generously shared her passion for unearthing lost editions and enlightened us to their importance. Her ferocious tenacity and ardent reverence to its author highlight its groundbreaking achievement. The Lost Books of Jane Austen is a beautiful tribute to its inspiration and would make a fabulous gift for a friend, family member, or yourself.
5 out of 5 Stars
A PEEK INSIDE
Austenprose is delighted to be part of the
Blog Tour of The Lost Books of Jane Austen.
Please follow along with us.
- December 9 Lit and Life
- December 10 A Bookish Way of Life
- December 10 Broken Teepee
- December 11 The Sketchy Reader
- December 12 No More Grumpy Bookseller
- December 12 Laura’s Reviews
- December 13 View from the Birdhouse
- December 16 Savvy Verse & Wit
- December 16 Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog
- December 17 Blunt Scissors Book Reviews
- December 19 Jane Austen’s World
- December 20 My Jane Austen Book Club
- December 20 Diary of an Eccentric
Janine Barchas is the Louann and Larry Temple Centennial Professor of English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity and Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. She is also the creator behind What Jane Saw (www.whatjanesaw.org).
The Lost Books of Jane Austen, by Janine Barchas
Johns Hopkins University Press (October 8, 2019)
Hardcover & eBook (304) pages
Disclosure of Material Connection: We received a review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Cover image courtesy of John Hopkins University Press © 2019; Images Janine Barchas © 2019; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com