Why Jane Austen? Blog Tour with Author Rachel M. Brownstein and a Giveaway!

Why Jane Austen, by Rachel M. Brownstein (2011)Please join us today in welcoming Austen scholar Prof. Rachel M. Brownstein for the official launch of her book blog tour of Why Jane Austen?, a new literary and cultural history of our Jane’s rise and continued fame that is being released today by Columbia University Press.

Jane Austen’s eruption into popular culture in the mid-1990s got me wondering: Why Jane Austen, and not another equally long-dead novelist?  What is it about her in particular?  When the vogue spilled over into the twenty-first century, and more and more people were proudly calling themselves Janeites, I knew I was onto something.  And now, finally, here is my book: Why Jane Austen?, published in June, 2011, by Columbia University Press!

The term “Janeite” was coined in the 1890s by the English critic George Saintsbury (he spelled it “Janite”).  Picked up by Rudyard Kipling in the 1920s, it has been used in different tones of voice since then.  As words do, it has gone through changes over time; and Janeites have also changed.  Today they include admirers of Jane Austen’s novels, and of the author because she was a woman or a wit; some are fans of the dressy movies or the romantic fan fiction, while others prefer the sexed-up send-ups and the mysteries.  They include mischief-makers and members of the Jane Austen Society, bloggers and buyers of Jane-related dolls and coffee mugs, note-cards and refrigerator magnets. Writing Why Jane Austen?, I was astonished and fascinated by the range of Austen movies, spin-offs, products, and devotees—and the enormous changes in those over the last twenty years and more.

A Janeite today is sometimes exclusively interested in Austen and her novels, but she (usually) is often also involved in the culture that has grown up around them.  She revels in being a member of a club, exchanging thoughts and feelings about matters more or less related to Jane and pooling thoughts and feelings with those of other Janeites.  Janeites tend to support one another, also to seek converts.

Of course the fantasy of entering a world of Regency dresses and manners, an elegant world where people say “whilst,” begins in solitude, as fantasies do–and reading novels also does.  Ditto the dream of finding your Mr. Darcy, and being carried off by him to a Pemberley of your own.  But private fantasy turns into sociable Janeite practice once you gang up with others to hate Miss Bingley, or to compare the erotic charge of Austen’s Pemberley and Bronte’s Thornfield Hall, or to confess you can’t understand what Elinor Dashwood sees in Edward Ferrars, or to discuss why Jane turned down Harris Bigg-Wither. (The simple dropping of these names makes a Janeite feel cozy all over.) Continue reading

Tea with Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson – A Review

Tea with Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson (2011)We are always happy to see an author’s work go into a second edition, especially when they are as deserving of reprint as Kim Wilson’s beautiful Jane Austen-inspired books: Tea with Jane Austen and In the Garden with Jane Austen. Previously published in 2004 and 2008 respectively by Jones Books in the US, this new edition has been reprinted by Frances Lincoln, Limited of London. Both of these nonfiction books are gems of historical detail filled with awe inspiring visual splendor and informative insights into Jane Austen, her novels and her life.

Ms. Wilson is as an accomplished a writer as she is a designer, selecting beautiful vintage images to illustrate the text. Kudos also go out to her publisher who decided to use color images in this new edition and was wise enough to match the size and printing quality of each of the volumes to make them a matched pair. They make eye popping gifts for Janeites, cooks and gardeners alike.

I have previously reviewed In the Garden with Jane Austen in 2008 and my “affections and wishes are unchanged.” You can read my review here. I will however, offer my impressions of Tea with Jane Austen in the balance of this review.

In Regency era England, the popularity and social importance of tea-drinking is exemplified by Jane Austen’s characters no less than fifty-eight times in her six major novels. The observant reader will recognize pivotal events transpire around sitting down and taking tea: In Emma, Miss Bates declines coffee “No coffee, I thank you, for me-never take coffee. A little tea if you please,” in Northanger Abbey impressionable Catherine Moreland drinks tea with the Tilney’s and is awed by the “elegance of the breakfast set,” and in Pride and Prejudice, the toady Mr. Collins boasts of the supreme honor that his esteemed patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh has bestowed on Elizabeth Bennet in being asked to tea at her grand residence of Rosings Park. We also know from Jane Austen’s letters that she was a tea-lover too. “We began our China Tea three days ago, & I find it very good.” Jane Austen, in a letter to her sister, Cassandra, 31 May 1811

Popularized in the early 1700’s by Charles II’s wife Queen Catherine, a century later tea drinking had become a passionate ritual for the gentry and aristocracy in England. Tea at any meal was de rigueur, in fact, a whole meal was named after it. Tea-time is traditionally a light late afternoon meal about 4:00 pm created to tide one over until supper, which in Town, could be very late into the evening. Tea with Jane Austen primarily delves into the social history of tea and its role in Jane Austen’s life and her writing. It also offers a delectable array of recipes listed with traditional Regency era ingredients and preparation along with a conversion for the modern cook. Readers may find, like me, that with so much talk of food that one wants to dash out to the kitchen and commence to make the perfect cup of tea as described on page 114, and throw oneself into baking the plum cake from page 31. Ha!

What I found most enjoyable about this slim volume was the frequent mention of events in Austen’s life or incidents by her characters in the novels that illustrate the importance of tea as a very British ritual. Quotes are used liberally throughout adding to the connection.

“Perhaps you should like some tea, as soon as it can be got.” They both declared that they should prefer it to anything. Mrs. Price to Fanny and William in Mansfield Park.

Broken down into interesting chapters: Tea in the Morning; Tea Shopping; Tea Away from Home; Tea and Health and Tea in the Evening, this book is packed with historical information conveniently indexed in the back and features a select bibliography for further reading. The friendly conversational style of the author is as welcome and soothing as her topic.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Tea with Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson
Frances Lincoln Limited (2011) London
Hardcover (128) pages
ISBN: 978-0711231894

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Preview – Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harman

Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harman (2009)Arriving in the post yesterday was a new Jane Austen biography/cultural history for my review consideration; Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. Right off the top – I love the title of this book! It totally proclaims that Jane Austen HAS conquered the world, and I am just fine with that. 

I read about this book months ago on author Claire Harman’s website. I am a fan of her pervious book Fanny Bruney: A Biography (2001), and when I learned that she was writing a biography and cultural history of Jane Austen I knew that it would be top on my list of Austen inspired new releases for this year. I have been anticipating its arrival for some time and am eager to dive in. Here is a publicity blurb from the publisher Canongate Books as a teaser. 

Award winning biographer and Oxford and Columbia University Professor Claire Harman traces the growth of Jane Austen’s fame, the changing status of her work and what it has stood for – or has been made to stand for in the English culture. – in a wide-ranging study aimed at the general reader. 

This is a story of personal struggle, family intrigue, accident, advocacy and sometimes surprising neglect as well as a history of changing public tastes and critical practices. Starting with Austen’s own experience as a beginning author (and addressing her difficulties getting published and her determination to succeed), Harman unfolds the history of how her estate was handled by her brother, sister, nieces and nephews, and goes on to explore the eruption of public interest in Austen in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the making of her into a classic English author in the twentieth century, the critical wars that erupted as a result and, lastly, her powerful influence on contemporary phenomena such as chick-lit, romantic comedy, the heritage industry and film. The first book about Jane Austen to dissect the industry around her, it is a completely original approach to one of Britain’s most enduring popular novelist. 

Part biography and part cultural history, this book does not just tell a fascinating story – it is essential reading for anyone interested in Austen’s life, works and remarkably potent fame. 

Beside the beautiful cover artwork, a quick perusal through the text and index revealed that Harman’s research encompasses Austen’s rise to fame from the beginnings to the very recent Pride and Prejudice adaptation/parody Lost in Austen. Mentioned in her fanbase are Internet sites and blogs such as The Republic of Pemberley, AustenBlog, Jane Austen’s World, Jane Austen Today; — and gentle readers, I had to get the smelling salts out after reading Austenprose  listed on page 276 as ‘particularly prolific and engaged.’ Blush!!! 

Regardless of the mention, I am anxious to read this book and shall tear into it after rearranging my reading schedule to move it up. I look forward to reviewing it which should be posted prior to it’s official release date in the UK of 02 April 2009. There is a listing for it at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but no pre-ordering available yet.  That should change in the next week or so I assume and will check with the publisher on US availability. You can preorder it through AmazonUK now.

Anyway, a red letter day for my postbox and my blog! In addition to my joy – anyone lucky enough to live in Bath, near Bath, or want to travel to Bath can catch Claire Harman on April 24th, at the Topping & Company Booksellers for a talk and book signing. Pea green you lucky ducks! Maybe we could convince Jane Odiwe to attend as an online Austen fanbase emissary!?!