Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued, by Emma Tennant – A Review

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

When a book is universally acknowledged by Janeites as the worst Jane Austen sequel ever written, why would I want to read it? Temptation? Curiosity? Due diligence? Take your pick. I like to think that I am open to carefully drawing my own conclusions before passing judgment. After-all, Austen told us through her observant character Elizabeth Bennet, “It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”— Pride and Prejudice

Cashing in on Two Emma Film Adaptations

So, it was with wide eyes and an open heart that I began Emma Tennant’s Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued. Published in 1996, it was controversial before it even hit bookstores. Eager to cash in on Continue reading “Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued, by Emma Tennant – A Review”

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen, Annotated and Edited by David M. Shapard – A Review

The Annontated Emma, by Jane Austen, edited by David M. Shapard (2012)Of all of Jane Austen’s six major works, I have always been daunted by Emma: both the novel and its eponymous heroine. It is Austen’s longest work and contains her most “troublesome creature” Miss Emma Woodhouse.

I am not alone in my challenge to understand and appreciate this clever tale. The first time I read it many years ago I was mystified. It took further readings and research to fully appreciate it. I only wish on a first acquaintance that I had this new annotated edition of Emma by Prof. David Shapard available to me. This is the fourth Austen novel that he has annotated – and it is indeed a wonder. At a hefty 928 pages, no stone has been left unturned to offer the reader: an introduction, bibliography and detailed chronology of events; explanation of historical context; citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings; maps of the places in the novel, and nearly 200 informative illustrations. Phew! If the eBook version included film clips, we could all throw up our hands and proclaim that there was indeed nothing left to experience in the Emma Woodhouse lexicon.

Published in 1815, Austen was at the top of her game as a writer and many scholars proclaim it as her masterpiece. Readers will argue that point. I will too. There are many elements of story and characters that I adore – and some not so much. Though first-time readers (especially young students and some early critics) thought it is a snooze fest, if one looks beyond the surface, Emma is an intricate story focused on the astute characterization and social reproof which Austen is famous for. Our heroine Emma Woodhouse is a complex character that on first acquaintance is rather a pill. Austen gave herself a great challenge in creating “a heroine whom no one but myself will like.”  In contrast with her other heroines, Miss Woodhouse does not have any social or financial concerns and thus no compelling need to marry. Therein lies the rub. We have no sympathy for her whatsoever. She’s rich, she’s spoiled and she’s stuck up. Who indeed could possibly like such a “troublesome creature”? During the course of the novel, we witness her exerting her superior notions of who is suitable for whom as she matchmakes for her friends with disastrous results. But…what a great journey we are privileged to be taken on. Here are a few of my reactions to the novel and David Shapard’s elaboration of it:

The Good: Notwithstanding Emma Woodhouse, it is the secondary characters that really shine in Emma for me. Harriet Smith, Emma’s young, impressionable friend is one my favorite of Austen’s creations. Even though she is undereducated and from the wrong side of the blanket, by the end of the novel she knows her own heart and is superior in my mind to the grand dame of the first family of consequence in Highbury, Emma herself. Austen excelled at sharp wit and comedy in this novel. None can match Mrs. Elton in snobbery and conceit, Miss Bates as the garrulous spinster who is all heart and no brains, and Frank Churchill who is so slyly smarmy that we don’t see it coming. Ha! Continue reading “The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen, Annotated and Edited by David M. Shapard – A Review”

George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not, by Barbara Cornthwaite – A Review

George Knightley Esquire: Book One, by Barbara Cornthwaite (2009)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

The fact that he was in love with Emma had been confronting him for some time, but he had pushed it away and given other names to the emotions that ought to have enlightened him. He had blundered on, deaf to the pleadings of his heart until the revelation of them burst on him in a surprising and, it must be said, inconvenient way.  No doubt he had appeared as a complete imbecile tonight, standing there in a trance and unable to do anything but watch Emma as he acknowledged to himself for the first time that it was not because he was a partial old friend that he admired her dancing and her figure and her liveliness—it was because he wanted her for himself.

Ever prudent, inner-directed and thoughtful, George Knightley struggles with his feelings for Emma.  Is she more like a little sister or a girlfriend?  Can he really handle her conceited and sometimes impudent ways?  Would marriage with her be a constant string of reprimands and eye-rolls for being so precocious?  Boy oh boy Mr. Knightely is confused, and probably more so than you thought from your Emma readings.  George Knightley, Esquire, by Barbara Cornthwaite, is a delightful re-telling of Emma that gives Mr. Knightley a chance to shine.

Truth be told, I went into this review kicking and screaming.  Emma is my least favorite Jane Austen novel, mostly because it seems like a story that happens in high school (and as the movie Clueless shows us, I’m not entirely wrong).  Emma herself seems an over-inflated child of idle pleasures to me, a quality which might really lend itself to a story if only something would happen!  It plods along with the pace of a turtle walking through molasses.  Despite the work being from the lovely Jane Austen and therefore commanding instant respect, Emma gets a big ‘ol “meh” and a dismissive hand wave from me.  I tell you this only so you can fully understand the breadth of my meaning when I ask, is it a crime to like the re-telling better than the original?

Because well, I did.  SURPRISE!  George Knightley, Esquire was a delight.  Written from the perspective of the oft-unexplored quiet life of the neighborhood bachelor, it makes the reader privy to all kinds of mindful musings, delicious realizations (WOW!  I LOVE EMMA!), and even bouts of loneliness spent in front of the fire in the soft gloom of Donwell Abbey’s library.  George Knightely goes about his business keenly aware of his surroundings and indeed, of all Emma’s schemes and shortcomings while he moves about his lands.  It was wonderful to see the rarely-exposed work life of a gentleman, with all his account balancing, estate visits, charity donations, and efforts to rebuild a cottage for one of his residents.  It was even more wonderful to point and laugh at Emma, whose actions seem positively absurd when seen through the clear mind of Mr. Knightley.  I found myself laughing more than once.

George Knightley, Esquire is but half the story of Emma and her silliness, leaving off at the moment when Frank Churchill heads for the hills instead of the dance floor and leaves Mr. Knightley to muse about whether he should be open with Emma about his feelings.  He’s consumed with love for her but won’t say it.  How very English.  Hope remains, however, and it becomes obvious that Knightley and Emma are truly great friends with a mutual adoration for one another (despite the fact that many days go by where one is ignored by the other or haunted by japes and snarky comments).  It’s really quite adorable, made only better by Barbara Cornthwaite’s mastery of prose and storytelling.  The book is teeming with interest and intrigue and will leaving you grumbling when it’s over, especially when you realize that the sequel isn’t available until August 25th.  No matter, though!  This will keep you entertained until then!  This is Emma, but better!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not, by Barbara Cornthwaite
CreateSpace (2009)
Trade paperback (260) pages
ISBN: 978-1449587079

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

The Intrigue at Highbury Or, Emma’s Match, by Carrie Bebris – A Review

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in Carrie Bebris’ clever Jane Austen inspired mysteries, whenever Mr. and Mrs. Darcy embarks on a carriage journey across England they are sure to end up investigating a murder in a country village inhabited by someone or other of Jane Austen’s characters from one of her novels. This truth has become so well fixed in minds of her fans that we consider this devise our rightful property and any deviations would be insupportable. Happily, her fifth book in the series The Intrigue at Highbury Or, Emma’s Match does not disappoint opening with the Darcy’s traveling to Sussex to visit recently married cousins Colonel and Anne Fitzwilliam. In Surrey along the London Road their carriage is hailed by a young woman in distress just outside the village of Highbury. What starts out as an act of kindness by the Darcy’s quickly turns into a clever con by highwaymen who assault their coachmen and relieve the Darcy’s of their possessions. Continue reading “The Intrigue at Highbury Or, Emma’s Match, by Carrie Bebris – A Review”

Jane Austen’s Emma on Screen: Comparing the Book Characterization to Movie and TV Adaptations

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

EMMA, THE NOVEL

Since it’s publication in 1815, Jane Austen’s Emma has had its share of advocates and adversaries. What impressed early readers was not that it lacked style, but that its story was dull and uneventful. Even Austen’s famous publisher John Murray thought it lacked ‘incident and romance’ and Maria Edgeworth, a contemporary author so greatly admired by Austen that she sent her one of the twelve presentation copies allotted by her publisher, could not read past the first volume and thought “there was no story in it.” Ironically, what these two prominent and well-read individuals attributed as a weakness, is actually Emma’s greatest strength. Continue reading “Jane Austen’s Emma on Screen: Comparing the Book Characterization to Movie and TV Adaptations”

Austen at Large: Mr. Elton on Facebook

My class assignment taken to the fullest extent!

Mr. Elton on Facebook

 

 And of course he must have his say.

Mr. Elton's Facebook Page Notes

Virginia Claire

Virginia Claire, our Austen at Large roving reporter is a college student studying English literature and history who just returned from her time studying abroad in Bath England and working as an intern at the Jane Austen Centre. She is the Regional Coordinator of JASNA North Carolina and a lifelong Janeite. She will be sharing her thoughts on all things Austen this semester and remembering her travels in Austenland.

Emma Woodhouse: Poverty, Marriage & Pedestals!

Illustration by Edmund H. Garrett, Emma, Roberts Bros, Boston (1892)“Dear me! it is so odd to hear a woman talk so!”  

“I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband’s house, as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man’s eyes as I am in my father’s.”  

“But then, to be an old maid at last, like Miss Bates!”  

“That is as formidable an image as you could present, Harriet; and if I thought I should ever be like Miss Bates! so silly — so satisfied — so smiling — so prosing — so undistinguishing and unfastidious — and so apt to tell every thing relative to every body about me, I would marry to-morrow. But between us, I am convinced there never can be any likeness, except in being unmarried.”  

“But still, you will be an old maid — and that’s so dreadful!”  

“Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable, old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else. And the distinction is not quite so much against the candour and common sense of the world as appears at first; for a very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper. Harriet Smith and Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 10 

Miss Emma Woodhouse is such a prig! She proclaims that only poverty makes an old maid contemptible. Oh really? She need not marry because it offers her nothing that she does not already possess: fortune, employment or consequence. Arrogance! The first time a read Emma, I scowled so much my face hurt. 

Some readers complain that they can not identify with Emma. Jane Austen has certainly created “a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.” It is difficult for a reader to sympathize with her struggles, because her arrogance is her biggest fault, and who can feel empathy with that? When I think of other literary heroines we love to hate, I think of Scarlet O’Hara, that smug southern belle in Gone With the Wind. Even though we want to give them both a swift kick in the rear, we are mesmerized over the prospect of what silliness they will do next and who will eventually knock them off their self appointed pedestals. It’s along fall, but worth the wait! 

*Illustration by Edmund H. Garrett, Emma, Chapter 10, Roberts Bros, Boston (1892)

Vintage flourish urn

Oxford World’s Classics: Emma, by Jane Austen – A Review

“I will keep my ill-humour to myself. I have a very sincere interest in Emma . . . There is an anxiety, a curiosity in what one feels for Emma. I wonder what will become of her!” Mr. Knightley, Emma, Chapter 5 

For me, reading Jane Austen’s  Emma is a delight. However, not all readers have been in agreement with me over the years including Jane Austen herself who warned her family before publication “I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.” She was, of course, making fun of herself in her own satirical way; – her critics, on the other hand, were quite serious. When the book was published in 1815, Austen sent a copy to her contemporary author Maria Edgeworth who gave up reading the novel after the first volume, passing it on to a friend and complaining, “There is no story in it.” Others had mixed feelings offering both praise and censure for its focus on the ordinary details of a few families in a country village. One important advocate of Emma was Sir Walter Scott, whose essay published in the Quarterly Review of 1815 represents the most important criticism of Austen’s writing during her lifetime. Even though the review was published anonymously, she must have been pleased when the reviewer heralded her Emma as a ‘new style of novel’ designed to ‘suit modern times’. Heady stuff to be sure. When it was later learned that Scott had contributed the review, it would place Jane Austen in a whole other league of writers.

Emma can be enjoyed on different levels. For pure humor and witty dialogue, it may reign as Austen’s supreme triumph. Just Google quotes from Emma and you might agree that it has the best bon mots of any of her novels. Modern critics claim it as her masterpiece, and I do not doubt it. Pride and Prejudice may be the most beloved and well know of her works, but Emma represents Austen at the height of her writing skill and power as a storyteller. Like some of Austen’s contemporaries, the modern reader might find challenges in its minutiae and supposed lack of story. Not to worry. There are several annotated available to assist in understanding Jane Austen’s subtle and often witty dialogue, her unique characterizations, and help place the novel in historical context.

One source to consider is the new 2008 edition of Emma, by Oxford World’s Classics. Recently revised in 2003, this re-issue contains the same supplemental and textual material with a newly designed cover. For a reader seeking a medium level of support to help them along in their understanding, you will be happy to find a thoughtful 23-page introduction by Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies Adela Pinch of the University of Michigan. The essay contains a brief introduction, and segments on Shopping and Suburbia, Narrative Voices: Gossip and the Individual, The Politics of Knowledge, and Emma: Much Ado About Nothing?. Her emphasis is on understanding Austen’s choice of writing about the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of the lives of its heroine Emma Woodhouse and her circle of family and friends in Highbury, a small English village in which she sets about to match make for all of its singletons, and blundering hilariously along the way. I particularly appreciated Prof. Pinch’s positive comments throughout the essay.

“Austen makes voices stick in the mind through her use of free indirect discourse, which makes character’s voice seem indelible, capable of soaking into other beings. But she also uses the same technique for representing thought. Her cultivation of this mode of representing her heroines’ minds has made her novels crucial to the history of the English novel, markers of a movement when the novel as a literary genre perfects its inward turn, and begins to claim human psychology as its territory. Above all it creates the feeling of intimacy with her heroines that many readers prize.” Page xvii-xviii

If I may be so bold and interject as the everyman Austen reader for a moment, parts of this essay are scholarly and touch on areas beyond my immediate understanding, especially when she delves into the philosophical and psychological pedantry. For the most part, Prof. Pinch’s essay is written in accessible language and is reverent and admiring to the author and the heroine. I found this outlook refreshing since the heroine Emma, and the novel Emma has received some criticisms for their shortcomings over the centuries. The novel is about so much more than the “no story” that Maria Edgeworth hastily condemned it to be. I especially adore Emma’s little friend Harriet Smith and think her much-maligned in the recent movie adaptations, and well – can there ever be enough praise bestowed upon Mrs. Elton? She is a comedic genius and worthy of a nomination to the literary comedy hall of fame.

Professor Pinch has also supplied the helpful explanatory notes throughout the text which are numbered on the page allowing the reader to refer to the back of the book for an explanation. Honestly, I prefer the notes to be footnoted at the bottom of the page instead of riffling back and forth, but that is a quibble on convenience. The remainder of the supplemental material; Biography of Jane Austen, Note on the Text, Select Bibliography, Chronology of Jane Austen, Appendix A: Rank and Social Status, and Appendix B: Dancing are repeated throughout the other Jane Austen editions in this series and discussed in our previous reviews.

This Oxford edition is a sweet little volume at an incredible price if you are in the market for a medium amount of supplemental material from reputable sources containing an authoritative text edited for the modern reader. If you enjoy matchless wit and irony, unforgettable characters, and a unique story that turns the everyday imaginings of a young Georgian era woman into an extraordinary story filled with a comedy of manners and romance, then take note; – Miss Emma Woodhouse commands you to purchase this book immediately!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Read our previous reviews of the Oxford World’s Classics – Jane Austen Collection

Oxford World’s Classics: Emma by Jane Austen, edited by James Kinsley
Oxford University Press, Rev. Ed. (2008)
Trade paperback & eBook (418) pages
ISBN-13: 9780199535521

Cover image courtesy of  Oxford University Press © 2008; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2008, Austenprose.com

A Memoir of Jane Austen: The Beginnings of a Pop Icon

Illustration of Jane Austen after the frontispiece in A Memoir of Jane Austen (1871)“The Memoir of my Aunt, Jane Austen, has been received with more favour than I had ventured to expect. The notices taken of it in the periodical press, as well as letters addressed to me by many with whom I am not personally acquainted, show that an unabated interest is still taken in every particular that can be told about her.” James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen, Second Edition, November 17, 1870

When Jane Austen’s nephew Rev. James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote and published a family memoir of his aunt in 1869, he unknowingly opened the door to her modern popularity, sparking public interest and critical acclaim far beyond the family expectations, planting the seed of a future pop icon.

Illustration of Chawton Church, A Memoir of Jane Austen, (1871)

His publisher Richard Bentley & Son who also held  the copy write on Austen’s six major novels quickly saw the advantage of promoting an author already within their catalogue, and issued the second edition with a new preface by the author, additional content, letters, the fragment of the novel The Watson’s, the canceled chapter of Persuasion, and the novella Lady Susan in 1871.  Continue reading “A Memoir of Jane Austen: The Beginnings of a Pop Icon”

Top Ten Reasons to Read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, – Again!

WIN A FREE COPY OF

CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT

 

Image of the cover of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, (2007)

Today is the official release date for the paperback edition of one of my favorite Austen-esque novels,  Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler. Hurrah! You can read a synopsis of the book here

This novel received a most  ‘favourable’ response from reviewers and Janeites when it was released in hardcover last summer. Here are a few highlights… 

This is Laurie Viera Rigler’s first novel and she’s done a wonderful job. Charming characters, matchless plot-lines and a great Austen flavor make this debut a must-read. Fans of Austen will love Rigler’s style and Austen newbies will have no trouble following the story even if they aren’t familiar with all of Austen’s work. Blog Critics Magazine 

…the fans that adored Jude Devereaux’s Knight in Shining Armor or the time travel movies Somewhere in Time, Kate and Leopold, and Big will definitely have a rollicking good time. Jane Austen Today 

Ms. Rigler knows her Jane Austen and sprinkles the book with loving references….This book is a fun, light, fluffy bit of “chick lit” for any Janeite – a good read for a plane trip or a rainy weekend. The Austen Intelligencer 

I absolutely loved the creativity of this novel and admire Ms. Rigler’s bold and inventive plot and characters, which is made all the sweeter since it is just so darn funny. 

So Janeites, inspired by modern comedic brilliance, and Miss Austen’s character Emma Woodhouse who demands from each of you “one thing very clever, be it prose or verse, original or repeated — or two things moderately clever — or three things very dull indeed, and she engages to laugh heartily at them all“, I put to you my top ten reasons to read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, again, – and challenge you to add your share! 

Top Ten Reasons to Read 

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Again…

 

10.) Your cat became a critic and coughed up a hairball on your copy of Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife.

9.) Your boss caught you watching the new adaptation of Northanger Abbey on your computer at work, and has restricted your Austen addiction to lunch room reading. 

8.) Your VCR just ate episode 4 of Pride and Prejudice (1995), and your new DVD will not arrive from Barnes and Noble for three days! 

7.) Your wannabe Captain Wentworth just asked that stick insect cheerleader to the spring prom, and now your last minute blind date is your mother’s second cousins, manicurist’s minister’s, step son who is Mr. Collins’ doppelganger! 

6.) Your 13 year old little sister was just offered a modeling contract with the Wilhelmina agency in New York.   

5.) Your husband has just learned that you are being audited by the IRS because you talked him into claiming your purchases of Jane Austen books, DVD’s and conferences as a charitable contribution on your taxes.      

4.) Your debate team teacher will not let you argue the merits of Colin Firth vs. Matthew McFadyen to prove ‘who is the hottest Mr. Darcy ever’ at the state debate finals next month. 

3.) Your parents think you are crazy for refusing to go on vacation with them to Hawaii because Regency ladies never wore bikinis. 

2.) You have just learned that the movie Lost in Austen has been put on the back-burner, and now there are no pending movies of Jane Austen inspired biographies, spin-offs or adaptations in the immediate future.  

And the number one reason to read

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict again is… 

 

Your new boyfriend thinks that your ‘Darcy on a pedestal’ addiction is out of control after you ask him to bow when he meets your parents for the first time!

Be sure to visit Laurie’s web site devoted to everything addictive about Jane Austen, janeaustenaddict.com and explore the question, what would it be like to live in Jane Austen’s time, read about her latest insights for Jane Austen addicts on A Great Deal of Conversation Blog, or have your share of the conversation on the forum. 

Image of the cover of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, (2007)CONTEST: Win a free paperback copy of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by stating your unique reason for needing to read the novel in the comments by 11:59 pm on Wednesday May 7th, and the winner will be drawn and announced the next day! Good luck Austen addicts.       

Austen’s Emma: Dear Miss Woodhouse, do advise me.

Illustration by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, (1948)“I lay it down as a general rule, Harriet, that if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him. If she can hesitate as to “‘Yes,'” she ought to say “‘No'” directly. It is not a state to be safely entered into with doubtful feelings, with half a heart. I thought it my duty as a friend, and older than yourself, to say thus much to you. But do not imagine that I want to influence you.” Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 7 

Have you ever been in the position to advise a friend on a serious decision knowing full-well what the practical decision should be, – but held back your true opinion for fear of it turning around and biting you in the rear? I was faced with such a dilemma this week, and I was reminded of this passage in Emma. Did I take the high road you ask, or the Woodhouse way? 

Jane Austen’s heroine Emma Woodhouse knows the power of a friendly omission, actually taking it one step further adding clever manipulation to achieve her goal. She advises her friend Harriet Smith by not advising her at all; – asking well placed questions that prompt Harriet’s insecurity, and skillfully guides her toward the decision that Emma wants her to make. Scary stuff! 

Illustration by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, London, (1948)

This scene was one of the earliest examples in the novel of how full of herself Miss Woodhouse can be. I have often wondered how a young woman raised without a mother and in a secluded environment learned how to be so conniving beyond her years. The way she moves the conversation away from her having to give Harriet a direct answer to Harriet coming to the conclusion that she should decline Robert Martins proposal is disturbing. 

Some people might admire her strength of conviction and say her cunning was ingenious, but it just throws up a big red flag for me. How can we like a heroine who is so controlling? What will she do next to poor naïve Harriet and the rest of the Highbury community? Was Jane Austen correct in warning her family that she had created a heroine “whom no-one but myself will much like.”? 

Illustration by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, London (1948)

Anyone who has read the novel or seen one of the movies knows the answer, but did you also remember the lesson that Jane Austen gave us about advice and when it turns to avarice? I did, and it may have saved me from a very uncomfortable situation. 

*Illustrations by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, London, 1948

Jane Austen’s World by Maggie Lane – A Review

Image of the cover of Jane Austen\'s World, by Maggie Lane (2005)

I do not know whether it ought to be so, but certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.” Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 26

 

Jane Austen’s World: The life and times of England’s most popular author, by Maggie Lane, second edition, Carlton Publishing Group, London, (2005) ISBN: 978-1844423682 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of the most popular author’s the English language has ever produced. Her six novels have charmed generations of readers – their wit and romance are unforgettable.” Maggie Lane 

Image of the cover of Jane Austen\'s World, by Maggie Lane, (1996)Author, and Jane Austen scholar Maggie Lane’s lushly illustrated and thoroughly delightful volume on Jane Austen’s life, times and works is one of my Austen favorites in my library. I own the first edition (1996), and I was happy to see that the second edition was released in 2005 with a new cover. I’m not sure if the second edition’s text was updated, so this post will reflect my 1996 copy. 

I gravitate to this lovely volume on my shelf when I need a quick Austen escape. Its large coffee table format allows for lush color photographs and period illustrations on each page, and author Maggie Lane was cleverly arranged the keynotes into five chapters, representing important aspects of Austen’s world; Who was Jane Austen? Daily Life in Jane Austen’s England, Society and the Spirit of the Age, The Visual World, and The Immortal Jane Austen. This volume also includes a well written introduction, chronology, helpful index and author’s acknowledgments. Here is an example of the first topic in chapter one… 

Chapter One: Who is Jane Austen?  

The Woman: We learn about Jane Austen’s birth, family and home environment that nurtured her genius. Her physical appearance, character and personality are described and exemplified by Lane’s thorough research, aptly including insightful quotes from her letters and family reflections. 

“Her unusually quick sense of the ridiculous inclined her to play with the trifling commonplaces of everyday life, whether as regarded people or things; but she never played with its serious duties or responsibilities – when she was grave, she was very grave.” Anna Austen Lefroy 

Image of Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, (1995)Inevitably, comparisons of Austen’s personality lead to the paring of her attitudes and personality with the characteristics of her own heroines. Even though each of her heroines is highly individual, Lane hints at similarities in the characters of Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse and Anne Elliot, and though I agree for the most part, I was amused to see how one can find what they need to suit, by reason and ingenuity. 

The chapters are broken down further by topics and continue in chapter one as follows; The Writer, Beliefs and Values, The Letters, The Portraits, Family Background, Home at Steventon, The six brothers, Some female relations, Love and friendship, Family visits, Bath and the West Country, and Return to Hampshire. 

Illustration of portrait of Jane Austen, 1869Even though Maggie Lane is qualified to write a scholarly treatise, she knows her audience, and her light style is approachable and engaging. She includes enough biographical and historical detail to introduce us to the subject, and not weigh it down with heavy language and minutia. The photographs and illustration have been thoughtfully selected, significant to the topic, and important historically. Her scholarship is exemplary. 

This is my favorite Austen book to give as a gift as an introduction to Jane Austen, and as eye candy to the indoctrinated. It has never failed to please, and I hope that we shall see many additional editions for future readers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Regency Stars  

Image of author Maggie LaneAuthor biography from the publisher: An active committee member of the Jane Austen Society, Maggie Lane has written several highly acclaimed books on the author. These include;  

Maggie appeared as a spokesperson for the Jane Austen Society on BBC Television’s Omnibus documentary, Persumption – The Life of Jane Austen. Maggie is the librarian at Bristol Grammar School, the city in which she lives. 

Image of Regency World Award SilhouetteMaggie Lane’s life-long support of the education and enjoyment of Jane Austen and her times is renowned. Austenprose sends our sincere congratulations on her recent nomination for the 2007 Jane Austen Regency World Awards in the category of outstanding Jane Austen contribution. We hope that our gentle readers remember to cast their vote for their favorite before May 10th through The Jane Austen Centre’s website.

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