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

Janes Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Clarie Harman (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“The books went out of print, and Jane’s generation of Austens aged and died secure in their belief that the public’s curiosity about their sister had been satisfied.  But almost two hundred years and tens of thousands of books on Austen later, her fame and readership worldwide continues to grow.  Her six completed novels are among the best-known, best-loved, most-read works in the English language.  She is now a truly global phenomenon, known as much through film and television adaptations of her stories as through the books themselves, revered by non-readers and scholars alike.”

Oh, sorry.  Does that sound like every other Jane Austen biography you’ve ever read?  Let’s try another quote because, really Jane’s Fame is not like the other Jane Austen biographies.  Behold:

“Her influence reaches from the decoration of tea towels to a defense of extreme pornography, and her fans have included Queen Victoria, E.M. Forster, B.B. King (“Jane Austen!  I love Jane Austen!”), and the editor of the men’s magazine Nuts. Who else is cited with equal approval by feminists and misogynists, can be liked to nineteenth century anarchism, twenty-first-century terrorism, and forms part of the inspiration behind works as diverse as Eugene Onegin and Bridget Jones’s Diary?”

If the theme of this book could be anything (expect for, of course, Austenmania), it would be assumption-crushing-mania.  Was Jane Austen really the most humble person ever known?  Did she really not care about the money her books made?  And was she really not mortified by the seemingly endless stream of publisher rejections?  Your logic would tell you that, no, she probably wasn’t any of those things.  But what does your heart tell you?  How do you want to see her?  Is it weird that I’m asking you that?

Chock full of quotes, primary and secondary resources, and letters from every possible angle, Jane’s Fame is a treat for any Janeite.  I need not balk when I say that it truly is the most engaging biography of anyone I’ve ever read.  Ever.  And though Jane’s Fame contains a lot of statements like that first quote, most of it is populated with information you’ve probably never been exposed to.  Using correspondence between family and friends, publishers, critics, and neighbors, and wives of sons of sisters-in-law, Claire Harman constructs a dizzying portrait of our beloved Jane.  She goes further to describe just how much Jane has affected us, infiltrating our minds, hearts, and pop culture to the point of, ahem…mania, and continues on to explore those strange assumptions we’ve made about her.

The book sets in motion a thorough unraveling of everything Austen we thought we knew, presenting the life and times of our most revered author amongst a myriad of head-scratching possibilities.  The dichotomy is interesting: Was she a “fire-poker” or a saint?  Was she a “husband-hunting butterfly” or the epitome of quiet, thoughtful femininity?  Did she love children or struggle to connect with them?  Claire Harman attempts to answer these questions but, in the end, she leaves it up to you.  She instead brings to light to oddities that exists in our asking them, since we all seem to think we own Jane somehow.

Harman’s depiction is strong (especially in the beginning), but also seems to bear the impression of an Austen purist and has more than a few acidic words for any attempted manipulations of the original works.  Her quotations can get a little out of hand sometimes, twirling the reader about in a “Wait…who’s talking?” kind of way, and the book has come under the gun for suspected plagiarism and un-attributed references.

Yeah, the book has a few faults, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.  I think you’ll love Jane’s Fame since you are, in all probability, as much a member of the We Worship Jane Austen cult as I am.  Who can blame you?  She lives in our hearts and in our minds.  She’s special to all of us in different ways.  How many authors have the same claim to fame as Jane?

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harman
Picador (2011)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0312680657

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Net: Issue No 10

“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.” Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

April 19-25, 2010

Hot News of the Week:

Austenesque author Laurie Viera Rigler’s addiction to Jane Austen has inspired two best selling books: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. Now she can add an original comedy web series on Babelgum.com to her Janeite accolades. Read all about  Sex and the Austen Girl on her blog and tune in next month for the first episode! Congrats Laurie. Brava!

Noteworthy:

Brooding Brontës replace Jane Austen as the bonnet drama remakes of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights return to the BBC and Film4 in the UK next season. Jane considered too tame and the Brontës are right for the times!

Interview of Austenesque author Amanda Grange (Mr. Darcy’s Diary, et all) at Dark Angel Review & Writing Blog about her experience getting published for the first time.

The Republic of Pemberley continues its group read of Pride and Prejudice through May 23rd, 2010

Great deal on bargain priced editions of Amanda Grange’s Austen Heroes Series at Amazon.co.uk & Amazon.com

Get local with Jane — news from AustenBlog on local Austen events

Julie at Austenonly discusses the new quilt exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and ties in Jane Austen and her famous quilt that reside at Chawton Cottage.

Interview of Skylar Hamilton Burris, Austenesque author of Conviction at Austenesque Reviews

Jane Austen’s World discusses activitist Caroline Norton and a Woman’s Legal Rights in the 19th-century

JASNA members watch for the spring issue of JASNA News in your mailbox this week. News on the Annual General Meeting in Portland in October, a great book review by Diana Birchall of The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet and part three of Jane Goes Digital by Mags of AustenBlog

Entertainment:

Just for fun: video mashup of Iron Man vs. Bridget Jones!

Inside news on the new indie movie Pride and Prejudice (2010) currently being filmed in Colorado at Pride and Prejudice 2005 Blog

Anil Kapoor’s Aisha the new Bollywood modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma starring his daughter Sonam Kapoor in the title role is set for an August 6th, 2010 release in India

Announcements:

Preview of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine’s May/June 2010 issue

Austenesque author Beth Pattillo’s new book The Dashwood Sisters Tell All: A Novel with Sense and Sensibility

GirleBooks announces a new print edition of The Sylph, by Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire with foreword by Heather Carrol of  The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Gude to the 18th-century. Join the group read of The Sylph that begins on May 1st.

The paperback edition of Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler goes on sale on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 just in time for summer beach reading.

The restored & remastered DVD edition of Pride and Prejudice 1995 goes on sale on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010. Huzzah! Now we can see the dripping Darcy emerging from the pond with more clarity and finer detail then every before!

Check out the new cover of Bespelling Jane Austen a new Austen inspired paranormal novel featuring four novellas from authors Mary Balogh, Janet Mullany, Susan Krinard, and Colleen Gleason. Very classy!

Book/Movie Reviews:

Until next week, happy Jane sighting

Laurel Ann

Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Net: Issue No 9

“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.” Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

April 12th – 18th, 2010

Hot News of the Week:

New author Jenni James of Northanger Alibi, a modern retelling of Northanger Abbey influenced by Twilight, lands the Austenesque book publicity coup of the decade! Wow. This might be a first for Austen on TV.

Noteworthy:

Author and Janeite Catherine Delors features Jane Austen’s juvenilia The History of England and directs us to the original manuscript viewable online at The British Museum website.

The beautiful new hardback editions of Penguin Classics are featured in a Elle Decor article including Jane Austen’s Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Interview of Monica Fairview, author of The Darcy Cousins at Austenprose. Swag contest ends 23 April 2010.

Author Jane Odiwe of Austen Sequels Blog features a preview of the new debut novel First Impressions, by Alexa Adams.

Regency Mourning Fashions in England by Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World is featured in the Suite 101.com online repository of insightful writers and informed readers.

Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe’s favorite Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho that they read together in Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey is highlighted on Jane Greensmith’s blog Reading, Writing, Playing in a great post on The Gothic Novel.

Shameless self promotion here, but Maria Grazia has interviewed moi for her lovely blog Fly High. Leave a comment and enter a chance to win your choice of selected Austenesque books. Ends 25 April, 2010.

Another interview of note is of Vera Nazarian, author of Mansfield Park and Mummies at Jane Austen’s World.

Vote for your favorite Pride and Prejudice book cover from my top ten favorites. As of today, there is a dead tie between White’s Publishings lovely new release showing a graphic rep of Regency dancers from the waist down and the classic cover design by Hugh Thomson for the 1894 peacock edition of P&P.

Deb at Jane Austen in Vermont blog posts info on Soethby’s The English Country House auction results. Oh my. Beautiful Regency-era items, but the prices Lousia!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane invented baseball since she mentioned it in her novel Northanger Abbey. Doubtful? Read further proof in the third installment of posts by Mags at AustenBlog.

Entertainment:

British actor Elliot Cowan (Mr. Darcy in Lost in Austen 2009) opens in The Scottish Play in London next week. Read about the lore and superstition behind the Shakespeare play that we dare not mention.

The Jane Austen Story opened at Winchester Cathedral on 10 April, 2010. Read more about this new exhibit spotlighting Jane Austen’s burial place and life in Hampshire that will run until 20 September 2010.

The Los Angeles Times Book Festival has always been a lively affair and this year one of the guest speakers is author/editor Susannah Carson of the Austen anthology A Truth Universally Acknowledged that we reviewed and enjoyed. Jane Austen Today has a featured article on the the LA  festival which makes me homesick for outdoor book fairs that I frequented while I lived in California. *sigh*

New Austenesque Book Announcements:

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Connelly — 16 Sep 2010

Book Reviews:

Until next week, happy Jane sighting.

Laurel Ann

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