A truth universally acknowledged 33 great writers on why we read Jane Austen

Book - 2009

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New York : Random House c2009.
Other Authors
Susannah Carson (-)
1st ed
Physical Description
xx, 295 p. ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographic references.
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Why We Read Jane Austen: Young Persons in Interesting Situations
  • The Radiance of Jane Austen
  • Six Reasons to Read Jane Austen
  • Jane Austen: The Six Novels
  • A Life Among the Manuscripts: Following in the Steps of Dr. Chapman
  • Reading Northanger Abbey
  • On Sense and Sensibility
  • From "Why We Read Jane Austen"
  • Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice
  • Force of Love: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Nerds of Pride and Prejudice
  • Austen Portrays a Small World with Humor and Detachment
  • Pride and Prejudice and the Mysteries of Life
  • A Note on Jane Austen
  • Jane Austen and the Good Life
  • What Became of Jane Austen?
  • From "Jane Austen: Mansfield Park"
  • The Modest Art of Altering Life
  • Let Others Deal with Misery
  • Fanny Was Right: Jane Austen as Moral Guide
  • Why I Like Jane Austen
  • Why Do We Read Jane Austen?
  • The Girls Who Don't Say "Whoo!"
  • Reading and Rereading Emma
  • From "Emma and the Legend of Jane Austen"
  • The Perfections of Jane Austen
  • From "The Myth of Limitation"
  • Terrible Jane
  • From "Canonical Memory in Early Wordsworth and Jane Austen's Persuasion"
  • Some Thoughts on the Craft of Austen's Persuasion
  • Nothing but Himself
  • Jane Austen at Sixty
  • Beautiful Minds
  • Notes
  • Contributor Biographies
  • Permissions Acknowledgments
Review by Booklist Review

I am a Jane Austenite, wrote E. M. Forster in one of the pieces assembled here to explain Austen's enduring appeal. Other writers include critics like Lionel Trilling and Harold Bloom as well as novelists from Virginia Woolf to Jay McInerney and Susanna Clarke. Some of them make a case for a favorite novel. For David Lodge, it's Emma. For others, Louis Auchincloss among them, it's Mansfield Park which Kingsley Amis calls corrupt. So why do we read Jane Austen? Maybe, as Janet Todd notes, because Austen manages to make her readers feel a personal relationship with her through her books. Or, put another way, because we can't invite her to dinner, even though we'd like to, as Rebecca Mead proposes in Six Reasons to Read Jane Austen. This sense of intimacy would help account for all the tactics we've used to make Austen our own: the fictional imitations and sequels, not to mention the various film and television adaptations, which several of the writers explore. Austenites will enjoy dipping into this collection.--Quinn, Mary Ellen Copyright 2009 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Yale doctoral candidate Carson cobbles together previously published pieces of literary criticism by writers like Eudora Welty and Lionel Trilling with essays, several newly composed, by contemporary writers like Anna Quindlen and Fay Weldon. Pride and Prejudice fan Somerset Maugham finds Emma a snob and Mansfield Park's Fanny and Edmund intolerable prigs. Virginia Woolf contemplates what books Austen might have written had she lived beyond 42, speculating that her satire would have been more severe, and Amy Heckerling describes how she transformed Emma into the teen romance film Clueless set in 1990s Beverly Hills. C.S. Lewis finds that Austen's hard core of morality is what makes good comedy possible, and in one of the most personal essays, Brian Southam tells how he searched out a volume of juvenilia at a Kentish farmhouse belonging to Austen's great-great-niece. Heckerling aside, dissections of very particular plot and character points in most essays make this volume more appropriate to students than lay readers. And while separately the pieces make many astute points about Austen's oeuvre, overall the volume feels disjointed. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

As Carson, a doctoral candidate in French at Yale University, explains in the introduction to this compilation of 33 essays on Jane Austen and her work, "The essayists.tell us why they read Austen.[and] explain the phenomenon of Austen's permanent popularity." Some of the essays are newly composed by contemporary academics and authors including A.S. Byatt, Amy Bloom, and David Lodge. Other contributors are venerable authors and literary critics including E.M. Forster, Somerset Maugham, and Lionel Trilling. In a powerful piece, Anna Quindlen explains that Jane Austen "wrote not of war and peace, but of men, money, and marriage, the battlefield for women of her day, and surely, of our own." Quindlen examines Pride and Prejudice but cautions that too much literary analysis obscures the most important element of the novel, that "it is a pure joy to read." Amy Heckerling reveals how she drew inspiration from Emma to create the 1995 film Clueless. Verdict Although fuller documentation for the source of each essay would have been helpful, devoted Austen fans will undoubtedly find this collection informative and thoroughly entertaining.-Kathryn R. Bartelt, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Susanna Clarke WHY WE READ JANE AUSTEN: YOUNG PERSONS IN INTERESTING SITUATIONS "Human nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interesting situations, that a young person, who either marries or dies, is sure of being kindly spoken of." So said Jane Austen in Emma in the early 1800s, and for the rest of the nineteenth century novelists got a lot of mileage out of young persons who either died or married. Dickens excelled at the young persons who died, Austen did the ones who married. Stories about love and marriage are full of the good stuff: romance, sexual attraction, jealousy, suspense, misunderstanding. But in the early nineteenth century they had another dimension. All of a woman's Future--her happily-ever-after or lack of the same--was implicit in her choice of husband. Such, at least, was the conventional wisdom of the age, and whether or not it was entirely true, clearly many things did depend on whom a woman married-her income, her status, her home, perhaps even her occupations. If the female characters in Austen's novels sometimes give the impression of considering potential husbands rather dispassionately, there is good reason for it. In many ways they are not only choosing a husband, they are also choosing a career. By their marriage Austen's heroines may become a parson's wife (Elinor, Fanny, and Catherine), a landowner's wife (Elizabeth and Emma), or a ship's captain's wife (Anne). With the exception of Emma, marriage holds out to them not simply a more financially secure life, but the opportunity for a more active, socially responsible one. Today the idea of marriage is a loaded one; at best it's a closing down of options. Austen's women saw things differently. For them life opened up at the point of marriage. The married state, not the single state, meant liberation. Marriage offered freedom from the confined life of a girl at home. In Mansfield Park Maria Bertram marries to gain "Sotherton and London, independence and splendour"-two houses, worldly status, and independence from her parents. Of course this bid for freedom only worked if you married the right person. Maria did not and found in marriage a prison at least as confining as her father's house. For both sexes, marriage to the wrong person could have disastrous consequences-not simply unhappiness and financial precariousness, but worse still, moral degradation. If you were led to marry someone small-minded, mean, or coarse (whether by your own faulty judgment or the faulty judgment of your friends and relations), you risked those qualities rubbing off on you. It was a danger Austen seems to have felt men were particularly prone to. Of Mr. John Dashwood she says: "Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been made still more respectable than he was:-he might even have been made amiable himself." Similar things are said of Frank Churchill's uncle, who is married to the perennially disagreeable, ill- tempered Mrs. Churchill: " . . . he would be the best man in the world if he were left to himself . . ." Even if you somehow proved immune to your partner's vices and you didn't actually acquire them yourself, your personality might be warped by trying to accommodate them, as with Elizabeth's father, Mr. Bennet. Twenty-something years of his wife's nonsensical conversation seem to have given him a faintly masochistic turn: he takes a strange pleasure in never giving her a straight answer, thereby making some of her imaginary frustrations real and provoking her to exclaim even more. These two do not act pleasantly on each other. With stakes as high as these it's hardly surprising that the action of Jane Austen's six novels so often turns on character. The author, her readers, and her heroines all set themselves to decipher the personality of this attractive young man, that newly arrived young woman, not Excerpted from A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen by Susannah Carson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.