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jane austen

Mar 30 2017

The Eternal Jane

by Dea Anne M

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine.”northanger

Upon reading this sentence, the first in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, during my second year of college – I was hooked and from that moment forward I joined the legions of passionate Jane Austen fans. “Janeite” is a term coined and taken up during the late nineteenth century by a group of male literary critics and publishers and the label carried a clubby sort of aura. It denoted a privately held enthusiasm, almost on the order of a guilty pleasure, sort of how some people nurture a secret fondness for mayo and peanut butter sandwiches or for playing the lute. Now, “Janeite” often carries mansfielda pejorative meaning (though not always) for those who move in the rarefied academic world and tends to refer to people who indulge in the campier side of Jane Austen fandom such as costuming and reenactment events. Me? I just love the books. From the popular, much beloved and often filmed Pride and Prejudice to the undeniably problematic Mansfield Park – I can’t get enough Austen. I admit that I’ve yet to read Lady Susan – an early work of Austen’s which has been adapted for the screen by Whit Stillman as Love and Friendship (see it – it’s fun!) – but I look forward to doing so soon.

Make no mistake, I’m not one of those readers who swoon over Mr. Darcy (although there’s nothing wrong with it if you are!). My appreciation for Austen is tied up more with her consistently acute observation of what was, admittedly, a fairly narrow slice of the world and with her ironic sense of humor. Indeed, I’ve read most of Austen’s novels more than once and never fail to find them newly entertaining. I also remain fascinated with the offshoots and culture that have grown up around Jane Austen’s life and work. From the weird (but kind of wonderful) to the knitsearnestly correct there appears to be something for everyone in Austenland (which, incidentally, is the title of a 2013 feature film based on a Shannon Hale’s 2007 novel). I encourage you to explore and find your own cozy niche. Are you into needlework? Don’t miss The Best of Jane Austen Knits: 27 regency-inspired designs. Do you fancy a stirring love story mixed in with your epic struggle against the undead?  Be sure to check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: the classic Regency romance – now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem.

Of course, apart from Austen’s own novels, there’s a plethora of fiction inspired by it. Here’s a very abbreviated list.

Longbourn by Jo Baker (Pride and Prejudice told from the household servants point of view)

longbornEmma: a modern retelling by Alexander McCall Smith ( from the creator of the wonderful Mma Precious Ramotswe series)

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict: a novel by Laurie Viera Rigler (A modern woman’s time travel leads to amusing complication…and culture shock!)

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron (the first in a mystery series featuring Jane Austen as sleuth)

Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg (an engaging YA romp set at an exclusive girl’s academy)

The works of Jane Austen have also inspired a host of non-fiction books. Here’s a few that provide an unusual approach to the material.

A Jane Austen Education: how six novels taught me about love, friendship and the things that really matter by educationWilliam Deresiewicz

The Jane Austen Handbook: a sensible yet elegant guide to her world by Margaret C. Sullivan

At Home With Jane Austen by Kim Wilson

Jane Austen Rules: a classic guide to modern love by Sinead Murphy

Do you like Jane Austen? What’s your favorite of her novels? If you’ve never read her books and want to see what they’re all about, I would recommend starting with Pride and Prejudice – to my mind still her best – although I can’t help putting in a plug for my first Austen crush, Northanger Abbey. It’s one of her shorter novels, and most important, it’s very, very funny. Enjoy!

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Jul 26 2013

ShareReads: Adventures with the Classics

by Dea Anne M


When I was 14, I went into the school library and checked out a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Later that day, my English teacher saw me carrying annait in the hallway. She raised an eyebrow and said, voice dripping with scepticism.

“Don’t you think that’s a little bit much?”

Well, that just made me more determined than ever to read the whole book. What I didn’t admit to myself (or to anyone else) was that as interested as I was in the book, I was even more interested in being seen carrying it around. Trying to impress others with my reading choices was a youthful bit of vanity that it took an unfortunately long time to shake. Anyway, I finally finished the novel though I had no real idea of what I had read. Not that I would have let anyone know that.

High school had its required reading as did college but none of the assigned northangertexts, though interesting enough, inspired me to take up reading classics in my leisure time. The change occurred in my Romantic Literature class when the professor assigned us to choose one of two novels and write a paper about it. I think the only reason I picked Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was because I just didn’t want to read the Last of the Mohicans. I was only a few pages into the book, however, before I realized that I’d fallen in love. Since then, I’ve read all of Austen’s work and have happily reread most of them as well – notably my two favorites – Emma and Pride and Prejudice.

In the years since that first delightful experience with Jane Austen, I’ve brothersexplored classic novels sporadically. I went through a Dostoevsky phase which was pretty heavy going but overall worthwhile (favorite novel – The Brothers Karamazov). After that, I experienced a year long flirtation with the works of Henry James of which (and I’m a little embarassed to admit this) I like most the shortest namely The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller. Thomas Mann followed Henry James then came James Joyce and after that I stopped setting myself the “project” of trying to read any author’s entire body of work.

Lately, I’ve become interested in exploring the classics again though this timedavid I want to take a less studied approach and select books with an eye toward sheer reading pleasure. Remembering how much I enjoyed Great Expectations, I recently checked out Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. I couldn’t put it down! It’s a very long book so it took me a good while to get through and I’m sure that the inmates of my house became less than charmed with my nightly cries of “Poor David!” and “I hate Uriah Heap!” but I really found it that engaging a novel. I followed Dickens with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and I’m happy to report that experience as every bit as enjoyable. I suppose I’ve finally learned that I don’t janehave to  read a classic work of literature in order to “improve” myself or (cringe) in order to impress other people. I can just relax and relish the reading experience. As Italo Calvino reminds us in his book of essays The Uses of Literature, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”

If you’re interested in dipping into the classics but don’t know quite where to start, check out the “Best Classic Literature Ever” list on the Goodreads website. You can get more ideas from Modern Library’s “100 Best Novels” list. This last is actually two lists in one – the board’s list which is dominated by classics and the reader’s list which leans more toward genre fiction and includes more science fiction and dark fantasy.

What’s next on my reading list of classics? Middlemarch by George Eliot. Then, who knows, maybe I’ll tackle Anna Karenina again!

What are some of your favorite classics? How do you define a classic?

 PS – This is the last ShareReads post. Hope you had fun with us, and don’t forget to submit your reading and activities completed on our Adult Summer Reading page. Click here to see all of our ShareReads posts this year.


Apr 16 2012

Brit Chic Lit

by Jessica O

I have a confession.  I love chic lit.  Don’t get me wrong, I cheered when Katniss stood up for her sister, I’ve reveled through all of Toni Morrison’s strong female characters, and I adore the spunk and wit of Shakespeare’s Portia.  But on a warm summer evening, you’ll find me curled up on my swing with a glass of wine clutching Mansfield Park or steeping in a bathtub enjoying Jane Eyre. These are things I read over and over.  They have become like old friends.  I never outgrew Jane Austen.  I love the tenor, the social intricacies, and the strained romance of that type of writing.

There are very few authors who will even attempt to match that brand of writing style.  It takes a special skill to make simple moments noteworthy.  I mean can you imagine us cheering because Edward brushed his hand against Bella’s.  Would we take note?  No, we wouldn’t.  Edward needs to sparkle.  Bella needs to skip school and run into the woods with Edward to get our attention.  I don’t know about you, but I get tired of the razzle dazzle of these overworked plots.

I have finally found an author who has complex, gentle love stories with an interesting steam punk twist that matches (well not matches, but comes close to) my old friend Jane Austen.  Cassandra Clare.  I know I probably lost you at steam punk.  Don’t be put off by steam punk.  Cassandra Clare gracefully weaves a beautiful love story through the social classes of a burgeoning industrial England.  The characters are smart.  The plot is intricate.  All this and more in Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series, which you can find at your local library.


May 17 2010

Regency Reads and Research

by Patricia D

Many years ago a friend handed me a book to read.  I immediately put it down because it was a romance and I did not read romances.  My experiences with the genre had come primarily at the hands of the good folks at Harlequin Publications and I had learned, even as a tender teen, that I can’t abide stories where the plot hinges on the heroine being stupid to a fault.  However, I have pushy friends.  So, I read Georgette Heyer’s Friday’s Child and  was hooked.  Her Regency romances were my new passion.  All these years later she still is one of my favorite writers and though there are others who have tried to tread the Regency Romance stage (Marion Chesney, Patricia Veryan, Patricia Wrede)  they, IMHO as we now say,  have been found lacking.  Yes, I know.  Calm down.  You are sitting there screaming “What about Jane Austen!”   She is, it should not need saying, magnificent.  She is sharp, satirical and a wonderful window to her times and a woman’s lot in them.  For all her sterling qualities though, she’s never made me laugh so hard I dropped the book.  Ms. Heyer gives us one heroine who accidentally puts off a proposal by requesting Restorative Pork Jelly of her suitor (Frederica, which is currently on order for our collection) and another who shoots her cousin’s jilted suitor in an effort to drum up some sympathy for him (The Grand Sophy, also on order for the collection) and is not at all surprised when her plans actually produce the intended results.

Georgette Heyer was an accomplished historian and I believe it is this fact alone that ranks her work so far above others.  Her books are filled with romance and manners but she thoroughly grounds them in the times, providing a sweet counterpoint to Bernard Cornwell’s equally well researched Richard Sharpe stories.  It is Georgette Heyer who led me to delve so deeply into the non-fiction section, and frankly, I’d rather get my Regency fix reading a good biography than slogging my way through a pale imitation of Austen or Heyer.   Some titles I turn to are:

An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetian Murray

Social England under the Recency by John Ashton

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

Privilege and Scandal: the Remarkable Life of Harriet Spencer, Sister of Georgiana by Jo Manning

My Lady Scandalous: the Amazing Times and Outrageous Life of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Royal Courtesan by Jo Manning

Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England by Kristine Hughes


Apr 24 2009

What Would Jane Think?

by Lesley B

janepictIt is a truth universally acknowledged, that readers in possession of 6 novels must be in want of more.

I do wonder how Miss Austen would regard the Jane Austen industry, that growing collection of  books and films and blogs about her life and her in-the-public-domain characters. If you’ve read all the original novels and still have a jones for Jane, you might enjoy some of these additions to the Austen brand:


  • Jane Austen as a fictional character

The Jane Austen mystery series by Stephanie Barron: Jane and the unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor is the first book in the series. Jane and her sister, Cassandra, solve murders in Regency England.

Becoming Jane:  a 2007 film with Anne Hathaway that offers a mostly fictional account of Jane’s love affair with a penniless Irish law student.

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James:  There’s very little left of Jane Austen’s personal writing. Her sister burned most of her letters. This novel supposes that she kept a private diary detailing a secret love affair.

  • Continuations and completions

The Mr. & Mrs. Darcy series by Carrie Bebris:   As a newly married couple, the Darcys  must solve the mystery around the misfortunes of Elizabeth’s brother-in-law Charles Bingley and his snooty sister Caroline. First book in the series is Pride and prescience, or, A truth universally acknowledged.

Mr. Knightley’s Diary by Amanda Grange: The novel Emma, retold from Mr. Knightley’s point of view.

In a sort of literary hat trick, Joan Aiken:

1) completes one of Austen’s unfinished works in Emma Watson: the Watsons completed

2) invents a new story for Pride and Prejudice’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Lady Catherine’s Necklace

3) writes a sequel in Jane Fairfax, Jane Austen’s Emma, through another’s eyes.

  • Contemporary retellings

Clueless: The 1995 movie with Alicia Silverstone takes Emma to high school in Beverly Hills

Jane Austen in Scarsdale, or Love, death, and the SATs by Paula Marantz Cohen:  Persuasion in a high school counselor’s office, where a woman must face the man she rejected years ago when his nephew enrolls at her school.

Austenland by Shannon Hale:   Not a retelling of an Austen novel, but the story of a woman with a Mr. Darcy obsession, sent to a kind of  literary resort to experience life as one of Jane’s characters.

Someone should build a real Jane Austen resort. There must be room in Florida next to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.