Thursday, September 22, 2011
Why Jane Austen? by Rachel M Brownstein: A Book Review
Why Jane Austen?
Author: Rachel M. Brownstein
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press (June 28, 2011)
Source: Supplied by the Author's Public Relations Dept.
I have to admit for all my love of Jane Austen I have never picked up a biography, except the ones in the front of her novels, which admittedly are brief. Yet, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the art of opposing viewpoints. It’s the one thing I miss about Graduate School----the critical analysis. When the opportunity to read and review Rachel M Brownstein’s Why Jane Austen?, I jumped at the chance.
This book fed my academic loving heart. Miss Brownstein takes a critical look at what draws us to Jane Austen and what makes us stick around. Pop culture is a funny thing as it can cultivate or destroy a beautiful thing. Jane Austen has caught onto the masses like a fever that refuses to abate. So, really what does draw us to Miss Austen?
It seems and I am not surprised after my foray into Women’s Studies that Jane Austen is tied to, at least in critic’s minds, feminism. Brownstein brings this to our attention and explores what it is about Jane Austen that ties her to feminism or the belief in general. Let me not dissuade you into assuming this book is all about feminism, let me caution you for a moment to say that while a look at Jane Austen and feminism is certainly a theme throughout the book that it is in no way the main stage.
Brownstein takes a look through out to study at the use of language in Jane Austen. For example, just moving the word truth to a different area of a sentence can change the meaning entirely and Jane Austen was a master at it. In fact I had not even considered the implications because I read Jane Austen just because I enjoy it, but perhaps I should pay more attention to Austen’s prose.
Taking a look at each of Jane Austen’s works Brownstein takes us on a riveting ride throughout. As I mentioned earlier this is a critical analysis of Jane Austen and what her work meant and still means today. Of all her novels Pride and Prejudice (P&P) is a favorite of most of us. There is a charm about it. Something I did not know is that Mansfield Park (MP) was the novel Austen published after P&P. MP is usually the least favorite of the Austen novels. What inspired Austen to write two dramatically different novels?
I could go on about how Brownstein deftly takes a look at Austen in film, the desire for Austen prequels/sequels and how something of a bygone era continues to draw us to her. Brownstein makes you think---stop and consider and reconsider----your views on Jane Austen.
However there is something almost more interesting than Jane Austen herself in Brownstein’s book and that is a look at Lord Byron and other authors which may have influenced Austen, but by far Lord Byron is the best. Mr. Darcy is an iconic Byronic hero. Was that Jane Austen’s aim? Lord Byron is the antithesis of Jane Austen. For all of Byron’s impropriety Jane Austen counters it with her proper novels. It was a debate, sadly I had been unaware of, but now that I know of it I am intrigued. Brownstein does much to abate my intrigue by exploring the Byron connection.
Wollstonecraft is the perpetuated mother of feminism in academia, also arguably the predecessor of the Byronic approach to human emotion. There are shades of Wollstonecraft in Austen argues Brownstein. They are products of romanticism, a period in literature which gave us arguably the best classics.
Brownstein’s look at Jane Austen and why we gravitate toward her kept me riveted. It’s intelligent work like hers that make me fall in love with reading again. Why Jane Austen should be a part of any Austen devotee’s curriculum.