Monday, May 23, 2016
Book Review: Jane's Fame — How Jane Austen Conquered the World
Don't go ahead and dismiss this review, however. It had its ups and downs, though that does make for a confusing book to review. But to start off on a good note, just look at that cover art; it makes my heart happy.
I purchased (or rather, I believe my mother did?) this book several years ago, started it, stopped. Started it. Stopped. Finally in February of this year I began the book again, determined to cross the finish line. It took me until now, with a month's break, but I was finally able to close the book on the last words. Satisfying.
As I got into the first couple chapters, I was skeptical. It appeared a lot of what the author was stating as fact were assumptions, but the fact is, Jane Austen's life is shrouded in conflicting accounts and few material evidences of her life. If you're going to write a biography on her life, expect speculation.
By combining family accounts, personal letters, and the views of the time, the biographer Claire Harman is able to give us a glimpse into Jane's life, one that I'd never heard before reading this book. She covers Jane's personal life, her character, her writing and struggle with publication, and eventually modern-day Janeites and adaptations through the years.
I let go of my skepticism and gobbled up the first few chapters. Everyone has their own personal view on Jane, but to receive a personal view influenced by hard facts was fascinating, and made me love Jane Austen even more. (I especially enjoyed reading about what Jane Austen thought of her own writing and the process, gathered mostly from letters and family accounts. It humanized her.) I did notice the author seemed to repeat herself, especially in mentioning that there isn't much information to go on...everyone has a different account...but then continue on with her said assumptions. She could've cut down on these observances.
The middle chapters were rather dull, and that's where I set the book aside for a month. Leaving the personal world of Jane Austen and focusing on more technical aspects, such as publications and numerously mentioned critiques, I found myself skimming through the notes.
Again, this is how Austen conquered the world — her influence on chick lit, feminists, and film, to name a few. You'll get a couple chapters on her life, but if you're a true enthusiast and want to know more about how persuasive she's been over the lives of millions, I highly recommend you read this book. Decide for yourself what you accept as fact or fiction, possible or impossible.
And know that Jane couldn't care less what you think of her.