I’ve been having fun reading Jane Austen-related or themed books over the last few months in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. Some have been serious looks at aspects of Jane Austen’s world. Others have been lightweight “fun” books, while others have used Jane and her world as a way to look at our own, with varying degrees of humor (and, I might add, success.) Only one has completely captivated me.
The book wanders delightfully from subject to subject; an advertisement from a newspaper announcing the auctioning of the Austen’s furniture upon Jane’s father’s retirement mentions, among the goods to be sold, several theatre scenes (painted backdrops), which launches an examination of the Austen family’s love of theatre and the role theatre plays in Jane’s books, particularly Mansfield Park. I have to confess that Mansfield Park was always my least favorite of her works, but in the middle of this chapter I found myself going back and rereading it and gaining a deeper appreciation of and liking for the story (though I still can’t view Edmund as hero material. Just ain’t gonna happen.)
The other thing this book accomplishes, as far as I’m concerned, is to demolish the rather mealy-mouthed picture of Jane painted by her early biographers, many of them her own close relatives. They tried to present a picture of her as a demure, home-loving Victorian spinster, which simply wasn’t the case: Jane Austen loved to travel and jaunt about London when she had the chance, could have an earthy sense of humor at times, and was, overall, much more a product of the more open-minded 18th century than of the more prudish 19th.
So if you want to read one Jane Austen-related book this year, I highly recommend The Real Jane Austen. It’s not a light and fluffy read, but it’s always an interesting one.