I am passing through what I call a ‘Pride and Prejudice phase’ during which I binge watch the BBC adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the mini-series of 1995, and Persuasion, the film from 2007. If I’m really in the mood I watch the movie adaptation of Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow. This is usually a repertoire I repeat every few years but this year a library visit has made me deviate from my well-worn path. During a usual browsing session at my local library I saw two Jane Austen related non-fiction books and I promptly decided I needed to check them out and broaden my Janeite horizon. And so I did, and since then I have added to my Jane Austen collection and now own four of her books: ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Persuasion’, ‘Emma’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’. I plan to purchase the remaining too but at the moment I am torn between the thought of buying similar editions or not. The struggle is real!
But let’s see which books spurred this Jane Austen book haul.
‘Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures’ by Claudia L. Johnson – is a scholarly work on how Jane Austen and her novels are perceived in English culture after her death. It is a relatively short book but the unnecessarily (in my humble opinion) elevated language makes is a slow read. Make sure to keep a thesaurus at hand as some of the words have vexed me terribly. It would be an interesting read if not for the language as the book explores, for example the lack of a genuine portrait of Jane Austen. It was interesting to see how the one genuine sketch of Jane Austen’s by her sister Cassandra has changed throughout the years and how each of them was aligned to the way the artist saw Jane Austen.
What I liked about his book is that it presents the views of Jane Austen’s fans (Janeites) alongside its critics. For example, I never knew that many saw her novels as overly simplistic, as in lacking substantiality. How she was concerned with the most mundane and unimportant subjects, as balls and marriage. Others on the other hand say that this simplicity is what makes her works so great. That the simplicity is what makes her readers connect to her characters.
It was interesting to see how her books were viewed at different points in time after her death, for example before and during WWI, during WW2 and after. I just wish it would have been written in a language more accessible to the masses.
‘Jane Austen and Marriage’ by Hazel Jones is exactly what the title says it is, an exploration of the institution of marriage during the time of Jane Austen. Although a research study, meant for academics, the language of this compared to Cults and Cultures is much more accessible. The book is full of references and quotes which fragments the text considerably, making it harder to read. Additionally, I felt that the references to real people from Jane Austen’s life alongside references to the characters of her novels confused me at time. So you must be familiar with her books in order to get more out of this book. But to get the max out of this book you should know more about her life than what you saw in the latest film adaptation of it.
I was interested to find out more about the marriage institution in Jane Austen’s time. Even though this book did not add substantially to my knowledge of the subject I did learn some interesting details. But to say that I have learned nothing from this book is an exaggeration. I loved how the young ladies and families regarded the knowledge of the character of a potential partner as important in deciding whether the marriage will be a successful one or not and how the marriage market teemed of the so called ‘mercenary parents’ who only considered the fortune the most important thing when deciding who the potential son in law might be.
I felt that the examples given shouldn’t have relied that extensively on Jane Austen’s work. The book contains references to family members, neighbors and acquaintances and even letters from that time period, but without a solid knowledge of Jane Austen’s personal life many of these examples were lost on me.
Overall I enjoyed both books and have broadened my Janeite horizon, but the academic nature of the books made them hard to read. If your knowledge of Jane Austen and her works extends to seeing TV and film adaptations and reading the novels then Jane Austen and Marriage is a good place to start if you want to delve deeper into the world of our Jane. I would only recommend Cults and Cultures to those with extensive knowledge of Jane Austen’s works and life and those well versed in reading academic texts.
My next step is rereading the novels, the only question is where to start?Follow me: