Why Jane Austen?

Overview

From the first publication of Pride and Prejudice to recent film versions of her life and work, Jane Austen has continued to provoke controversy and inspire fantasies of peculiar intimacy. Whether celebrated for her realism, proto-feminism, or patrician gentility, imagined as a subversive or a political conservative, Austen generates passions shaped by the ideologies and trends of her readers' time—and by her own memorable stories, characters, and elusive narrative cool.

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Why Jane Austen?

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Overview

From the first publication of Pride and Prejudice to recent film versions of her life and work, Jane Austen has continued to provoke controversy and inspire fantasies of peculiar intimacy. Whether celebrated for her realism, proto-feminism, or patrician gentility, imagined as a subversive or a political conservative, Austen generates passions shaped by the ideologies and trends of her readers' time—and by her own memorable stories, characters, and elusive narrative cool.

In this book, Rachel M. Brownstein considers constructions of Jane Austen as a heroine, moralist, satirist, romantic, woman, and author and the changing notions of these categories. She finds echoes of Austen's insights and techniques in contemporary Jane-o-mania, the commercially driven, erotically charged popular vogue that aims paradoxically to preserve and liberate, to correct and collaborate with old Jane. Brownstein's brilliant discussion of the distinctiveness and distinction of Austen's genius clarifies the reasons why we read the novelist-or why we should read her-and reorients the prevailing view of her work. Reclaiming the rich comedy of Austen while constructing a new narrative of authorship, Brownstein unpacks the author's fascinating entanglement with readers and other admirers.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jane Austen led a relatively obscure life. So why Jane Austen, we might rhetorically ask, along with Brownstein? The term Janeites was coined by an English literary critic in 1894, and Jane-o-Mania makes its debut in this book, which is part lit crit and, in its better sections, part cultural and social history. Much of this account is engaging: it cleverly begins with a 1949 Carl Rose cartoon depicting a "Hooray for Jane" marching band, and concentrates on explaining Austen's rising stock. But it might be a bit much for nonacademics; a little too cute in that winking, academic way. The question mark of the title and many others become something of a writer's tic, and the reader begs for some answers, too. Nonetheless, along the way we learn a lot that is unexpected. For example, Harpo Marx had a surprising role in bringing Austen to the silver screen. Brownstein, professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, expends even more fruitful energy on Austen's contemporary, Lord Byron, on Mary Wollstonecraft, on "The Aspern Papers." Her observations on all these works are scholarly but marked by ingenuity. 17 illus. (June)
Seattle Times
Along the way, the reader, too, may discover in Brownstein's book what the author discovers in Austen: a means of transporting ourselves to a more gracious and better-ordered world.

— Melinda Bargreen

The Midwest Book Review

An intriguing discussion of one of history's literary giantesses.

JASNA News
...her brilliant critical insights and comprehensive survey of Austen studies - including its excesses - merit a wide readership.

— Elsa Solender

Honor Moore

Brownstein has written a delectable hybrid of biographical and cultural criticism, struck with brilliant splashes of memoir. On reading, you feel as if you just finished Pride and Prejudice, you Skype a brainy friend who knows Austen inside out -- the conversation is so delicious, you'll whip through Persuasion just so you can talk to her tomorrow! Why Jane Austen? Why the movies, miniseries, museums, sequels, novelizations, prequels, criticisms and zombies? Read this book and you'll know. Then put it on the shelf next to those six novels, even richer now for this lady's attentions.

Fay Weldon

This vital handbook for Janeites is both a store house of diverting facts and a history of literary obsession, gracefully steering the reader through a maelstrom of conflicting views on Jane Austen's life and times. A fascinating account of how Austen has been glorified yet exploited by film and television over the decades—so Mr. Darcy lives forever to woo Elizabeth, whether wearing the face of yesterday's Laurence Olivier or today's Colin Firth.

William Deresiewicz

Why Jane Austen? is a warmhearted, personal, and humane meditation on Austen and Austenolatry. It is also, in the tradition of Becoming a Heroine, smart, witty, eloquent, and joyfully wide-ranging, a mixture of anecdote, cultural criticism, biography, literary history, and close reading. By bringing serious literary thought to a wider audience, this book is accessible to anyone acquainted with Austen's novels. It performs one of the most important services of humanistic scholarship.

Mary Ann O'Farrell

Rachel M. Brownstein's smart and often charming book reengages and reinvigorates Lionel Trilling's question, 'why we read Jane Austen'—a matter that Austen scholars know is of cultural as well as personal import. Brownstein writes with the assurance and comfort of a senior scholar surveying the terrain. She is opinionated in the best sense, but she also writes from a place of considerable and valuable self-consciousness. Parts of her book serve as memoir: of her life as a teacher, as a scholar asked in public and private social encounters to serve as representative and explainer of Austen the cultural icon, as a reader whose contexts for Austen have changed with changing geography and social meanings. It is one of Brownstein's contentions that, reading Austen and seeking her, we find ourselves.

Seattle Times - Melinda Bargreen

Along the way, the reader, too, may discover in Brownstein's book what the author discovers in Austen: a means of transporting ourselves to a more gracious and better-ordered world.

JASNA News - Elsa Solender

...her brilliant critical insights and comprehensive survey of Austen studies - including its excesses - merit a wide readership.

From the Publisher

Rachel M. Brownstein has written a delectable hybrid of biographical and cultural criticism, struck with brilliant splashes of memoir. On reading, you feel as if you just finished Pride and Prejudice, you Skype a brainy friend who knows Austen inside out—the conversation is so delicious, you'll whip through Persuasion just so you can talk to her tomorrow! Why Jane Austen? Why the movies, miniseries, museums, sequels, novelizations, prequels, criticisms and zombies? Read this book and you'll know. Then put it on the shelf next to those six novels, even richer now for this lady's attentions.

This vital handbook for Janeites is both a store house of diverting facts and a history of literary obsession, gracefully steering the reader through a maelstrom of conflicting views on Jane Austen's life and times. A fascinating account of how Austen has been glorified yet exploited by film and television over the decades—so Mr. Darcy lives forever to woo Elizabeth, whether wearing the face of yesterday's Laurence Olivier or today's Colin Firth.

Why Jane Austen? is a warmhearted, personal, and humane meditation on Austen and Austenolatry. It is also, in the tradition of Becoming a Heroine, smart, witty, eloquent, and joyfully wide-ranging, a mixture of anecdote, cultural criticism, biography, literary history, and close reading. By bringing serious literary thought to a wider audience, this book is accessible to anyone acquainted with Austen's novels. It performs one of the most important services of humanistic scholarship.

Rachel M. Brownstein's smart and often charming book reengages and reinvigorates Lionel Trilling's question, 'why we read Jane Austen'—a matter that Austen scholars know is of cultural as well as personal import. Brownstein writes with the assurance and comfort of a senior scholar surveying the terrain. She is opinionated in the best sense, but she also writes from a place of considerable and valuable self-consciousness. Parts of her book serve as memoir: of her life as a teacher, as a scholar asked in public and private social encounters to serve as representative and explainer of Austen the cultural icon, as a reader whose contexts for Austen have changed with changing geography and social meanings. It is one of Brownstein's contentions that, reading Austen and seeking her, we find ourselves.

JASNA News (second review by Maggie Lane)

...the hours spent reading this book are as enjoyable as conversing with a perceptive and sympathetic friend, and as a rewarding as being guided by a superb teacher.

Library Journal
Combining literary criticism, biography, cultural studies, and women's studies to build a case for why Jane Austen remains relevant to so many readers, Brownstein (English, Brooklyn Coll. & CUNY Graduate Ctr.; Becoming a Heroine: Reading About Women in Novels) compares Austen's life to contemporaries such as Lord Byron and explores how her novels have been interpreted and used by later writers. Brownstein's interpretations of Austen's novels, letters, and juvenilia are fresh and frequently illuminating. While she pays attention to all of Austen's novels, she focuses most heavily on Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Devotees of Austen's other novels may feel slighted, but the two novels do act as natural contrasts. Pride and Prejudice is the most frequently adapted and probably the best-loved of Austen's novels, while Austen expected that she herself would be the only person to like the title character of Emma. Brownstein dissects film and television adaptations, charting the changing perceptions of the novelist and the novels, and explores the industry of "fake" Austen fiction as well. VERDICT This book will delight devoted readers and students of Jane Austen and may inspire readers who have disliked Austen in the past. Cultural studies enthusiasts interested in the interplay between high culture and pop culture will also enjoy it.—Sharon E. Reidt, Marlboro Coll. Lib., VT
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231153904
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel M. Brownstein is professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of two critically acclaimed books, Becoming a Heroine: Reading About Women in Novels and Tragic Muse: Rachel of the Comédie-Française.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsAbbreviationsIntroduction1. Why We Read Jane Austen2. Looking for Jane3. Neighbors4. Authors5. Why We Reread Jane AustenAfterwordsNotesIndex

Columbia University Press

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