There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
~ Emily Dickinson

Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness. ~ Helen Keller

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Review: Jane Austen

Jane Austen
Jane Austen by Ian P. Watt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although an old publication, many of the essays contained in this collection are invaluable and seminal. The collection begins with two Must Reads for every student of Austen: C.S. Lewis' "A Note of Jane Austen" and Virginia Woolf's "Jane Austen" (excerpted from The Common Room and an essay in the Nation). They are both simple essays, easily accessible and free from jargon, but getting to the root of Jane Austen's ethics and genius. Ian Watt's "On Sense and Sensibility" is also an insightful work that modifies the simplistic judgments sometimes formed during a first reading of the novel's seeming dualities. Several essays (Alan D. McKillop's "Critical Realism in Northanger Abbey"; Reuben A. Brower's "Light and Bright and Sparkling: Irony and Fiction in Pride and Prejudice"; Marvin Mudrick's "Irony as Discrimination"; and D. W. Harding's "Regulated Hatred: An Aspect of the Work of Jane Austen") explore Austen's unique and complex use of irony in narration, structure, and dialogue. I'd wanted to read "Regulated Hatred" for sometime, but it wasn't actually as subversive as I expected (this is an old collection; a modern critical collection might include more politics and feminism). I think Harding's argument has some merit, as it relates to Austen's attachment to individuals to whom she is morally or intellectually superior, but it's liable to a reading that ignores both Austen's moral foundations and sense of fun. "The Humiliation of Emma Woodhouse" by Mark Schorer was another essay I had wanted to read. Overall, it was one of the most fascinating of the essays that were new to me. It gave me several new ways of looking at my favorite Austen novel, although I'll need to reread it again to have a decisive opinion. I particularly enjoyed Arnold Kettle's essay on Emma, reminding us that "We do not 'lose ourselves' in Emma unless we are the kind of people who lose ourselves in life". As someone who considers Austen almost faultless, but occasionally feels a slight twinge about the class hierarchy ensconced at the end of that novel, I found the analysis unshrinking and relevant. Donald J. Greene's "Jane Austen and the Peerage" was a little hard to concentrate on late at night, but presented Austen's verisimilitude convincingly. I've saved the worst for last: As before, Kingsley Amis' "What Became of Jane Austen?" made me want to throw things out of windows.

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