Why Jane Austen?
Columbia University Press, 2011
When I was approached to review Why Jane Austen? I jumped at the chance - over the last year, I've really gotten involved with the Janeite community, and I welcomed the opportunity to take a closer look at the concept of Jane's attraction. Going into the reading, I expected something along the lines of A Jane Austen Education - a look at what Jane's novels mean to us as a people or society, what we learn from them, why we love the stories and keep returning to them over and over. What I got was something far more scholastic - and while different, definitely not 'bad.'
Why Jane Austen? is essentially a literary critique, with a healthy dash of analysis and a sprinkling of cross-curricular thought. That is to say: Brownstein has definitely done her research and gathered the works and opinions of scholars and readers spanning from Austen's contemporaries (and herself!) on through to our own contemporaries. I think it's striking that there is such a body of 'work' to draw from, in terms of just how deeply Jane Austen has been embedded into not only the scholastic cannon but also the social experience. With deft handling and navigation, Brownstein presents her findings and interpretations in a way that is accessible for readers who are merely lovers of Jane (assuming, of course, they're read at least a little nonfiction/critical analysis-type works before - otherwise, they might get a little lost). I learned a great deal, and found myself wishing I could have either been in an English class that used this as a text or could teach a class myself using this as a text.
With Jane Austen being such a hot commodity right now, there's an overwhelming amount of information available - Why Jane Austen? is a concise volume that guides readers not only through the literary aspects of Jane's appeal, but also looks at the social and cultural elements. There's even a foray into Jane's place in gender studies and feminism. (I'll be honest: not my favorite part.) Why Jane Austen? is not the light, introspective read I thought it'd be, but I am happy to have read it and broadened my Janeite horizon.
Book provided by publicist for review.