Sometimes, a book comes along which just fits with your frame of mind. I think this is the case for me with On Rereading. I often feel as though I hav...moreSometimes, a book comes along which just fits with your frame of mind. I think this is the case for me with On Rereading. I often feel as though I have an obligation to read rather than reread, that it's somehow more virtuous to read something new to me than to revisit a book I'm already acquainted with. This is partly the result of knowing exactly how many unread books I own (296 right now, thank you very much), and partly a general feeling of so many books, so little time -- how can I justify spending time rereading?
Spacks acknowledges this feeling and shares it: what Roger Angell calls the "sweet dab of guilt attached to rereading" (her quote). So she embarks on a deliberate process of rereading, as an experiment, to see if she can figure out what is the good of rereading: what can rereading supply which first readings can't? In the course of her year-long experiment, she revisits childhood favorites, books she teaches, guilty pleasures, books she ought to like, and books she loves and has reread many times. (The Austen chapter is particularly good and one I will have to return to next time I reread Emma and Pride and Prejudice.)
In the end, she suggests that the best metaphor for rereading is that of a palimpsest, originally writing material reused so that many layers are visible. Each time you reread, you add something new and obscure something old, but bits and pieces of every layer are always accessible. Rereading, she concludes, gives the reader a richer, fuller experience, allowing new interpretations along with the joy of revisiting your past self and earlier thoughts.
I had been hoping to convince myself to spend more time rereading this year, to revisit both books I've read many times and books I've only read once. I couldn't have found a better argument than Spacks provides here.(less)
I don't know, I thought this was sort of shallow. It's far from a full biography (whatever the back cover claims to the contrary), and even the later...moreI don't know, I thought this was sort of shallow. It's far from a full biography (whatever the back cover claims to the contrary), and even the later chapters, on Austen's cultural influence, were not as in-depth as I would have liked. For someone who's less well-read about Austen, this probably would be a good read; for me, it was less than I thought it could have been. I think I was expecting something more like Lucasta Miller's The Bronte Myth and just didn't get it.(less)
This is an excellently researched and presented biography of Jane Austen's cousin Eliza, who married first a French aristocrat and then (after his dea...moreThis is an excellently researched and presented biography of Jane Austen's cousin Eliza, who married first a French aristocrat and then (after his death by guillotine in the French Revolution) Jane's brother Henry. Eliza's story is largely presented through a series of her vivacious letters, which together with Le Faye's short narratives connecting the letters present a well-rounded picture of a charming and elegant woman. (less)
Jane Hayes is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice: specifically, with the BBC adaptation and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. (Mmm, Colin Firth.) When an elder...moreJane Hayes is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice: specifically, with the BBC adaptation and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. (Mmm, Colin Firth.) When an elderly relatives dies and bequeaths Jane a trip to England to visit Austenland, a resort which caters to the Austen-obsessed, Jane decides to go and have fun playing the role of a Regency maiden out to snare a husband.
I suppose this could have been fun (although the idea of the resort sounds bloody awful to me), but there's next to no characterization, and the style is annoyingly arch. I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as Hale's very good YA novels; in fact, I barely made it through the book.(less)
Pride and Prejudice has long been my favorite Austen, but after several rereadings, I think that Persuasion may have overtaken it at the top of the li...morePride and Prejudice has long been my favorite Austen, but after several rereadings, I think that Persuasion may have overtaken it at the top of the list (or at least equaled it). The heroine, Anne Elliot, is quiet and unassuming and the story of her romance with Captain Wentworth could hardly be more different from that between Elizabeth and Darcy, yet it is perhaps more deeply felt and written.
The story begins eight years after Anne, on the advice of her friend Lady Russell, broke off her engagement to Captain Wentworth; now, at twenty-seven, Anne's "bloom [has:] vanished early" and she is nearly an old maid. When Anne's father, Sir Walter Elliot, is forced to rent out their family estate, Anne goes to live first with her married sister Mary and then with her father and unmarried sister at Bath, and Captain Wentworth returns to the scene. The resulting renewal of their romance unfolds gently and tenderly, culminating in a deservedly famous scene in which Anne, debating with Captain Harville within Wentworth's earshot, movingly defends the emotional capacity of women: "All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone."
I imagine that when asked which of Austen's heroines is their favorite, far more people would choose Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse than Anne Elliot, yet I find Anne particularly sympathetic - a woman of deep sympathies, common sense, good judgment, and self-awareness. Her journey from resignation to joy is beautifully and sympathetically delineated by Austen, without the loss of her usual sharp wit. (less)
Mansfield Park is perhaps not the one of Austen's novels which appeals the most to modern sensibilities; after all, reasonably faithful adaptations ha...moreMansfield Park is perhaps not the one of Austen's novels which appeals the most to modern sensibilities; after all, reasonably faithful adaptations have been made recently of several of Austen's other novels, while Mansfield Park was changed into something Austen lovers barely recognized. Mansfield Park is the home of Fanny Price, the poor relation of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram (Fanny's mother's sister), who took her to live with them from her impoverished Portsmouth home; Fanny is largely overlooked and taken for granted by the Bertrams, her other aunt Mrs. Norris, and the Bertram children, but she finds solace in the friendship of her cousin Edmund Bertram. When the Crawford siblings, Henry and Mary, come to Mansfield parsonage to stay with their sister, the wife of the clergyman Dr. Grant, they unsettle Mansfield society with gay doings and flirtations which lead to more serious events.
Fanny is self-effacing to the point of passivity, in marked contrast to Austen's more lively heroines, like Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice or Emma Woodhouse of Emma, which I think is one reason Mansfield Park is somewhat difficult to like on first reading (and why it was changed so drastically for the film version); yet her moral sense and voice pervade Mansfield Park, and gradually, one grows to realize that she is a woman of deep convictions. When the others decide to put on a play of dubious moral quality and even Edmund joins in, Fanny resists everyone's blandishments to persuade her to take part; when Sir Thomas tries to convince her to marry a man she doesn't love, she resists that as well. She's no Lizzy, but she holds fast to her beliefs more than anyone else in this novel and emerges as a truly worthy heroine.
I wish that Austen had seen fit to match Fanny with a more interesting hero, but I guess you can't have everything. Mansfield Park does have much else to savor: the brilliant episode of the play-acting and the scenes at Portsmouth, unlike anything else Austen depicted in their portrait of family life among the not-so-well-off, are particularly masterly. It may be slower than some of the other novels, but Mansfield Park is one of the deepest and most rewarding of Austen's books. (less)
Not my favorite Austen, but even less favorite Austens are still wonderful. _Northanger Abbey_ was particularly fun to read after _The Castle of Otran...moreNot my favorite Austen, but even less favorite Austens are still wonderful. _Northanger Abbey_ was particularly fun to read after _The Castle of Otranto_, and I love the devious heroine of _Lady Susan_.(less)