Men who write about Jane Austen embarrass me generally. Why should they be so puzzled about her? About her lasting appeal? Her wit? Her skill and terr...moreMen who write about Jane Austen embarrass me generally. Why should they be so puzzled about her? About her lasting appeal? Her wit? Her skill and terrific earning power especially today? It was obvious to me at fourteen and still is a lifetime later that she is incomparable, incandescent and writes impeccably. If she wants to say something, she does. Clearly she worked at her craft. But what was she doing to/for her readers, her style all innocent and wise? Finally, however, here’s a male, a scholar, a Brit who has both the sense and that other thing to clearly expose why Jane Austen’s brilliance touches generations of readers. (We see the movies just to be reminded of the six novels.) Despite his title: What Matters in Jane Austen? And the tag line: twenty crucial puzzles solved. Despite the question mark, as if we don’t inchoately know what matter about Jane Austen in our depths, John Mullan answers well. (Look up his credentials; he’s earned the right to ask and speculatively answer these questions.)
I was sold with the flyleaf: “We learn what novels she read, how much money she (and Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor Dashwood, even Fanny Price’s mother) had to live on, and what she saw at the theater. Context, context, context which we no longer can conceive of, yet are vital to the plots. Even without knowing any of these social fields, we get what she’s laughing or raging at from the novels. Still, it’s interesting none the less. What genius to still intrigues not only her readers but the scholars too.
So this is what he’s found: Why age matters; what characters call each other and why; how her characters look; who dies in a given novel; the games they play; how much money is enough; what characters read, blush, think about sex, and what enduring literary form Jane Austen invented that’s still in use. Who never speaks directly, quick, think back. Did you notice? Probably not, that’s Jane’s game. So much skill and merriment that we take for granted. Will I list his answers? Not fair. Read the intriguing book. I know you will blossom from it. Then you can go back and re-read all of them again, no excuses necessary. (less)
Reading Regency novels used to mean laughing through a Georgette Heyer. Reading an authorized, somewhat scholarly, biography of her life a hypnotic bo...moreReading Regency novels used to mean laughing through a Georgette Heyer. Reading an authorized, somewhat scholarly, biography of her life a hypnotic bore. Surely Jennifer Kloester, with carte blanche to Heyer’s papers, letters, contracts, family and publishing history would also delight readers with some of the same tongue in cheek humor. Not at all.
But, having read Heyer through high school, college, seminary, motherhood, divorce etc., I knew the only way to get my sealegs back after the biography was to re-read one of the novels. As it happens I only had a battered 1985 Bantam paperback of The Nonesuch. Why? Because I heard Germaine Greer in the early seventies (remember her?) bashing Heyer at Washington’s National Press Club for being an anti-feminist, mind-altering drug for silly women. Well, there it is.
Most of her books I borrowed from the Bethesda Public Library. Then some wandered into my bookstore later, but I only had the one on my bookshelves this weekend.
One thing Heyer wasn’t was a silly goose, like the ones she contrasted with the strong-willed, slap up to the mark, canny females, the focus of each plot. For women are the reasons for the books. Not a ninnyhammer among them. Bird-witted sure, some but not the protagonists. There for contrast of how a wise woman runs her life.
Yet I do recommend the biography. Did you know that this frippery author wrote her first novel at seventeen, published it at nineteen in order to support her mother, brothers and grandmother after the sudden death of her father? That she put both husband and son through the rigors and expense of the English lawyers’ education and establishment. That she struggled all her life, and mainly won, for her publication and royalty rights. That she was fierce and strong and half Russian. That she INVENTED the Regency novel, all others are knock-offs of her historical research. That her favorite author was Jane Austen – for Austen's wit, and the sharp-eyed incision she preformed on her society. Jane Austen, btw, did NOT write Regency novels.
On the other hand, Heyer, although later she preferred the pronunciation HARE, was beyond conservative in her politics mainly as I read it, because she despised having the heavy taxes taken out of her royalties. So yes, I am glad I read the bio. I recommend it for any working writer/reader to see how hard she worked. Twenty thousand words in a weekend. To see how she took a bit of idea into a plot. How diligently she wrote – often staying up all night for the sheer writingness of it. Just like I did to read her latest book as they came out in the previous century. That fierce energy is there in the novels, it gave us something to go on.
Will I re-read more? Maybe, I pretty busy writing novels myself. What a blast of encouragement this bio is for women, for writers, for readers. I guess I will have to give it four stars for the subject – and all the hard work of the biographer. Kudos. (less)
If GR had ten stars I would put them all in Lavinia’s crown. Because I love to read, I’ve read some fairly inept as well as amazingly ept books. I’m s...moreIf GR had ten stars I would put them all in Lavinia’s crown. Because I love to read, I’ve read some fairly inept as well as amazingly ept books. I’m sure, if I thought about it really hard, I could come up with another that equals Lavinia – but right now I just cannot.
And the only other Le Guin book I treasure is Steering the Craft, a handbook for writers. Early on, when I was too callow, I decided I did not like reading science fiction or fantasy genres. I just could not keep track of the names of places and planets I suppose so I never was one who knew Le Guin’s major epics. I did read a biography or perhaps it was an autobiography and am respectful of her life and career.
I remember Vergil, from Dante, and vaguely from The Aeneid in high school. But this novel is the great mature work of an incredible master of the craft who decides in her seventies to re-learn Latin, take all her skills of making a story sing, adds magical effects and leaves us flying like a white owl through the woods enlightened.
Not once did cheap emotional tricks torture the reader. We could smell and taste the daily life of pre-Rome/Etruscans. Le Guin calls it ‘making the story thick.” We know those women, although they lived in a poet’s vision of thirteenth century BCE. We feel the texture of their clothes, the married love, sun light on a real hero’s chest as he holds his baby.
LeGuin’s whole novel springs from one slight mention: Lavinia, second wife of Aeneus who escaped the physical destruction of Troy.
Do you get it that the authoring awes me? By the concept of the book? By the book itself? It has been respectfully designed and published. It’s a thorough treasure. A strong woman touching us comes across the ages. Highly recommend. Now to read it again. Then all her other remarkable work, now that I'm ready. (less)