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Why Jane Austen?

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  115 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews
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 t ...more
Hardcover, 285 pages
Published June 16th 2011 by Columbia University Press (first published April 5th 2011)
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I'm sure I'm not the first person who has frequently found themselves, after revealing their appreciation of Austen's novels, being asked that impertinent question, the one that drives just about every fan of the famous writer up the wall: 'Why Jane Austen?'.

It drives us crazy because it is so often difficult to put into words why we read - and love - Austen's novels. And it's difficult, too, because the question implies that there is little reason for people in the modern world to be reading t
Most frustrating to read in electronic form -- want access to footnotes/endnotes -- need hardcopy to mark-up and make notes.
Jessica Workman Holland (Tales Between the Pages)
Origianlly published at

I tend to study early American women authors, but Jane Austen is a particular British favorite of mine. The problem with Austen is that the rest of the world is equally fascinated with her; there are SO many sequels, papers, and academic books written on her that the field of Austen studies should be saturated and in no need of further contributions. I expected Why Jane Austen? to be redundant and dull, but found that Brownstein actually accomp
Dec 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A mixed bag. Worth reading for Austen fans/Janeites for some valuable insights into the texts and adaptations. But I found it a slog due to three problems: scattershot organization; too much unrelated content (almost to the point of stream-of-consciousness); and sentence structure that tended towards the baroque.
Kate Dana
I have to admit for all my love of Jane Austen I have never picked up a biography, except the ones in the front of her novels, which admittedly are brief. Yet, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the art of opposing viewpoints. It’s the one thing I miss about Graduate School----the critical analysis. When the opportunity to read and review Rachel M Brownstein’s Why Jane Austen?, I jumped at the chance.

This book fed my academic loving heart. Miss Brownstein takes a critical look at what draws us to Ja
Dec 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read this book over Christmas break in between semesters, and it was the most perfect timing because I felt like I was the student again instead of the professor!

It gave me a sense of nostalgia for graduate school: the precision of word choice, the clarity of solid, yet elegant sentence structure, and the perennial need for fresh insight. In particular, I drank up the portions where Brownstein wrote about her own messy teaching in attempting to make Emma, Fanny Price, or Austen herself relevan
Lisa Guidarini
Jun 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I know what you're thinking... Another book about Jane Austen?! There's already been so much scholarship, she has her own society, legions of fans, and everyone with even a passing affection or admiration for her has already published a book about this much-beloved literary icon. So who is this woman that feels there's still more to say?

She's Rachel M. Brownstein, an English professor at the Brooklyn College of CUNY, who's published two previous books: Becoming a Heroine: Reading About Women in
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
In Why Jane Austen?, Brownstein successfully walks the line between readability and scholarship. She clearly discusses topics with an academic's eye, but the writing is not dense, difficult to understand or boring. There is some possibility that this book will be more meaningful to those who already have a familiarity with Jane Austen's work, but it could also be useful for those who have steered clear of her work but want a working knowledge of her works and life.

My only criticism of Why Jane A
Mar 20, 2013 added it
P. 7 "The popular vogue of the 1990s changed the emphasis by narrowing the focus to that. It imagined all the protagonists of all the Austen novels as aiming to realize the undervalued female self by marrying up, marrying money, and marrying the best and sexiest guy, ..."

P. 67 "especially attractive to people at the margins of the dominant culture." "The serious promise her novels hold out, to my mind, is of a meritocracy--by suggesting persuasively that true distinction inheres first of all and
Oct 21, 2011 rated it liked it
This book is something of a mix between a popular book and a scholarly monograph. There isn't a lot of critical theory or heavy terminology to throw off the layperson, and Brownstein discusses the popularity of Austen in the modern world and how she uses her in classes. To me, these parts were far more interesting than her analyses of the novels themselves, which I didn't find too convincing. I most enjoyed the section where she looks at biographical interest in Austen, partly talking about why ...more
Elise Barker
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I learned a lot from this book although I already "knew" everything in it already. Brownstein gave me the language to say things I already knew about Jane Austen. I love that this book walks the lines between academic and personal so gracefully. I love the close reading of Austen's language, particularly of punctuation and word repetition. I love that she writes so confidently, and yet asks so many unanswered questions. The whole time I was working through this book I felt like I had a long way ...more
It took me 8 days to read this book. I had so much to understand and ponder. I have been thinking about the significance of the first senescence of Pride and Prejudice, paying much attention to the words "universally acknowledged," what the writer meant and what the reader expects among other things to be re-read. I have been thinking about the difference between the 18th-century's definition of "information" and out present-day definition of "information. (Austen was using the old definition.)
Jan 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
From the introduction: "Sometime in the 1908s, soon after the publication of my first book, I went to a literary party in Brooklyn at the home of a fashionably gritty playwright: jug wine, cheese and crackers, and brownies laced with cannabis, homemade by his wife."

If only all JA lit-crit books started this way.
Nov 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
There are no books like Jane Austen's. Brownstein's book is great because you learn what you have been missing in Austen's books. You can reread them and enjoy them again in new ways. Keep reading when you think Brownstein is getting boring. She is making an interesting point. Every time.
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fantastic book. Best book I have read about the history of Austen's literary reception. It is also an excellent road map for the scope of her criticism. Read this one in 3 days! As compelling as a good novel.
Sep 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley

While I did not doubt how thoroughly researched this book was, it felt so much like a homework assignment that I just did not enjoy this very much. It was ok, did not feel like I wasted my time reading this or anything, but not a favorite.

Mary Kristine
Jun 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Every time I begin a about Jane it compels me to re- read Jane. So again I am lost in Georgian England
May 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Review available on our blog.
Dec 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
So far this is very interesting but I have read all of Austen's books many times. I love the scholarship aspect of this book. I am about 150 pages in.
Jun 25, 2012 rated it did not like it
Actually didn't finish this book. A bit too dry and wasn't what I thought it was going to be.
Karen Blodgett
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