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Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  244 Ratings  ·  90 Reviews
A brilliant, illuminating reassessment of the life and work of Jane Austen that makes clear how Austen has been misread for the past two centuries and that shows us how she intended her books to be read, revealing, as well, how subversive and daring--how truly radical--a writer she was.

In this fascinating, revelatory work, Helena Kelly--dazzling Jane Austen authority--look
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 2nd 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published November 3rd 2016)
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Abigail Bok
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
The publicists of Helena Kelly’s Jane Austen: The Secret Radical would have us believe that the book is itself a radical document—an upending of all we “know” about Jane Austen. If the “we” envisioned here means fans who have come to Jane Austen through the filmed adaptations and other popular-culture manifestations, those publicists are doubtless correct. Austen scholars, by contrast, will find less that is new or surprising, along with some ideas that are overstated or simply odd. Still, Auste ...more
Rachel Knowles
Jan 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rachel by: Review copy
Consider carefully before you read this book!
If you are happy reading Jane Austen’s novels as the Regency era love stories that I have always believed them to be, then don’t read this book. It might help you to understand some of the influences that affected Jane’s writings which might lead to a greater enjoyment of her work, but it is also possible that you might not like everything you discover. If you take all Kelly’s ideas seriously, this book could completely undermine the way that you look
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed this but agree with those reviewers who feel that it is (1) overly assertive about what Austen thought and felt - something which it criticises fairly fiercely in other authors -, that (2) it draws some fairly tenuous connections (just one example; Edward Ferrars and the scissors is far too heavily relied upon for what is ultimately a fairly weak Freudian interpretation) and (3) it could have done without the fictitious/imaginary sections.
Whilst I am glad I read the book and feel I lea
Her comments about Mr Knightley are ludicrous!!!!(Dept of Disclaimers: Mr Knightley is my favorite Austen hero) And I'm not talking about those old boring trite age/closeness of family things that I've fought against repeatedly and written about.

From John Mullan's review of the book( from the Guardian:

"As elsewhere in the book, however, Kelly’s eagerness to find a politically critical subtext leads her to ignore the narrative logic of the fiction. Few ar

Originally I gave it 2 stars, but after ruminating on it I had to knock it down to 1 star for the author’s sheer audacity because in her mind the only one person to have ever read Jane Austen correctly is herself.

*hello eye roll, my old friend*

It is as if she imagines herself to be the only person who has ever contemplated Jane’s writing before, and the few critics she does acknowledge are swiftly swept aside, sometimes only in a footnote!

Spoiler alert for s
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I always thought Jane Austen had a subversive sense of humour, it's good to see my theory proven right with actual real research and academic rigor. If only there was a similar book for Dickens my literary life would be completely complete.
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
The author's tone really rubbed me the wrong way. She wrote very condescendingly, as if anyone who didn't agree with her ideas was a complete idiot. It felt like she was working too hard to make Jane Austen's works fit the "secret radical" image, choosing the most cynical, negative interpretations possible. There was some interesting background info on the social issues of the time, but I did not agree with all the conclusions drawn.
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Ka-boom. This is a great analysis of Jane Austen's 6 novels, putting them into a context that was lost when her publisher sat on her submission for 10 years without publishing, a supremely frustrating act, because it renders her subversive commentary on society out of date. Nothing is more maddening than when someone thinks Austen's books are romances. No, they are social critiques hidden in little domestic stories. The real background is vibrant and full of intrigue--and mostly lost to us as mo ...more
Dec 31, 2016 rated it liked it
This was an enjoyable, and interesting, read, but I couldn't escape the feeling that, quite a lot of the time, the author was rather stretching things to make her argument. She seems to begin most of her points with 'surely' Jane must have known this, or felt that, and therefore we can draw these conclusions from her text. And perhaps she's right, but she states her case with a lot more certainty than seems warranted.

Of course, the fact that she also expends a lot of energy in casting problemat
Dec 12, 2016 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
A DNF for me sadly. Whilst obviously thoroughly researched, I got frustrated with the author's conviction in her own interpretation of Austen's work. Having warned the reader about how little is known about Jane and her intentions, she then spends the remainder of the book second-guessing authorial intent and inserting fictionalised scenes of Jane's life that might have prompted her novels. To me this just undermined the many good points that the book was making and eventually it frustrated me t ...more
Nov 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Some nice close readings here, although there are several odd leaps (like her speculation re Harriet Smith's mother). However, none of this is as new as the author makes out...Austen scholars have done all this work already and at greater length. The bibliography is alarmingly tiny, which perhaps is purposeful in maintaining that this is a new reading.
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
I found this book to be frustrating for a couple of reasons, mostly for the way that Kelly constantly acts like she is the first person to ever imply that Austen's writing was subversive and radical. Most people who are fans of Austen (and thus are interested in reading this kind of book about her) are already aware that nearly all her books are heavily critical of the society she lived in; today, her reputation is essentially as a feminist writer. As somebody who personally is a fan of Austen f ...more
V. Briceland
Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Helena Kelly admits to a mission—a noble mission—of persuading readers that Jane Austen was not merely a much-beloved author of light comic romances, but instead a smart and even outspoken social critic who was rooted in the issues and concerns of her time.

Kelly essays on Austen's novels each focus on the author's many political concerns; every chapter is like a grad-school thesis in miniature on a single book. Kelly's chapter on Sense & Sensibility, for example, focuses on Austen's Wollsto
Reading Jane Austen, The Secret Radical, it feels like the author, Helena Kelly, is more radical than Jane Austen.

The author examines each of Jane Austen's novels to see if she can discern more of Jane's personality and her feelings about difficult topics of her day.

Each chapter opens with a fictionalized version of an event in Jane's life based on her letters. Sometimes this interlude seemed a bit out of place, unconnected to the narrative to follow.

I certainly agree with some of the author'
Jul 05, 2017 rated it liked it
My Recommendation: If you want to learn more about how Austen (probably) wanted her books to be read then definitely read this book. It's a fascinating look at the time when Austen was writing and the many intricacies she laced throughout her books. There is so much more than we as 20th/21st century readers can possibly imagine held within these six novels.

My Response: Perhaps I'm too smart for my own good, but overall this book was a bit disappointing. With a title like Jane Austen, the Secret
Andrea Montan
Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. I am not under the assumption that she is a romantic author. Or as romantic as the adaptations make her out to be. But there is a certain romance to her writing and the turns of her plot and the outcome for her heroines and heroes. This book does its best to correct any preconceptions and remove any romance to her books. Im not sure I agree. I wish to be an informed reader and there is something to be said for knowing historical context, but how do we r ...more
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was ok

Oh, how I wanted to like this more. There are some strong moments like the explanations of gypsies and dinosaurs, but UGH. UGH UGH UGH. There are far too many outrageous one-liners that argue wild points without any solid evidence or explanation. For instance, "The word 'sadist' hasn't been coined when Jane was writing, but that's undoubtedly what Mr. Price is." Um, what? If the author had run with her over-the-top ideas like her suggestion of Edward Ferrars's sexual perversion, maybe this would
Mar 29, 2017 rated it liked it
The arguments made about Jane Austen's political leanings (spoiler: she's not a Conservative) are interesting and worth thinking about, whether you agree or not. However, the affectation of placing a fanciful, fictionalized scene from Austen's life at the beginning of each chapter, including the Introduction, is completely unnecessary and hypocritical after taking Austen biographers to task for creating saccharine, unsupported-by-evidence portraits of "our Dear Jane." The editor should had nixed ...more
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
Setting the audiobook aside, but I will try this in print someday. The narration is really dry, and I can't do it.
Julie Bozza
A copy in hardcover from my friend Tracey!


Obviously this book provoked quite a reaction from me. I've never made so many progress notes! The substance of it is fantastic. A really good close reading of Austen's six main novels in the context of their times. If anyone out there still considers Austen to be prim and proper, secluded and shielded, this book will surely prove that she was not.

'Northanger Abbey' can be seen to examine issues around child-bearing, and the high mortality rates for i
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book! Makes you reread and rethink Austen, tying in the issues of the day: women and property, slavery, the church, enclosure etc. Not all groundbreaking if you've read Austen as more than simply romance, but interesting and thought provoking.
Michael Cayley
Mar 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: literature
A curate's egg of a book. Devoting a separate chapter to each of the finished Jane Austen novels, it seeks to make a case for Jane Austen using fiction to make a radical critique of society and the Church. The case is, in my view, exaggerated. Jane Austen was primarily a brilliant story-teller and sharp analyst of character with an at times wonderfully pithy style. Part of the background of the stories is a questioning of some of the assumptions of the Establishment of the day, scepticism about ...more
Mar 14, 2017 rated it liked it
What Janeite doesn't want to dive deeper into her works and find a hidden gem or two? We all want a new way to inhale her novels, or new insight into the rather mysterious woman herself.

This book gives us a whole lot of potential context for reading Austen. I say "potential" because not every hypothesized perspective came off as legitimate. I appreciate the immense research and detail put into this, but I do not feel every chapter was convincing. The Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility cha
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was so delighted by reading this critical study of Jane Austen. I always have known her to be far more than a romance novelist with happily-ever-after endings and quiet
Tory beliefs. A close reading of her endings
shows her to be more nuanced, ambivalent and complex a novelist than that popular
picture! This book puts together - in a highly readable way - all the proofs and arguments
for a more radical and aware Jane Austen
than many have thought.
Taylor E. Watson
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Has caused a complete change in how carefully I read all books, not just Austen's in my current reading life, and given me a renewed appreciation for context, being a person of "information," and reading between the lines.
J.A. Ironside
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
More 4.5 stars but a very good read

If you are a fan of Jane Austen because you like the books as light, diverting romances that warn of the perils of money and morality, AND you really don't want that opinion shaken, this book is not for you.

However if you're like me and you've read all Jane Austen's work both with pleasure and with a certain inexplicable frustration, then give this ago. Secret Radical helped nudge me in the direction I needed to go in to fully enjoy Austen's work. So much so th
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-book
JANE AUSTEN: the Secret Radical Explores the Depths

I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.

JANE AUSTEN, SECRET RADICAL by Helena Kelley explores the depth of Austen’s work as socio-political fiction rather than as romance.

The narrator does a great job and has a pleasant voice. Sometimes we are offered words in a fictionalized reading of Austen’
May 23, 2017 rated it liked it
I think the title of this book is like literary click-bait. "You'll Never Guess What Jane Austen Hid In Her Novels!" It's not exactly that Jane Austen was unusual or ahead of her time in her views on issues like slavery and enclosure (the process of public land becoming part of private estates, and therefore unavailable to the public for foraging and hunting). It's that if you read her novels closely--her novels, not her letters, of which there aren't really that many--you can get a lot of clues ...more
Amy Murtagh
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars for pure enjoyment and an interesting argument about how the world has misread Jane Austen's books.

Whilst I did not always agree with the author and I do think she was reaching in some instances (the scissors incident in S&S comes to mind), I think it is a valuable addition to any fan of Austen. Austen seems to be often put down and trivialised by the so-called heavy-weights and this book goes a way to showing why this is a massive disservice to skeptics. There is more to her writin
David Bird
Jul 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Helena is very effective in reminding Austen's readers not to view the novels in a monochromatic golden glow; unfortunately she would subtitute a monochrome of her own, red perhaps. I think that she's correct that many elements in the novels offer Austen's comments on matters of her own time. But if the novels were as relentlessly programmatic as she suggests, they would read like tracts.

Reminders of ways that Austen's times were different from both our own, and from the Victorian period are he
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