Jane Austen For Dummies, by Joan Klingel Ray
At least occasionally I pick up a Dummies guide and enjoy reading through it , and in this case there would be few people more qualified to write this book, as the author is (or at least was at the time of writing) the president of JASNA, the Jane Austen Society of North America. My own identity as a Janeite is pretty well-known to readers of my blog , and this book fits right into that existing interest. It is pretty obvious, therefore, that I go into this book a bit better prepared and more knowledgeable about Jane Austen and her context than many readers will. Yet any reader with some interest in Jane Austen will find much to enjoy here. This is not a book that requires a lot of background knowledge on the part of the reader, but it is also a book that provides some encouragement and suggestions for further reading/watching to even those readers who are very knowledgeable about Jane Austen. As a result this has a wide potential audience and no one should feel like a dummy for being given or recommended this sort of book.
This book, at a bit over 300 pages, has all of what one would expect from a book in the series. After a short and friendly introduction, the author introduces Jane Austen as a lady and as a novelist, giving a short biography and discussing her period and what inspired her as an authoress. The second part of the book shows Austen observing ladies and gentlemen in dancing, courtship, marriage, and seduction. The third part of the book looks at life in Jane Austen’s world, examining the limited rights of women, the roles and responsibilities of men, the nature of life at home, manners, as well as religion and morality. The fourth part of the book looks at how a reader is to enjoy Jane Austen’s novels, the various adaptations of her writings in other mediums, as well as determining her literary descendants. The book closes with the customary part of tens with memorable characters, best Austen-related books, best Austen places to visit, and the best Austenisms, along with a chronology and index.
It is obvious from reading this book that the author has a great love for Jane Austen and an appreciation of her place. The author defends Jane Austen as an early feminist, making a strong case for her discretion as well as the polite radicalism of her views, shown and not told in a tiresome and didactic fashion. While having a great love for Austen’s novels, the author is honest about her lack of interest in the genre of Austen sequels, of which I am myself slightly familiar. This is not a book that panders to its audience, but rather one that seeks to share the infectious love and high regard that the author has for Austen’s integrity as an author and for the insights about human nature that she still can share with contemporary readers. This is not to say that everyone who reads this book will enjoy it or will share the author’s perspective, but rather that there is a great deal of value in what the author has to say for anyone who happens to be a fan or who wants to know more about Jane Austen as a person and as an author. Fortunately, this book is the sort of work that will likely encourage many people to be Janeites themselves, or at least to realize that they already are and to enjoy what that means in some detail.
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