Readings On Jane Austen, edited by Clarice Swisher
I read this book mostly while enjoying some food at a local sports bar, and the book managed to spark a conversation with an entrepreneur who was impressed to see someone who was reading a more serious work (although this is fairly light reading for me) while in public, which sparked a larger and more interesting and not particularly relevant conversation to this book. At any rate, the fact that someone could view the reading of a fairly introductory series of essays on literary criticism of Jane Austen as a serious book perhaps is a sign of the cultural cachet that literary criticism has in our contemporary world, as well as the general respect given to Jane Austen as a serious writer . There is some irony in this, of course, and the book explores the general lack of seriousness that Austen’s work received in the nineteenth century, although the more recent rise of textual criticism and her critical reappraisal as a great writer within the Western literary canon has followed the tenor of those early appreciative essays, something that this book demonstrates with a thoughtful selection of critical essays that demonstrate Austen’s skill and her deliberate choice of limitations to write about what she knew best.
This book of essays, which covers about 200 pages of material, seeks to cover Austen’s career in full and give an appreciation of all of her major writings and also refer to a few of her more minor ones as well. The book begins with an introduction to the series that is repeated from previous volumes and a short biography of Austen that is repeated from the previous book I read about readings on Pride & Prejudice. After this the book contains six chapters with multiple essays apiece. The first chapter contains three essays that look at the relationship of Jane Austen with her times and her critics as well as Austen’s women and how they deal with a conservative society (1). After this there are three essays that look at some of the themes in Austen’s novels, like sex and social life, humor, and her detached approach of social criticism (2). Then there are two essays that look at the stylistic devices of her novels that create irony and show her appreciation of games (3). Three essays pay attention to Jane Austen’s early novels by showing satire and realism in Northanger Abbey as well as the lack of irony and the importance of minor characters and theme in Sense & Sensibility (4). Four essays look at the best qualities, clashes and compromises, sigificance of pictures, and the relationship between manners and morals in Pride & Prejudice (5). The last chapter contains five essays that look at Emma’s portraits of people and a heroine with faults, the portrayal of a quiet, complex love in Mansfield Park, and Austen’s new kind of novel with the Cinderella theme in Persuasion, all dealing with Austen’s late novels.
What can someone expect to get out of a work like this? This work is aimed at teens and young adults who are becoming familiar with textual criticism and who like the works of Jane Austen. As this happens to be a fairly large group of people, this book has many potential readers, at least. The organization of the book into a variety of short and interesting and thought-provoking essays does make this book one that is likely to fulfill its purposes of encouraging serious thought on the writings of Jane Austen and providing some idea of what kind of insights one can gain from novels through taking the style and approach of an author seriously. There are many writers, of course, where this sort of literary criticism can be useful, and Jane Austen’s works as a whole reward deep reading because the narrowness of the world she portrays almost forces a reader to seek additional depth as a way of understanding how it was that Austen could return to the same issues and situations over and over again. Likewise, this book demonstrates that it is easy to return to Austen again and again and again as well.
 See, for example: