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Why Jane Austen? Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (June 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231153902
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231153904
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,164,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Brownstein has written a delectable hybrid of biographical and cultural criticism, struck with brilliant splashes of memoir. On reading, you feel as if you just finished Pride and Prejudice, you Skype a brainy friend who knows Austen inside out -- the conversation is so delicious, you'll whip through Persuasion just so you can talk to her tomorrow! Why Jane Austen? Why the movies, miniseries, museums, sequels, novelizations, prequels, criticisms and zombies? Read this book and you'll know. Then put it on the shelf next to those six novels, even richer now for this lady's attentions.

(Honor Moore, author of The Bishop's Daughter)

This vital handbook for Janeites is both a store house of diverting facts and a history of literary obsession, gracefully steering the reader through a maelstrom of conflicting views on Jane Austen's life and times. A fascinating account of how Austen has been glorified yet exploited by film and television over the decades—so Mr. Darcy lives forever to woo Elizabeth, whether wearing the face of yesterday's Laurence Olivier or today's Colin Firth.

(Fay Weldon, author of Chalcot Present)

Why Jane Austen? is a warmhearted, personal, and humane meditation on Austen and Austenolatry. It is also, in the tradition of Becoming a Heroine, smart, witty, eloquent, and joyfully wide-ranging, a mixture of anecdote, cultural criticism, biography, literary history, and close reading. By bringing serious literary thought to a wider audience, this book is accessible to anyone acquainted with Austen's novels. It performs one of the most important services of humanistic scholarship.

(William Deresiewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter)

Rachel M. Brownstein's smart and often charming book reengages and reinvigorates Lionel Trilling's question, 'why we read Jane Austen'—a matter that Austen scholars know is of cultural as well as personal import. Brownstein writes with the assurance and comfort of a senior scholar surveying the terrain. She is opinionated in the best sense, but she also writes from a place of considerable and valuable self-consciousness. Parts of her book serve as memoir: of her life as a teacher, as a scholar asked in public and private social encounters to serve as representative and explainer of Austen the cultural icon, as a reader whose contexts for Austen have changed with changing geography and social meanings. It is one of Brownstein's contentions that, reading Austen and seeking her, we find ourselves.

(Mary Ann O'Farrell, Texas A&M University, author of Telling Complexions: The Nineteenth-Century English Novel and the Blush)

This book will delight devoted readers and students of Jane Austen and may inspire readers who have disliked Austen in the past.

(Library Journal)

Along the way, the reader, too, may discover in Brownstein's book what the author discovers in Austen: a means of transporting ourselves to a more gracious and better-ordered world.

(Melinda Bargreen Seattle Times)

An intriguing discussion of one of history's literary giantesses.

(The Midwest Book Review)

...her brilliant critical insights and comprehensive survey of Austen studies - including its excesses - merit a wide readership.

(Elsa Solender JASNA News 1900-01-00)

...the hours spent reading this book are as enjoyable as conversing with a perceptive and sympathetic friend, and as a rewarding as being guided by a superb teacher.

(JASNA News (second review by Maggie Lane) 1900-01-00)

About the Author

Rachel M. Brownstein is professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of two critically acclaimed books, Becoming a Heroine: Reading About Women in Novels and Tragic Muse: Rachel of the Comédie-Française.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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D. in English from Yale University.
Bluestalking Reader
If you are a literary scholar, you will find plenty of information and a wealth of complex readings to expand your knowledge.
If you love Jane Austen or nerding out over authors in general, this is a really great read.
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Bluestalking Reader VINE VOICE on June 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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 Novels and Tragic Muse: Rachel of the Comédie-Française. She was educated at Barnard College and received her Ph.D. in English from Yale University.

And what does she have to say about Austen that hasn't already been said? I can't vouch for everything that's ever been written, but I can describe this book as an overview of the basic trends and genres of women's writing - dipping a bit into aspects of feminism - as it pertains to Austen, and deep analysis of the novels, both as expressed by critics and also students. In addition, why Austen continues to be so popular, and the various ways popular culture has adapted her novels to film, are delved into in detail. In short, it's more information about the author than I'd ever have expected to be found in one volume.

Those such as myself who have all the novels, seen some of the film adaptations, and read a couple Austen biographies - including Claire Tomalin's and Austen's nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh's - and possibly other pieces of criticism, Brownstein's treatment is a wonder. Those as smitten by the Regency author as I will find Why Jane Austen? contains a wealth of information, pulling in new perspectives (some seen through the opinions of Brownstein's students), as well as a gathering of previous scholarship.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Christina (A Reader of Fictions) TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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 Austen? is that it seems to wander away from the thesis quite a bit, with many of these wanderings not seeming to support the overall argument particularly. Really though, the overall question is never, to my mind, satisfactorily answered; Brownstein's explanation is essentially what my off the cuff answer would be if asked.

Why read it you may ask? Because above and beyond the so-called thrust of the novel, there is a ton of delightful literary analysis and historical information to enjoy. Reading through this academic publication is like nerding out over all of Austen's books at once (all of which I now really want to reread, even the dreary Mansfield Park).

I also love learning about some of the other authors of the time, such as Byron and Charlotte Smith. The discussion of the film versions, especially of Amy Heckerling's Clueless, were charming and made me look at them in a new light.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Workman on August 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I tend to study early American women authors, but Jane Austen is a particular British favorite of mine so when NetGalley offered me a copy of this book to review, I couldn't help myself. 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 accomplished something amazing - new contribution to Austen studies.

Brownstein uses "biographical criticism" (using Austen's life to uncover clues in her writing) to examine the inconsistencies with modern interpretations of Austen's work and her intended meaning. In a general sense, many modern readers read her stories because of how romantic they are. By exploring Austen's life in an intimate way, Brownstein shows us that only considering her work romantic does not do her, or her work, justice. We have romanticized the author and transformed her from "a thin-lipped old maid" to a "glamorous popular celebrity."

Brownstein also makes an intriguing connection between Jane Austen and Lord Byron, suggesting that Colin Firth's steamy portrayal of Mr. Darcy illuminates the "Austen-Byron connection," a literary connection that shows Austen's relationship with Byron's poems and how they might or might not have impacted her writing. Both authors imitated and mocked romance, yet Byron was the celebrity during the time period. Jane's work was published anonymously for quite a long time.
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