- Publisher: ICON BOOKS
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781785781889
- ISBN-13: 978-1785781889
- ASIN: 178578188X
- Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 1.2 x 5.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,455,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Jane Austen, the Secret Radical Paperback
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'What this radical re-reading ... does so brilliantly is to exhort us all to chuck out the chintz, and the teacups, and all the traditional romantic notions about Austen's work that have been fed to us for so long ... However well you think you know the novels, you'll be raring to read them again once you've read this.' -- Caroline Sanderson `A sublime piece of literary detective work that shows us once and for all how to be precisely the sort of reader that Austen deserves.' * The Observer * "An addictive debut" * Stylist * 'You'll definitely see Austen's works differently from now on' * Nottingham Post * 'A thoroughly engaging read.' 'Thoroughly impressive and convincing' 'It encapsulates smartly much that a frequently chintzy Austen industry would prefer to overlook.' 'Jane Austen: the Secret Radical is wonderful; a revelation. It's difficult to stand out from the crowd when writing about such an influential figure, but Helena Kelly has certainly achieved that with this smart, knowing, perceptive book.' -- Amanda Foreman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Helena Kelly holds degrees in Classics and English from Oxford and King's College London. She teaches Austen at an Oxford summer school, and for a programme for American visiting students in Bath. She has taught Austen to hundreds of people, of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds. Jane Austen, The Secret Radical is her first book. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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As one who has never considered Austen a writer of romances or even a Romantic (in the sense of the literary movement of the early nineteenth century), I am predisposed to like any book that aims to situate the novels in the philosophical and ideological debates of her day. Despite leading a private, mostly rural life, Austen was well informed and lived in a family that read and thought widely, a family that argued ideas over the dinner table. I am also a reader who finds many hints in Austen’s novels that she was *not* a conservative upholder of the established Church and established social order, contrary to the arguments of her family members and scholars such as Marilyn Butler. At the very least, she found the verities of class structure and institutional religion problematic and often mockworthy. So a book that combs through the novels looking for evidence of Austen’s radical heart finds a receptive audience here.
And I found plenty of insight in Kelly’s surveys of the novels to intrigue me. For example, it had not occurred to me to look at *Emma* through the lens of the enclosure controversy, or *Persuasion* in the context of the kinds of doubts that arise when people start to encounter the logic of evolution. Kelly was persuasive in many of her arguments, and I admire her gift for finding the unexpected in the familiar (e.g., her discussion of Austen’s obituaries and speculations about how she came to be buried in Winchester Cathedral was fascinating).
But there are downsides. The structure of the book is peculiar, and designed to give fodder for those looking to disparage. Each chapter opens with a little speculative vignette from inside Austen’s head, supposed to give us insight into what she was thinking about at the time she composed each novel. Right there, Kelly is going to lose just about every serious Austen scholar. She claims rigor in basing biographical information on known fact instead of family tradition (and readers of the biographies would do well to be cautious about family traditions regarding Austen’s life and works) but she does not extend the same rigor to her readings of the novels—there are several unforced errors here. Also, she gives no indication that she has read much literary criticism of Austen’s work, which allows critics to dismiss her as a lightweight. The publicists didn’t help by branding the book as revolutionary; many of its ideas can be found in that neglected body of scholarship. And she has a tendency to get overly enthusiastic and take her arguments beyond a reasonable point (especially when they are tainted with Freudian nonsense). In several chapters she mistakes the context of a novel for the central point of the novel. Points that were initially interesting sometimes devolve into the ridiculous.
I would hope that these vulnerabilities would not discourage too many readers, however, because there is much of value here. It’s a rare talent to be able to stand outside received wisdom and see familiar material with fresh eyes; Kelly is a pure outside-the-box thinker. And I think she’s right on many points. *Mansfield Park* really is about slavery—I would even take her claim further and say that Fanny Price herself is to be seen as for all intents and purposes a slave. *Sense and Sensibility* really does challenge the practices and assumptions of primogeniture. And so on.
Kelly argues in lucid terms for a thinking, challenging, contrarian-minded Jane Austen who has a tremendous gift for subtlety and who makes her points through deceptively cozy, everyday stories. The marriage plot is for Austen a Trojan horse, infiltrating her ideas into the reader’s consciousness without our fully realizing it. Is she lots of fun to read? Yeah, that too. But many or most of her readers also need to be alive to the fact that she’s more than that, and Kelly’s book—even when you might disagree with it or laugh at the overreaches—will help you get there.
I purchased a copy from Amazon UK.