From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Diverting anecdotes pepper award-winning British biographer Harman's (Myself and the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson
) sharp and scholarly analysis of Jane Austen's life and the posthumous exploitation of her as a global brand having everything to do with recognition and little to do with reading. Tracing the rise and fall and rise of Austen's reputation against a larger historical backdrop, Harman chronicles the WWI-era worshipping Janeites; assessments of Austen that minimized her as an accidental artist; and modern post-feminist criticism that, in exploring her politics, sexual and otherwise, has placed Austen in several mutually exclusive spheres at once. Harman notes that film versions have taken liberties with and overshadowed Austen's books, concluding that [o]ne of the horrible ironies of Austen's currency in contemporary popular culture is that she is referenced so freely … in discussions of 'empowerment,' 'girl power,' and all the other travesties of womanly self-fashioning that stand in for feminism today. Yet it is impossible to imagine a time when she or her works could have delighted us long enough. Harman herself delights with this comprehensive catalogue of Austen-mania. Illus. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
How did Jane Austen get to be such a hot commodity? Harman delves into this question by examining Austen’s literary reputation and appeal over the years. Although Austen has been presented (mostly by her family members) as wanting little to do with the fate of her books beyond her own inner circle, she did in fact take a keen interest in their publication and reception. Upon her death in 1817, her work sank into obscurity; even the dedication copy of Emma presented to the Prince Regent while she was alive was relegated to the royal servants’ library. All that changed when Memoir of Jane Austen, written by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, was published in 1869. Although his portaryal of dear Aunt Jane was misleading, the biography marked the beginning of a steady upward climb in scholarly and popular appreciation, culminating in the avid fandom of today. Engagingly written and full of fascinating bits of information as well as valuable insights, this is a must for any serious Austen reader. --Mary Ellen Quinn