Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World

Claire Harman, Author
Claire Harman, Author . Holt $25 (277p) ISBN 978-0-8050-8258-6
Reviewed on: 12/21/2009
Release date: 03/01/2010

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.)

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