The Making of Jane Austen

Devoney Looser. Johns Hopkins Univ., $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4214-2282-4
Austen fans have another book to add to their libraries, one explaining how an author who died quietly and little known in 1817 became one of the world’s best-known authors. Looser (Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750–1850), an English professor at Arizona State University, considers the factors—illustrations, dramatizations, and publications, as well as politics and education—influencing how past and present generations have perceived Jane Austen. She partly ascribes Austen’s lasting popularity to publisher Richard Bentley, who secured the rights to the novels from her estate and original publisher after her death. Bentley hired illustrator Ferdinand Pickering, who emphasized intense moments between female characters in anachronistic Victorian, rather than Regency, garb, making Austen seem “fresh and timely” to contemporary readers. Educators also helped increase awareness of Austen by frequently assigning her works. Readers will appreciate behind-the-scenes looks at Pride and Prejudice’s play and film adaptions, notably MGM’s 1940 version starring Laurence Olivier, and some amusing Marx Brothers and Gilligan’s Island connections. Of special interest may be the chapter on the politicization of Jane Austen; the first citation of her in this way was in 1872, by a Conservative Welsh MP opposed to female voting rights. Janeites will enjoy this scholarly but approachable book on the redoubtable Miss Austen. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2017
Release date: 07/01/2017
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