On the Sofa with Jane Austen

Maggie Lane. Crowood, $26.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-7198-2058-8
In this series of short essays, Lane (Growing Older with Jane Austen) examines the minutiae of life in Jane Austen’s novels, such as the role of umbrellas in conveying affection and the near-absence of grandmothers. Readers learn the importance of wine, warm shawls, and sisters, and that washing the hair with rum and rose water helped brighten a woman’s curls. Foliage is not merely decorative but can help move a novel’s plot, providing a screen for overhearing a conversation or a backdrop for a marriage proposal. Lane uses these details not only to convey easily overlooked daily differences between life then and now (how many women today expect to sew as they visit?) but to show how social life changed in the almost 20 years between Austen’s early and later novels. The early works depict a world of community and sociability; the later ones anticipate the Victorian retreat into domestic safety. Lane’s largely lighthearted collection is written with Austenlike brightness and sparkle as well as sharp perception. It would make a good gift for the die-hard Austen fan or the novice trying to get oriented. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/17/2017
Release date: 05/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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