Jane Austen Fans, Rejoice! – “A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on why we read Jane Austen” by Susannah Carson
First and foremost – If you don’t care about/care for/happen to like Jane Austen, I have to imagine that reading this book would quite likely drive you mental. It’s probably your worst nightmare – a collection of essays that intricately dissect Austen’s work, her genius, and her fame. You’d hate it. Leave now.
Now that the haters are gone; I am a serious Austen fan who holds “Sense & Sensibilty” as a shining example of clever dialogue, plot twists, and pure literary perfection. The story of the sisters Dashwood and the rogues and gentlemen who proceed to woo them has captured me for years, and was the piece that pulled me headfirst into loving Jane Austen. I can debate the merits of the Colin Firth film version to the Keira Knightley version, and I can easily tell my Anne from my Fanny and my Churchill from my Bingley, thank you very much.
I am all this – and this book delighted me.
It’s a testament to the greatness of this book of essays that, having concluded it, I want nothing more than to re-read every single text Jane Austen had ever written. The book absolutely is that engrossing – if you’re into the subject matter.
Susannah Carson has gathered a collection of essays (old and new) about the works of Ms. Austen. They range from deeply scholarly to downright adorable. Writers such as C.S. Lewis, Somseret Maugham, Virginia Woolf, and Amy Heckerling (who directed the movie Clueless, which was an update of “Emma” if you recall) present a broad array of perspectives on what it is about Austen and her world of characters that has fascinated legions of readers since the early 1800s.
Yes, she’s sometimes grammatically messy. Yes, sometimes the dialogue seems out of place – even stunted. In her essay, Eudora Welty even talks about the “noisiness” of Austens work. There are imperfections that can’t be ignored, true.
However, her fans will argue in favor of her genius despite (and sometimes because of) these quirks until there’s no one left standing. Her humor, love stories, and social commentary continue to engage readers each and every day. After all, putting the detractors aside, Austen’s success can’t be denied – Her novels have never been out of print. “Janeites” are a legitimate force to be reckoned with. Film adaptations are still regularly churned out. There’s a Pride and Prejudice musical that’s been trying to get to Broadway for a while now. Heck, just visit Etsy and you’ll find scores of Jane-related merchandise. Did I mention there’s an action figure, too?
Not bad for a woman writer at a time when women simply did not write. (When “Sense & Sensibility” was first published, instead of using her name, all the book said was that it was written “By a Lady.”)
These essays present a closer look at some of the most beloved novels of all time. “Pride and Prejudice” gets the biggest chunk of space, but “Northanger Abbey,” “Persuasion,” “Emma,” “Mansfield Park”and “Sense & Sensibility” are all given their turn as well. I particularly enjoyed Rebecca Mead’s “Six Reasons To Read Jane Austen” and Benjamin Nugent’s “The Nerds of Pride and Prejudice,” among many others.
As E.M Forster said, “I am a Jane Austenite, and therefore slightly imbecile about Jane Austen.” This book taught me a lot about Austen in regards to literary theory, and opened my eyes to thinks I’d never pondered in her texts before. This book made me smile, and will remain one I clutch close to my heart even as I set it among the Austen novels on my bookshelf.
(And on that note, I just realized I don’t own a copy of “Mansfield Park.” Blasphemy!)