It’s no secret around these parts that I’m a Jane Austen stan. For example: I just bought an Austen themed game that was advertised as a Kickstarter on Facebook (it arrived last week, and it is basically Jane Austen meets Settlers of Catan. SUCH A HOOT). Books about Jane Austen are almost always a matter of interest to me. Last year, I saw that Helena Kelly’s Jane Austen, the Secret Radical was published and making an enormous splash. I decided in a fit of the-school-year’s-almost-over whimsy that NOW was the time to read it. I devoured the text in a few short days and was invigorated by the scholarship.
Kelly’s argument is simple: what if we’ve been missing important information and context that is hidden in Jane Austen’s novels? She provides many points of context happening in Austen’s own life and English history as a way to re-read the novels from a new perspective. Every chapter was fascinating, although two of my favorites were on Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice. I knew that Pride and Prejudice was my absolute favorite, but when Kelly read it through a revolutionary lens, it takes on added significance. Or the reading of the Stuart royal family in Persuasion—the names of the characters had totally escaped me. I don’t always agree 100% with Kelly’s interpretations (the Emma chapter, for example, paints Mr. Knightley in a much more pernicious light, and I’ll be wrestling with it for a while), but they are new and invigorating in our discussion of Austen as a prominent writer.
You don’t have to be a huge Austen fan OR an academic to read this book, though if you are both, you will probably enjoy this book as much as I did. I definitely want to read it again, as well as all the novels. Side note: the Goodreads reviews of this book are hilarious. Several people were deeply offended by the idea that Catherine Morland reading gothic novels is actually a symbol for masturbating, and how dare Ms. Kelly bring the twenty-first century into Jane Austen. I giggled maliciously at their pearl-clutching. Female self-pleasure through reading is NOTHING NEW, kids. That interpretation was a major portion of my MA thesis, so let’s all calm down and be grownups and acknowledge that sex things do happen in Jane Austen novels. Perhaps these dear readers inadvertently proved Kelly’s point.
Cross-posted to my blog.