01 February 2011

Review: Jane's Fame by Claire Harman

Claire Harman's Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World (just out in paperback) is a well-researched and very accessible examination of how Jane Austen evolved from a solitary Regency author to a hot Hollywood commodity. This is a particularly interesting and difficult project because Jane's own family didn't think she'd be remembered and thus didn't do a very good job preserving her memory, memorabilia, and writings.

In fact, the first biography of Jane, written by her nephew, didn't appear until decades after her death. Her relatives were astonished by the public's reaction. Readers wanted more: The Jane Austen fan club had come out of the closet.

Harman's biography of the Austen phenomenon begins with Jane's publication history and personal life. Jane was a lifelong writer and a constant reader, which informed her use of language, her story lines, and her characterizations. In the middle to late 1800s, when self-proclaimed Janites were rescuing Austen from obscurity, some critics--Emerson and Twain among them--thought her novels too narrow or too contrived.

But by the 1920s and 1930s, the naysayers were in the minority, and Jane's work was being canonized. The novels and the author were also subject to every kind of analysis: Freudians, feminists, anthropologist, social historians, and others dissected the major works to gain insight into Austen and her readers. As well, the Regency period was very much in style during this time, adding to Jane's popularity.

The last section of Jane's Fame explores the great variety of literature that has been inspired by Austen's novels, from Bridget Jones to Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. Most of the recent interest in Jane can be traced to the 1990s BBC miniseries of Pride & Prejudice staring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. The last two decades have seen an explosion in films and TV adaptations, Austen-like novels, critical works, and biographies. And the reading public (me included) have not yet tired of Jane Austen and her unforgettable characters.

Don't let the number of footnotes deter you, Harman's writing style is easy to read and entertaining. You'll be drawn right into the story of how Jane became one of the most beloved authors of all time. This analysis of the last two centuries of the world of Jane Austen is highly recommended.

Come back tomorrow for a chance to win the two Austen-inspired books I reviewed this week. One reader will win a copy of Jane's Fame and a copy of The Three Weismanns of Westport.

Jane's Fame at Powell's
Jane's Fame at Book Depository
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Published by Macmillian / Picador, 2011 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 9780312680657
YTD: 14
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Julie P. 2/1/11, 8:48 AM  

This does sound interesting! Good to know that it's not overwhelming and easy to read.

Zibilee 2/1/11, 9:30 AM  

This book sounds like just the kind of thing I would love. I am a huge Austen fan, but have sort of rationed out her books because I know there are to me no more coming. I usually try to read one new one a year, and I have a really nice collection of her work that I got a couple of years ago. How sad to hear that her family didn't preserve more of her writings. It would be amazing if there was more information out there. Fantastic review, Beth. I really want to read this one now!

bermudaonion 2/1/11, 9:40 AM  

It's nice to see this book is accessible because it sounds fascinating!

JoAnn 2/1/11, 10:25 AM  

Sounds fascinating... a book my daughters and I would all enjoy!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) 2/1/11, 10:32 AM  

I am looking forward to reading this. it's such a shame that her family didn't take better care of her work.

marthalama 2/1/11, 12:08 PM  

I must have this book for my daughter, she has a class titles "Jane Austen Book to Screen" and this would be a perfect addition. Plus, the first book they're reading is Sense and Sensibility so I look forward to the giveaway.

Dorte H 2/1/11, 12:58 PM  

I have read my share of non-fiction for some time, but I just love that cover :D

carolsnotebook 2/1/11, 2:19 PM  

It does sound interesting. It is amazing how the love for Austen just keeps growing.

Amused 2/1/11, 11:26 PM  

I'm so intrigued by this book! Great review! I need to get my hands on a copy.

Tribute Books 2/2/11, 12:28 PM  

What a great idea for a book. For Jane Austen fans the sentence: "...middle to late 1800s, when self-proclaimed Janites were rescuing Austen from obscurity.." makes you shudder to think what might have happened to the availability of her work if not for their intervention. Love the note about how Colin Firth almost single-handedly made Jane Austen a hot commodity in Hollywood.

lyndalepress 2/3/11, 9:28 AM  

This sounds great. I'm curious why you gave it a 'B' rating? Thanks for the giveaway!

Beth F 2/3/11, 9:34 AM  

Hi Lyndalepress: According to my review policy, "B+, B, and B− are books that are above average. These books are well worth the read and are definitely recommended."

Molly 2/4/11, 6:45 AM  

Sounds like a book that I simply must add to my personal library. I love reading background information about Austen to (hopefully) enrich my class on Pride and Prejudice.

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