18 October 2013

Three Great Reads for Jane Austen Fans

I'd like to continue my Jane Austen theme from last week (see my review of Longbourn and my feature of The Pursuit of Mary Bennet) by introducing you to three more recent books inspired by or celebrating Austen.

Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley AdkinsRoy Adkins and Lesley Adkins's Jane Austen's England (Viking, ISBN-13: 9780670785841) is a fascinating look at everyday life in England at the turn of the nineteenth century. I am particularly drawn to this book because of the authors' reliance on firsthand records. They scoured "letters, diaries, travelogues, accounts of criminal trials and newspapers" to bring Austen's world alive. The variety of witnesses--the clergy, a man of means, a poor woman, husbands and wives, and tourists--gives us a wide perspective on social customs, politics, the military, the economy, and day-to-day chores. The chapters cover major events, such as births and weddings, as well as everyday concerns, such as childhood, religion, and fashion. I plan to read this book in stages, one chapter/issue at a time, so I can fully absorb the material. Jane Austen's England will appeal not only to Austen fans but also to those interested in history, culture, anthropology, and English customs.

Did you know there was a Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA)? Author Deborah Yaffe, a lifelong Austen fan, first joined the organization when she was barely a teen. Her recent book, Among the Janeites (Mariner Books, ISBN-13 9780547757735) brings to light the many faces of the modern-day Austen enthusiast. Relying on personal interviews and her own observations and participation in events, Yaffe offers a journalist's perspective on Austen's continuing popularity in the twenty-first century. From websites to YouTube spoofs, blogs, and clubs, Austen has found a surprisingly active presence in social media. Off line, fans watch Austen-inspired movies and mini-series, devour the abundant spin-offs, partake in Austen-based tours of England, attend $5000-a-head balls, and buy patterns to make their own period clothing. As one would expect from a diverse group of people drawn together for a single purpose, being a Janeite is not without its drama, but the Austen community has also been a source of friendships and bonding for people all over the world. Entertaining and informative.

Sense & Sensibility by Joanna TrollopeI am endlessly curious about contemporary takes on Austen's novels, and for reasons I haven't investigated, Sense & Sensibility seems to be one of the more popular foundations for reimaginings. Joanna Trollope's modern-day version (Harper, ISBN-13: 9780062200464), complete with mp3 players and cell phones, tells the story of the Dashwood sisters after they've fallen on hard times. Staying true to Austen's plot, Trollope's job, as part of the Austen Project, was to modernize the details just enough to bring a twenty-first-century perspective to the story. What's particularly interesting to me is how many themes of S&S remain important today: family duty, the power of money, and the effects of making bad choices in love, for example. On the other hand, what was shocking behavior in the early 1800s is not so bad today, but social media makes it so much more difficult to hide our mistakes. So Trollope was faced with making believable changes that would ring true to both die-hard fans and new readers while retaining the enduring essence of Austen's beloved novel. I'm looking forward to both this version and the entire Austen Project series.


(Diane) bookchickdi 10/18/13, 7:55 AM  

I was just in my local library used book store and they added a Jane Austen Inspired section with dozens of these type of books. It was very hard to resist.

JoAnn 10/18/13, 7:58 AM  

I'm slowly making my way through Among the Janeites now - very interesting! The first books sounds good, too, but I read a modern retelling of S&S a couple of years ago (The Three Weissmanns of Westport). It may be too soon for another.

Molly 10/18/13, 8:13 AM  

I have so many Jane Austen spin-offs sitting on my bookshelves now.. just waiting for me to escape to Regency England. I love the concept of the first book as I think the reading experience would be enriched if I had a better idea of the time period.

I actually attended a library talk sponsored by a local chapter of JASNA - and while I would not considered myself that devoted to the author, I think I would thoroughly enjoy this book.

Thanks for adding to my TBR list :)

Anita LeBeau 10/18/13, 9:40 AM  

While I've read a lot of Austen when I was younger and in school etc I haven't been a fan of the many many spin offs. I think the time period and setting just isn't my favorite.

Amy Meyer 10/18/13, 9:40 AM  

I love Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility and having read some of Joanna Trollope's books many years ago, I'd love to see what she does with S&S. The other books sound extremely interesting, particularly Jane Austen's England. I'd like to know more about the time and place Jane Austen was writing especially when I re-read her books.

Awesome post, thank you!

bermudaonion 10/18/13, 10:44 AM  

I know a lot of people who will love those books but I haven't been hit by Austen fever yet.

Tina 10/18/13, 4:04 PM  

I just picked up Jane Austen's England and am enjoying it. Thanks for highlighting a few more Austen type book!

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) 10/19/13, 5:28 AM  

Great selection. I really enjoyed them all and especially AMONG THE JANEITES. Really made me LOL!

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